CAMPAIGNERS and the Moorland Association have clashed over the numbers of grouse moor burning incidents across North Yorkshire.

Conservation group Wild Moors say there have been 709 reported burning incidents on grouse moors between October and April, to cultivate younger heather for game birds.

The group claims these include reports of suspected illegal burning performed on deep peat and are joining Greenpeace and the RSPB to urge the government to carry out a full investigation, and introduce a blanket ban on burning peatlands.

The Moorland Association has rejected the claims. Director Amanda Anderson said: “This supposedly extensive investigation reveals the overwhelming majority of controlled burns comply with the legislation. Even by their own admission, RSPB and Greenpeace have found only two incidents of burning where they believe a burn may have been conducted on an area of deep peat and the evidence is not conclusive. We are confident our members are compliant, are following best practice guidelines and are in touch with Defra.

“The Fire and Rescue Service in England supports controlled burning on moorland for the prevention of wildfire, the single most serious threat to the carbon store, as wildfire ignites the underlying peat. Controlled burning within the specified season is supported by government and by those who are up to speed with the latest science on peatland protection. Only the tips of the older, woody, vegetation are burnt off and the peat underneath is left unaffected. The most up to date science shows not only does controlled burning not damage peatland, it may have a positive effect on carbon capture.”

Luke Steele, of Wild Moors, said: “Grouse moors continue to fan the flames of climate change by setting the nation’s carbon-rich peatlands ablaze, despite the government’s climate advisers urging that every last peatland needs to be restored to protect these important ecosystems from collapse. Wild Moors is urging the government to extinguish grouse moor fires once and for all by introducing a complete ban on burning peatlands.”