EMBER …. Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River Basins

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the issue of grouse moors, Hen Harriers and campaigning to hold upland shooting estates to account through the launch by Dr Mark Avery of an online epetition to Ban driven grouse shooting.  Others are far ‘moor’ erudite and knowledgeable so I hope when I offer links to such blog posts or articles that readers find the information or critique useful and persuasive?  In keeping with that theme, we join with other campaigning conservationists to encourage you to read the recently released

Brown, L. E, Holden, J. and Palmer, S. M. (2014) Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins. Key findings from the EMBER project. University of Leeds.

Given that Government is funding quite a number of peat restoration projects, the findings of this report should give civil servants and Ministers serious cause for a rethink on funding for upland grouse moor management?

Controlled heather burning on Derbyshire grouse moors.   Paul Adams: Wikipedia Commons Licence.

Controlled heather burning on Derbyshire grouse moors.
Paul Adams: Wikipedia Commons Licence.

Of the fifteen key findings outlined in the report’s Executive Summary, we offer below a sample as ‘evidence’ that we believe that a serious review of the practice of heather burning should be undertaken and funding for estates which practice burning be similarly reviewed.

Prescribed burning on peatlands was shown to have clear effects on peat hydrology, peat chemistry and physical properties, river water chemistry and river biota.

Burning reduces the organic matter content of the upper peat layers.  The net result is that the peat is less able to retain imortant particles known as exchengeable cations.  In other words, the peat in burned sites is deprived of chemicals which are important for plant growth and for buffering acidic rainfall. 

Sphagnum is an important peat forming species.  Changes in the hydrological properties of the peat after fire make the peat less conducive to Sphagnum moss growth.

River flow in catchments where burning has taken place appears to be slightly more prone to higher peak flows during heavy rain.  However, this was not a conclusive finding.

Particulate organic matter (predominantly peat) deposits were increased up to four-fold in the bed sediments of burned rivers compared to unburned rivers. 

It is interesting additionally to note that the authors report that “while the area of burned moorland has increased in some areas of northern England significantly since 1995*, the implications for peatland soils, their hydrology and biogeochemistry, river flow regimes, water quality and biota remains poorly understood”.  *Yallop et. al. 2006.

Read the key findings here.

I’m not sure of who came up with the title to create the acronym, but they certainly seem to have a sense of humour.  How long will it be before the ashes settle for the final time on this archaic practice?  Was there a great a loss or inconvenience to the agri-industrialists after stubble burning was reviewed and banned?

So, if the epetition nears its target of 100,000 signatures by the end of the ‘window’ made available by this Government will the ConDems allow discussion in the ‘House’?

Perhaps there’s an opportunity here, sell tickets to raise funds for charity or better still to help finance independent scrutiny of grouse moors in receipt of public funds or maybe Hen Harrier monitoring?

Defra’s response to it achieving the 10,000 signature milestone was late and when it arrived it was somewhat lack lustre.  Avery’s analysis of it made far better reading, the kind of persuasive prose which should encourage others to expend a little effort and contribute energy to the campaign for change.  Critical mass can deliver conservation, the failed forestry sell of is perhaps an iconic example?

 

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