Calderdale Council Climate Change Working Group to respond to Defra’s peat burning legislation

Report on Calderdale Council Climate Change Working Party’s discussion of Defra’s legislation on the licensing of burning on peatlands in England on Wed 3rd March

Thanks to Hazel Draper’s question to the Calderdale Council Climate Change Working Group meeting on Wed 3rd March, Councillors agreed to seek clarity from Defra about their legislation on the licensing of burning on peatlands in England. (Hazel’s question is around 4min 50 sec into the recording of the meeting. )

Praising the Calderdale Council’s good work on land management and climate change reduction, Hazel asked if the Council planned to object to Defra’s legislation and to request more transparency and public consultation on the legislation, given that:

  • It only includes deep peat in protected areas like Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • There is a lack of clarity on what those locations will be in Calderdale
  • How those protected areas of deep peat will be managed, etc.

Councillors told Hazel in the online meeting that:

  • The Council’s Countryside Officers would identify which areas of Calderdale’s uplands are covered by the proposed legislation
  • The Council would engage with “interested community organisations that have really been up on this”
  • Work on a response to Defra about the implications for Calderdale, by the deadline (which is 19th April 2021 although the Working Group was not aware of this).
  • The Climate Change Working Group will email Hazel with a more detailed response and also work out more on the “good detail” in her question in “to and fro on email.”

The Chair, Cllr Scott Patient Archer, thanked Hazel for the question and said he took the point. He added,

“We want to be sure [Defra’s framework]’s got teeth, that it means something so that landowners are able to engage with the process. So we will go away and do that and provide a more detailed response offline.”

After the meeting Hazel and Ban the Burn agreed that Ban the Burn would send Cllr Jenny Lynn a summary of the group’s position on Defra’s  proposed legislation  on the licensing of burning on of heather and other vegetation on protected deep peat in England.

More loophole than legislation

From the sketchy information that Defra’s so far published we think there is more loophole than legislation.

Apparently the detail of the proposed legislation on the licensing of burning on peatlands in England will be published in April, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (UK); with implementation in October 2021, in time for the burning season. (In fact we later found that Defra had laid the Statutory Instrument before Parliament on 16 February although we were not aware of that at the time of the Calderdle Council Climate Change Working Party meeting. Nor was the Working Party, it seemed.)

Ban the Burn Summary Statement

1. The proposed legislation should be published in good time for a 6 week public consultation to take place, and for it to be subject to Parliamentary Debate as a proper Bill

NOT as a Statutory Instrument that slides under MPs’ radar and avoids public and Parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

2. Massive areas of deep peat remain completely unprotected

The proposed legislation only covers deep peat (over 40cm depth) in Sites of Special Scientific Interest that are also Special Protection Areas & Special Conservation Areas.

In these areas, licensed burning will still be permitted for a variety of dubious reasons.

3. Defra need to clarify exactly which areas of peat more than 40cm deep on the triple-protected sites, like Walshaw Moor Estate, are covered under these proposals

Local people must easily be able to see where they are.

Land within the protected areas where burning can be licenced because of steepness or being more than 50% scree also needs to be clearly identified for public access.

4. There’s no justification for licensing burning on protected blanket bog habitats for conservation purposes

Licensed exemptions for so-called restoration burning are not necessary, there are alternative means of restoring blanket bog.  Public funding should be available for landowners to carry out these alternative measures – more at 6, below.

5. Licenses should not be available for burning for reduction of wildfire risks – rewetting peat should be a priority

Legislation should aim for peatland rewetting – the most effective means of preventing wildfires. It’s better to invest public funding in measures for that (see 6. below)

Rewetting should be central to Defra’s work with landowners and managers to develop local wildfire control plans.

6. Public funding for public goods

The government’s new £640m Nature for Climate Fund is earmarked for tree planting and peat restoration. See also the Final Report – The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, that was launched on 2nd February.

It’s vital that this public money for capital spending on peatland restoration is NOT used on land where burning is happening – that’s not public money for public goods.

Landowners should be able to apply for this funding for rewetting, rewilding and non-burning conservation measures ONLY – not anything that involves burning.

7. The legislation must clarify how burning prevention is to be monitored and enforced

Natural England can’t monitor and enforce existing regulations and protection plans.

Just have a read of our latest struggles to get Natural England to investigate sphagnum burning and apparently unconsented infractructure construction on Walshaw Moor Estate.

8. There should be a publicly accessible licence database for any licences to burn in limited circumstances

The public must be able to know where burning is and isn’t permitted – particularly

since the public are likely to be the only ones monitoring burning, given cuts to Natural England funding and staff.

9. Natural England should issue any burning licences – NOT the Defra Sec of State

Natural England currently issues licenses that allow landowners to do things that would otherwise be illegal, eg Wildlife and Protected Species Mitigation licences.

Centralising licencing with the Sec of State would remove local accountability.

10. The proposed legislation must be clear about whether/how it offers any greater restrictions to burning on deep peat than already exist

a) Defra must say whether the proposed legislation retains Natural England’s requirements in its Position Statement on Restoration Burning: that restoration burning is only allowed if other conservation measures have been tried without success for ten years; &  the max duration of permitted restoration burning is 3 years max. Will these requirements apply to licenses for burning for conservation purposes?

b) Defra needs to explain why its press release says licences [for burning for conservation purposes] may cover several years; and why it says nothing about the requirement to have tried other conservation measures for ten years before resorting to burning.

c) In addition, the legislation needs to clarify if it keeps all the burning loopholes in the Heather and Grass Burning Code 2007. It is a weakness of Natural England’s Position Statement on Restoration Burning is that it permits these burning loopholes .

11. Defra should outlaw ANY burning on any peat – regardless of its depth or the protected status of its area

Burning on shallower peat, which the new legislation will permit, is equally bad for climate, habitat and hydrology.

All peat should be protected from burning – it’s all vital for restoring biodiversity, storing carbon and raising the water table/reducing flood risk.

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