Wednesday 3 March 2021

Muirburn Is Back: The Environmental Cost

Muirburn, Cromdale Hills, February 25

Just a few days after the thaw clouds of smoke on the Cromdale Hills showed that muirburn - the burning of heather to improve habitat for red grouse so there are more of them to shoot - has started again. Banned during the first lockdown because of the danger to fire crews and others if a fire got out of control it wasn't banned during the current one. In my opinion it should be banned full stop.

Muirburn damages deep peat, a carbon dioxide store, and thus contributes to climate change when it occurs on peat moorlands. Revive: the Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform (a group well worth supporting) says "independent research commissioned by Revive has shown that 4% of Scotland's landmass is regularly burned on for grouse moor management while around 40% of land used for burning overlies deep peat". Revive quotes Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, as saying "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.”

Muirburn is also bad for biodiversity. Apart from the creatures and plants that die in the fires the resulting habitat is impoverished. Muirburn is intended to benefit just one plant - heather - and one bird - red grouse. And just so people can enjoy killing the latter. 

Peat damage and poor biodiversity are both important reasons to oppose muirburn. I think appearance matters too. The pattern of burnt strips on grouse moors is ugly and shows that this is an unnatural environment. Let's do away with heavily managed grouse moors and let nature take over, protecting deep peat, increasing biodiversity, and restoring beauty. It's time for a change.

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