Muirburn: Open letter to Scottish Government highlights controversy over wildlife and muirburn bill

A published open letter to the Scottish Government on muirburn from nature groups has drawn attention to the ongoing controversy over the practice.

Muirburn is the intentional and controlled burning of moorland vegetation to encourage new growth that can benefit grazers and certain birds, including grouse. It can also help create firebreaks to prevent the spread of wildfires.

But it has also proved controversial with some campaign groups, who say burning on grouse moors poses a danger to wildlife and peatland.

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A coalition of nature groups, including League Against Cruel Sports, John Muir Trust and Scottish Raptor Study Group, have written an open letter to rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon saying all muirburn should require a licence, regardless of whether it takes place on a grouse moor or not.


The letter comes as a Government survey is “calling for views” on the latest version of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill. The consultation is open until May 5.

The new Bill seeks to ensure grouse moors are managed sustainably and comply with animal welfare standards. One of the changes to the Bill says a muirburn licence is required at all times of the year.

Licenses for burning on peat would only be granted in exceptional circumstances, such as for wildfire prevention.

The letter also supports proposals to “redefine deep peat depth”, but calls for the Scottish Government to change the measurement to 30cm rather than 40cm "to take Scotland beyond the ambitions of the UK Government”.

However, Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, said the measurement is “an arbitrary figure”, “without a shred of supporting evidence or logic”.

Director Ross Ewing argued muirburn was “hugely beneficial” for managing habitat for livestock and ground nesting birds, and that it “reduces wildfire risk”.

He urged the Scottish Government to take a “sensible, informed approach on muirburn”, pointing out the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service “continues to support muirburn as a mechanism for reducing fuel load”.

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said it was committed to improving protections for iconic wildlife and biodiversity, and the new Bill places strict regulations on the use of muirburn, to ensure it is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner.



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