Moorland Burning

Part of Asylum Seekers and Permission to Work – in Westminster Hall at 5:11 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip 5:11 pm, 18th November 2020

I am not saying that there is no need for land management; I am saying that we need to tackle the irresponsible land managers to make sure that that sort of thing does not happen.

Muirburn also poses a particular risk, in allowing fire to spread to highly flammable underground peat, which causes the carbon to be released, as Mr Goodwill has ably helped me to highlight. Anyone who has cooried in beside a fireplace knows how flammable peat is. It has been over a year since the Government stated that they intended to phase out the burning of protected blanket bog—a promise repeated by Ministers over the past 12 months. We have yet to see legislative progress on that, so I would welcome assurances from the Government that it continues to be treated as a priority. I also urge the Government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead and match spending commitments for the restoration of peatlands and peat bogs. Furthermore, Scotland has banned muirburn in peatlands during the pandemic, and with the second lockdown I suggest that that might be considered for the rest of the UK.

Perhaps it is time to consider broader issues to do with land use in general. On some estimates, between 12% and 18% of Scotland’s land is used for grouse shooting, making it extremely hard to ensure that muirburn is carried out responsibly and is not damaging the peatlands. We hear from some quarters that such threats to the environment are far outweighed by economic benefits. Industry figures show that grouse shooting adds very nearly 3,000 jobs to the Scottish economy, at an average salary of £11,500 a year, creating a total of about £30 million in employment. For an industry that requires more than 10% of Scotland’s entire land mass to function, however, £30 million and 3,000 jobs below the minimum wage would appear, by some suggestions, to be disproportionate. Comparing that with the £770 million from forestry and timber processing and the £180 million from forest tourism, it seems that grouse shooting’s economic contribution is slightly out of proportion.

I therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to investigate these and other issues in the Werritty review. The Scottish Government are giving careful consideration to the review’s recommendations regarding introducing licensing for grouse moor businesses. If they decide to do so, they have pledged to introduce it more quickly than the five-year timescale recommended.