A year after saying they would ban bog burning, the government is still getting its way.
Today a group of England’s leading environmental organizations are calling on the government to do what is right for people and nature by keeping their repeated pledge to ban the practice of deliberate burning on the country’s precious bogs.
Plantlife, CPRE – The Rural Charity, Friends of the Earth, National Trust, RSPB, Wildlife and Countryside Link, the Wildlife Trusts and Soil Association are calling for a burning ban.
The coalition points out that exactly a year ago today, the British government announced plans to introduce a law banning bog burns.
Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for the Environment, said:
“The government has committed itself to stop rotational burning on raised bogs … The government will set out its further plans to restore and protect peat in the English peat strategy.”
European golden plover, copyright Pawel Gebski, from the Surfbirds galleries
However, the organizations say no such ban has been put forward and the government’s long-awaited English peat strategy is still not in place.
The latest available data (from Natural England in 2010) suggests that up to 260,000 tonnes of CO2 can be released each year through rotary combustion on bogs. Eliminating this source of CO2 pollution would mean taking more than 175,000 cars off the road.
The coalition also underscores the Prime Minister’s commitment to protecting 30% of Britain’s natural land by 2030, including 400,000 acres of virgin land in England. He did this and said:
“We have to act now – now. We cannot afford to tremble and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and at a terrifying rate. “
Dr. Pat Thompson, RSPB’s senior policy officer, said: “We are in a climatic and ecological emergency. In a year from now, the world will watch the UK host the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26, November 1-12, 2021), where new commitments to reduce emissions are expected from all national governments. Ending the end of the burn in the highlands of England shows Britain is a world leader on climate ahead of our COP26 presidency.
And proper protection of our moors must certainly be an integral part of the Prime Minister’s stated ambitions to protect nature. Despite the Prime Minister’s call for action now, this fall and winter, the burning of peat will continue to damage the moorland in several national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty that the government has calculated would be “protected”. “
Ben McCarthy, director of conservation and restoration ecology at the National Trust, said: “We applaud the Prime Minister’s promise to save 30% of the land for nature, but that ambition will be undermined if bog burning is allowed to continue in so many of the country’s protected areas. Burning has a huge impact on peatlands’ ability to support nature, releasing their massive carbon stores into the atmosphere, and diminishing the role they can play in storing water and reducing flood risk. Allowing this type of practice in areas designated to protect nature goes against the UK’s ambition to take global action against climate change and restore nature.
“For Britain to take credible leadership in hosting the UN climate change talks next year, it must act to protect our peatlands and meet Defra’s stated goal of banning peat bogs. The UK bogs include the UK’s total annual emissions for 20 years and up to 6% of UK annual emissions are released each year due to burns and lack of restoration. However, the UK does not currently count these emissions in its national greenhouse gas accounts. If one does not take into account the emissions that are escaping from the burning and poorly managed bogs, one cannot hide the very real impact they have on the atmosphere, making it more difficult to achieve climate stability. “
Jenny Hawley, Policy Manager at Plantlife, said, “It’s easy. The burning of bogs must stop, knowing that it will contribute to both climate and biodiversity emergencies. The government assures us that it has committed itself to a legal ban, but a year has passed without meaningful action. Two weeks ago, Boris Johnson pledged to protect 30% of the land for nature by 2030. Let’s start with the exquisite carbon absorbing carpets made from mosses, cotton grasses, sundew, and wildflowers like bog asphodel, cuckoo flower, and marsh purple that would thrive and support wildlife on healthy bogs. “
Crispin Truman, Chief Executive of CPRE, the rural charity, said, “Bogs are the rainforests of Britain. They sequester over three billion tonnes of carbon, are one of our best natural allies and one of rural’s contributions to dealing with the climate emergency. But the government continues to turn a blind eye to the regular burning of huge swamps. Now is the ideal time for Ministers to say how and when to implement an ambitious peat strategy for England. If we continue to do nothing, it could lead to burning heather for next year’s COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow and undermine Britain’s claims to international leadership. It’s time for the government to tackle peat burning. “
Paul de Zylva, Director of Nature for Friends of the Earth, said: “There is no point in letting the nation’s unique moors go up in smoke and it is more difficult for ministers to deliver on their commitments to restore nature, reduce flood risk and to take to store carbon to stave off dangerous climate change. Whatever ministers have said of lobbyists, burning bogs have no place in credible conservation practice. It is time to ban burning and invest properly in bog restoration. “
Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “It has been a year since ministers recognized the need for a legal ban on cremation and now is only one year to end this destructive practice before the COP26 climate negotiations . Peatlands are Britain’s largest carbon sinks and wonderful habitats for wildlife. As we urge other countries to save the rainforests and protect 30% of the land and sea for nature, protecting and restoring our moors is fundamental to government credibility. “
Louise Payton, Policy Officer at the Soil Association said: “The problem of peat emissions is severe and in many areas questions remain how we can drastically reduce emissions from peatlands in the lowlands like the Fens, where 37% of English vegetables are grown. A ban on burning peat, on the other hand, is a quick win. It is also extremely evident as it is adding to not only our climate crisis but also our wildlife crisis. It’s time to stop delaying. ”
Nikki Williams, Director of Campaigning & Policy at Wildlife Trusts, said: “As one of the world’s hardest hit countries, actively destroying wildlife does not only contradict vital efforts to halt and reverse the decline of nature. it also flies in the face of the “green recovery” from the Covid pandemic that our society rightly demands. We must see an end to the peat burning now. “