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RSPB accused of sensationalism and misinformation over report

The RSPB has been accused of sensationalism and misinformation over a report which claimed that illegal burning of heather on deep peat was widespread.

The accusations from the Countryside Alliance came after it emerged that much of the information used by the RSPB was provided by a convicted animal rights extremist, some was demonstrably false and almost none was deemed worthy of investigation by DEFRA.

The RSPB came under heavy criticism from countryside and shooting groups after it launched a campaign last year to encourage people to report any moorland burning they witnessed. Controlled burning of moorland vegetation is a legal activity intended to manage habitats and control wildfire risks and the RSPB’s approach, which asked for witnesses to contact a hotline, was widely seen as inappropriate.

The charity went on to claim that it had found evidence of more than 200 burns being conducted on deep peat or other protected areas without a licence. Leading a senior official to say that, “It is clear from the evidence we have collected that the new peatland burning regulations in England are not working and that burning is still taking place at a massive scale on peatland vegetation and inside protected sites.”

However, the Countryside Alliance has now hit back at the RSPB’s claims. The Alliance claims to have investigated a number of the claims made by the RSPB in detail and has been able to establish that they are false. One of the moors where burning was reported had not conducted any burning on deep peat since 2018 and did not burn on any peat soil during the period of the RSPB’s investigations.

A large volume of reports appear to have come from a campaign group associated with an individual who has a long history of involvement in animal rights and anti-shooting activism and a criminal record.

The Alliance claims that of 221 claims of illegal moorland burning only “a handful” are being investigated by DEFRA, leading them to conclude that the “investigation would appear to have been fundamentally flawed, with misinformation and unsubstantiated accusations being spread to push forward a politically driven agenda against grouse shooting and its associated management.”

The RSPB has been approached for comment.