Muirburn season starts - but charities want it stopped for good
Campaigners want to see the end of a controversial means of managing grouse moors.
Muirburn involves burning heather moorland to provide optimum habitats for game birds to increase numbers for sport shooting.
The practice is an issue of growing concern due to the increasing extent and intensity of burning on grouse moors, and particularly the effects of burning over deep peat.
It was banned at the height of the Covic-19 crisis as it poses a risk of fires getting out of control, placing unnecessary strain on emergency services.
However, restrictions have now been lifted – meaning landowners can now begin torching land on their their estates.
Campaigners say this is dangerous and environmentally destructive – and want the practise banned for good.
Max Wiszniewski, campaign manager for Revive, the cross-charity coalition for grouse moor reform, said: “Grouse moors are surrounded by a circle of destruction and in order to maximise grouse numbers for sport shooting, the land is burnt and scarred by muirburn putting our vital peat reserves at risk.
“Scotland’s peat stores over 25 times the carbon of all the UK’s forests put together and yet, every year, it is ritually burned to manipulate the landscape to increase grouse numbers. 40% of the muirburn area is on top of deep peat on these estates, flying in the face of the Scottish Government’s attempts at peatland restoration.”
Heather is burned on grouse moors in strips and patches in order to maximise the food source for young grouse while unburnt patches provide cover for them to protect their numbers. This is one of several legal management practices which include mass outdoor medication of grouse and the snaring, trapping and killing of hundreds of thousands of animals on grouse moors.
On top of this, grouse estates have become crucibles of destruction for endangered and protected birds of prey – with multiple examples of satellite-tagged birds disappearing over shooting moors.
Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, added: “Scotland’s peat holds vast quantities of carbon that needs to be protected in good condition if it is not to leak out and add to already-accelerating climate change. The Scottish Government is spending millions to restore damaged peatlands in some parts of Scotland so it is clearly ridiculous to allow muirburn to threaten the peat stored on grouse moors.
“Muirburn is a nineteenth century practice that has no place in the twenty-first century.”
However, landowners say muirburn is sustainable – and helps prevent the spread of destructive wildfires.
Tim Baynes, moorland director at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Muirburn is a traditional land management practice backed by the latest science and best practice. If muirburn is not carried out then we could gradually lose Scotland’s much-loved heather forever and that would be a tragedy for us and also the species which depend upon it. Grouse thrive in this habitat but so do other bird species – especially curlew, lapwing and golden plover which are low in numbers and are at real risk.
“We have seen some huge wildfires across Scotland in recent years including the fire on peatland on part of the Flow Country which is estimated to have released carbon into the atmosphere equivalent to six days’ worth of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Had muirburn by skilled practitioners been allowed in this area then there is a chance that wildfire could have been prevented or lessened in severity due to a much reduced fuel load for the fire to spread.”
Muiburn season in Scotland runs until 15 April.