Why burn blanket bog? Environmental Information Regulation request gets dusty answer

In a post titled £2.5m uplands agreement seems to sidestep Burning Code, I asked why Natural England has given Walshaw Moor Estate an explicit exemption from the Heather and Grass Burning Code.

I’ve sent an Environmental Information Regulations request to Natural England, asking them  why they have done this.

Round 1 – National England fails to answer my question

This is Natural England’s emailed explanation:

“The Heather and Grass burning code is a voluntary code that outlines best practice. The code itself is not law. It recognises that burning plans agreed with Natural England may vary from the code and where they do these plans take precedence. This reflects that the code is by its nature generic, whereas individual agreements and burning plans will be specific and tailored to local circumstances

The section of the code on sensitive areas relating to peat bog and wet heathland states that these areas should not be burned ‘other than in line with a management plan agreed with Natural England’. The consent defines the agreed management operations (grazing, burning and use of vehicles) and so burning of these areas defined in this context does not contradict the code.

Overall the consent establishes agreed limits to the scale of management activity in the place of earlier imprecise consents. Burning activities on the Walshaw Estate will now be subject to specific controls – burning will not be permitted in areas where heather amounts to less than 50% of the vegetation and limits have been set regarding the length of rotations.”

Round 2 – Natural England drops a crust of information

This didn’t answer my question, so I wrote back to Natural England, with these questions:

  • the Heather & Grass Burning Code says, “there should be a strong presumption against burning sensitive areas. Doing so may permanently damage the environmental interest of the land and may be unlawful. In special circumstances, the advantages of burning on sensitive areas may outweigh the disadvantages.” So I suppose the next question is, what are the special circumstances on WME that mean that the advantages of burning blanket bog (which is a sensitive area) outweigh the disadvantages?
  • burning will not be permitted in areas where heather amounts to less than 50% of the vegetation – but by exempting peat bogs and wet heathlands from the habitat mapping requirement, how will Natural England and Walshaw Moor Estate know where these prohibited burning areas are, in these habitats?

I have now found an answer to my question about why  “it shall not be necessary to identify the category described as “Peat bogs and wet heathland”. Natural England is lumping in the category of wet heathland together with the category of degraded blanket bog. And the category peat bog is covered by the categories of active and degraded blanket bog. Deep in the Appropriate Assessment of WME Notice March 2012, is the explanation that it’s impractical to map wet heathland as a separate habitat, because it’s present only in small areas and lines and is too small to be shown on a map. So that takes care of that. Peat bogs and wet heathland will be mapped as part of sensitive areas, just not under those names.

But I still haven’t received an answer about what the special circumstances are on WME  that make the advantages of burning blanket bog outweigh the disadvantages. I’m working on it though.

(If you think Natural England is wrong to allow Walshaw Moor Estate to burn blanket bog, please sign the petition to ban blanket bog burning.)

Updated 23/11/2012 with info about why Natural England is lumping wet heathland in with degraded blanket bog in the sensitive areas mapping.

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