Statement from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) in response to the announcement today (Friday 29 January) that the Government will bring forward legislation to prevent the burning of heather and other vegetation on protected blanket bog habitats

Gamekeepers responsible for looking after internationally important areas of moorland with blanket bog habitats have reacted with disbelief as Defra and Natural England continue to overcomplicate the management of these areas. 

Richard Bailey, Vice-Chairman of the NGO’s Moorland Branch, said: 

“The way blanket bog is managed is already hugely controlled and any heather burning that takes place happens in full view and with the endorsement of Natural England. This announcement feels like an attempt to tick a box and grab the headlines without it having much impact on the reality of what happens, and what will continue to happen on the ground if biodiversity is to improve.  

“These areas were designated because of the historic way they were managed and, as a result, the wildlife they hold. Burning, along with cutting, is part of this management. Areas designated for ground-nesting birds such as curlew and other red and amber listed bird species are sensitive habitats and we want to ensure we can continue to look after them as best we can.  

“Many of us have managed these hugely important areas for wildlife conservation for decades. We will wait and see how easy it will be for land managers to be granted certificates to burn areas for permitted reasons and how we can continue to help these important habitats and carbon stores to thrive.”

Unfortunately with this announcement, when activated, it will increase combustible fuel levels on our moors, which in turn will have a negative effect on all the areas it was intended to negate.

Ian Sleightholm, a gamekeeper in North Yorkshire and Chairman of the NGO’s Moorland Branch, said: 

“Time and again, Natural England chooses a path with no obvious scientific basis. In this case, where is the evidence to show wildlife will be just as well supported if we end burning? What is the alternative? 

“It just feels like more unnecessary forms and paperwork. This puts a greater burden on land managers and an already struggling Natural England which seems to be drowning under its own systems and processes that seemingly have no real positive impact on the areas they are here to look after.

“We would absolutely agree that wildfires are hugely damaging and continue to pose a huge threat to wildlife and the internationally important habitats that they rely on. For those who live and work in these areas they are the frightening reality of climate change. We will continue to manage our areas in any way we can to help prevent the devastation we have seen over recent years."

The full announcement from Defra can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/englands-national-rainforests-to-be-protected-by-new-rules 

For more information on how gamekeepers manage moorland areas and their role in helping to save the UK’s biggest carbon store, watch the NGO’s latest film on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WII20g9zqg
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