Moorland Burning

Part of Asylum Seekers and Permission to Work – in Westminster Hall at 5:15 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Olivia Blake for securing the debate. She spoke passionately, much as she did in her maiden speech, about the impact of peatland burning on the climate, the local environment and flooding.

Labour is calling on the Government to restate and act on their commitment to the legislation that they promised over a year ago. It is imperative that rhetoric on climate leadership is more than simply rhetoric, and they have an opportunity to put words into action. As part of our plan for nature, Labour is calling on the Government to help restore degraded peatlands to their natural state by ending the harvesting of peat and the burning of moors or blanket bog. A comprehensive independent review into habitats and fire risk caused by grouse shooting management arrangements, with a view to new regulatory controls, has been a long time coming.

We have had a very good debate, and there are obviously a wide range of different opinions, from those of Jim Shannon to those of Mr Goodwill, who spoke with characteristic expertise about moorland management. As my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell mentioned, Natural England recently published its position statement, which restates its commitment to end burning and to restore our upland peatlands in order to conserve wildlife and carbon. The restoration of those areas to bog habitats is also supported by the RSPB, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the majority of academics, environmental non-governmental organisations, and many northern councils and Mayors.

My hon. Friend Holly Lynch mentioned that peatland also plays an important role in water and flood management, and I commend her for all the work that she has done on this issue. Our peatlands form a significant and vital part of the UK’s carbon storage. They contain more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined but, through the burning of peat bogs, we are releasing huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere each year—the equivalent of driving over 140,000 cars a year. In January, the Committee on Climate Change recommended that peat burning should be banned by the end of 2020 as a “low-cost, low-regret” action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We are facing a great challenge ahead of us. We need immediate and decisive action to ensure not only that we meet our international obligations, but that we are world leaders in the efforts to tackle the climate emergency. Research by the University of Leeds has found that the burning of grouse moors not only releases climate-altering gases, but degrades peatland habitat, reduces biodiversity and increases flood risk. The Government have implicitly acknowledged the damage that burning is causing by including the restoration of peat and moors in the flood and coastal erosion risk management policy statement, and rightly so. Peatland prevents flooding downstream. It absorbs and holds back large amounts of water when there is heavy rainfall, and it releases water during times of drought.

In conclusion, we need to better manage our natural environment, not just oversee its decline. We need to improve biodiversity and reduce our carbon emissions, and we need to protect our communities that are increasingly under the threat of flooding. The Government must follow through on their commitments. It is not enough to state good intentions; we need action.