Grouse moor burning and flood prevention

Letters
Photograph: Alamy

Ed Douglas is correct to observe that the impact that burning has on how quickly water runs off the moors is contested (Country diary, 22 November).

Anti-shooting activists claim, without merit, that grouse moors are responsible for flooding. Flooding expert Prof Jeremy Purseglove is on record saying there is “no direct evidence that grouse moor management causes flooding” and that “overgrazing and a lack of trees in the catchments are a much greater problem”.

While it is true that the government gave grants to moorland managers to cut thousands of kilometres of drainage ditches (to improve sheep grazing) across the north of England, which will have had negative consequences for flooding, this was not a particular issue in the Peak District where the River Don originates.

Moorland Association members have worked with Moors for the Future Partnership and others to re-profile eroding gulleys, re-vegetate the bare peat and reintroduce sphagnum moss – the “king of the bog” – to the moors after it was killed off due to historical atmospheric pollution.

Sphagnum moss protects the underlying peat, slows the flow, filters the water and holds 20 times its own weight in water, reducing the risk of flooding.

However, in order to inoculate the peat with Sphagnum moss we have to clear some of the thick surface vegetation, on limited occasions through carefully controlled burning.

A presumptive ban on all burning thus has the potential to hinder our members’ efforts to prevent flooding and also the ability to mitigate the damage from wildfire, another catastrophic environmental disaster. Not, therefore, “a step in the right direction” as Mr Douglas suggests.
Amanda Anderson
Director of the Moorland Association

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition