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New analysis shows that burning of moorlands is the biggest threat to England’s most important places for wildlife - RSPB

New analysis of Government data by the RSPB shows that the burning of moorlands is the biggest identified threat to England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

The analysis also shows that no reason has been identified for half of England’s SSSIs that are in poor condition.

These findings have been hidden in the data published by Natural England, which is only based on a small subset of the SSSIs that are in poor condition.

A new analysis of Government data by the RSPB shows that the burning of moorlands is the biggest identified threat to England’s most important places for wildlife, known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

The other major finding in the analysis is that Natural England has not identified any reason for half of all the English SSSIs that are in poor condition. This means that we do not know why 316,167 hectares of England’s SSSIs are in poor condition, an area roughly the size of Gloucestershire.

Without this information, it will be impossible for Government and Natural England to put in place the actions needed to achieve the target to restore 75% of SSSIs to good condition.

Whilst burning is the largest known cause of SSSIs in poor condition, the analysis also identifies overgrazing and water pollution (especially from agriculture) as being important contributors to the parlous state of these sites.

Moorlands are burned to create habitat for grouse for shooting and also to make them more productive for grazing. This causes long-lasting damage to highly sensitive peatland habitats and the loss of threatened species. It also results in the release of carbon to the atmosphere (adding to climate change), reduces the quality of drinking water (increasing water bills), increases water run-off (exacerbating the risk of flooding) and adds to air pollution.

Natural England publishes the reasons why SSSIs are in poor condition on their website. However, this data is incomplete and misleading. 61% of SSSIs in England are in poor condition. Natural England’s published data only includes the reasons for the poor condition of 8% of SSSIs. It excludes the reasons why 53% of sites are in poor condition because Natural England considers that these are ‘recovering’.

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