Moorland Burning

Part of Asylum Seekers and Permission to Work – in Westminster Hall at 5:04 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 5:04 pm, 18th November 2020

I put on the record very clearly that I am a country sports and conservation enthusiast. They both come together; I see no difference in them. I spoke to Olivia Blake before the debate, and she knows where I am coming from. We speak together about many things that we agree on, and we have done that recently, but on this we have to agree to disagree. I say that very respectfully.

In the short time that I have, I will describe some of my experiences. I have planted some 3,500 trees on my land and created pond habitats for wildlife. That is something I am extremely passionate about. I am not an expert—far from it—but I am aware of the benefits of age-old practices of land conservation such as burning. We recently watched with horror the Australian wildfires on the TV. They were horrific to watch, and the impact on wildlife and nature was gross, but when the rains came the green shoots were brighter and stronger. I sincerely believe that there is a strong case for land management in a way that is considered and well planned. It should not be like the wildfires in Australia, but well planned in the 30-metre stretches that Sir Edward Leigh referred to.

All types of moorland need some land management to maintain the protected and rare habitats and the species that thrive in them. Without any form of management, that jewel of England would be lost. Vegetation and moorland have been burned for thousands of years, and the peat below slowly locks away carbon. The ultimate aim is to protect the carbon store. Thankfully, a large proportion, though not all, of our moors are being managed as grouse moors. That safeguards them from non-native commercial forestry, peat cutting and intensive agricultural modification.

Some 90% of English grouse moors are within the national parks, and 79% of the North York moors and Pennine special protection areas are managed as grouse moors. Some 60% of England’s upland sites of special scientific interest are also grouse moors. Grouse moors contribute more than £100 million to the UK economy directly, and more than 30 million people visit national park grouse moor landscapes annually. The visual quality of those areas is always listed among the top reasons to visit, according to national park visitor data. Why is that? Because they are managed in the correct fashion.

The latest evidence shows that controlled burns can provide protection against devastating wildfires while sequestering carbon, offering a nature-based solution to our climate change emergency. Traditionally, grouse moorland has been managed for the benefit of our native wild grouse, but the mosaic of vegetation for the birds has revived the plover, the lapwing and the curlew.

Safety protocols are in place to protect wildlife, human health and monuments, and specific content is available from Natural England on burning in protected sites. There is also a detailed heather and grass burning code produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England alongside partner organisations. It clearly identifies the use of burning as a conservation management tool with widespread controlling vegetation to reduce the risks posed by wildfire.

I am very aware that Natural England has stated that only 2.36% of England peatland emissions come from grouse moors, so let us put this in perspective. The vast majority of emissions come from other practices, from both upland and lowland peat draining agriculture and forestry.

I believe, and I say this respectfully, that there is a need to carry out controlled and regulated burning to secure this wonderful area of wildlife for future generations. I want to pass on my love of shooting and the conservation of my land to my grandchildren. It is my desire that future generations match science with practice so that the moors are kept in all their natural glory for generations to come.