Key scientific reports shine new light on value of heather burning - The Moorland Association

(image: The Moorland Association)
(image: The Moorland Association)

A dossier of new evidence on peatland protection has highlighted a raft of scientific findings that could help shape future conservation of some of the UK’s most iconic landscapes.

New research on key issues including carbon storage, water quality, biodiversity and wildfire reveals that conclusions drawn from previous science are now out of date and not safe to be used as the basis for key political decisions on the management of peatland.

The dossier comprises four reports from university researchers and scientists and focuses on the evidence surrounding the use of controlled burning to help restore, maintain and improve peatlands.

Key findings from the reports include:-
• Burned areas of blanket bog are capable of increased levels of carbon capture.
• Production of charcoal during managed burning has a positive impact on long-term carbon storage.
• Burning does not appear to cause water discolouration.
• Controlled burning reduces fuel loads and may, therefore, help to prevent and limit wildfires.
• Overabundance of heather is limited by burning.
• Environmentally important Sphagnum capillifolium moss recovers from ‘cool’ managed burning within three years.
• The ending of managed burning in the USA resulted in declines in bird life and an increase in devastating wildfires.
• Greenhouse gas emissions from controlled burning are insignificant compared with emissions from wildfire or severely degraded lowland peatlands used for agriculture.

Mark Ashby, of Lancaster University and Whitebeam Ecology, who, in the latest report, conducted an extensive review of evidence on heather burning, said: “The debate around heather burning remains unresolved. The review of the latest evidence demonstrates that some previously held assumptions are now unsafe and should, therefore, not be used as the basis for policy. This newly reviewed scientific evidence should be taken into account when determining how best to protect peatland in the future. The time is now right to review Natural England’s February 2018 position statement which takes a largely negative view of controlled burning and critically examine the circumstances in which burning may be an appropriate peatland restoration tool. The increased threat and impact from severe wildfires must now also be taken into account in terms of mitigating damage to the structure and function of blanket bog.”

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Posted On: 02/07/2020

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