Will this be the last? Matt Cross writes for Shooting Times.

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What seems likely to be Scotland’s final unlicensed muirburn season has got underway. The season officially opens on the 1st of October, but wet weather delayed the start of burning on many estates. Now a brief window without rain has allowed keepers and farmers to get burning started. The start date of the first of October is intended to limit the risk of wildfire, protect peat and ensure that ground nesting birds are not harmed. (Read “Burning heather: an issue of moorland management.)

Licence the practice

Scotland’s Green/SNP alliance government has pledged to licence the practice and to ban any burning on peat soils except under exceptional circumstances. This ban is expected to be in place before the start of the 2022-23 burning season. For many grouse moors this will severely limit their ability to carry out controlled burning to regenerate heather and prevent wildfires and force them to rely on mechanical cutting where it is possible. Meanwhile in England a more limited ban on burning on deep peat has been introduced, however it features a number of important exceptions.

Media attention

Burning in the North of England attracted some media attention with anti-shooting campaigners seeking to tie the practice which prevents damaging wildfires to the COP26 summit which starts in Glasgow next month.  Dr Pat Thompson, Senior Policy Officer from RSPB used the opportunity to make the claim that: “Each burn on peatland destroys crucial vegetation and exposes the surface of the peat itself. This leads to erosion both as the carbon in the peat is released into the atmosphere or is carried off into our rivers causing pollution.” 

However Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association hit back explaining that: “Controlled burning does not damage peatland as the technique burns the heather but not the peat below it. Current scientific evidence that has been provided to the government demonstrates that burning can have positive longer-term effects on carbon capture.”

The news that Channel Four News was planning to report on the issue caused flutters of excitement in the anti shooting community, however the end product; a 65 second clip recorded  on the Champs Elysée in Paris may have proved a let down.