Ministers have been accused of deliberately stalling plans to ban the environmentally damaging process of burning peat bogs, in a further sign of government support for people who enjoy shooting grouse on moorlands.
After a week in which it emerged that people who shoot grouse had been exempted from the “rule of six”, which limits gatherings in the fight against Covid-19, activists believe the environment secretary, George Eustice, who is from a farming family, is blocking moves to ban peat burning. It is also understood that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, whose Richmond constituency is close to moorlands in north Yorkshire, is sympathetic to those who run grouse estates and shoots.
Campaigners have long opposed the practice of burning peat bogs to encourage new heather shoots – a source of food for grouse. In January, government advisers on the committee on climate change said it should ban peat burning this year, but a new strategy is not expected for months, until well after autumn burning has taken place.
Peatlands in the UK hold about 400m tonnes of carbon, double the amount of all the UK’s forests put together, and are vitally important to helping tackle climate change. The process of burning peat to create better conditions for rearing grouse can severely damage the ability of peatlands to lock in carbon. Environmentalists believe there are tensions in the department and that Eustice is blocking an outright ban.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole said the government was stalling and had to act before burning starts again next month: “Moorlands lock up millions of tonnes of climate wrecking gases and give important habitats for wildlife. Despite their key part in fighting climate breakdown and protecting nature, we’re still yet to see a ban on them being burned. “The government has been promising to ban destructive moorland burning for the past year, but has failed to step up and do it. Enough is enough. The environment secretary, George Eustice, must ban moorland burning now, before the burning season starts again on 1 October, and stop another cycle of destruction.”