A new study accepted for publication in the Royal Society’s journal says most of the points antis use to attack heather burning cannot be backed by evidence – and it calls for antis and journalists to lay off the “unhelpful propaganda” surrounding the subject.
The paper, set to be published later this year in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, thoroughly assessed the available scientific literature and concluded that many commonly held views are not verified by the evidence currently available.
These include the preconceptions that: regular burning increases heather dominance; fire kills or significantly damages Sphagnum moss; peatlands are particularly sensitive sites with regard to fire; the interaction between wildfires and managed burning is clear; and fire alone can contribute to peatland degradation.
The paper went on to criticise journalists who relied on press releases from campaigning organisations to produce sensational stories on the subject, without reading the original paper or consulting an independent expert. It identified three press releases issued by the RSPB in 2015, all picked up by the press, which bore “only a passing resemblance to the key findings.”
The GWCT’s Andrew Gilruth said: “A recent study of heather burning in the Peak District concluded that, where they looked, it is being done well. It does conform to best practice guidelines: the overall area burned is small; individual fires are of an appropriate size; and the risk of escape to wildfire is low.”
He said it was time for the public to “accept that fire is a vital part of moorland management and we should focus on learning how to do it well.”