This burning season, members of the public reported 262 instances of burning in the Scottish uplands using the RSPB Scotland’s Upland Burn Reporting App.
• RSPB Scotland’s upland burning reporting app reports of burning of moorland and grassland in the Scottish uplands from 1 October 2021 to 30 April 2022.
• One in five were on likely deep peat over 50cm and one in three of the total burns reported were on likely peat over 30cm.
• The number of burns reported in protected sites (SSSIs, SACs and SPAs) was 25 and one in five burns were reported to have taken place in a National Park.
• The evidence gathered by the app will be used to inform debates around burning management. The RSPB is calling for the Scottish Government to use this year’s Programme for Government to set a clear date to introduce a ban on burning on peatlands and a licensing system for all moorland and grass burning.
The web-based system allowed members of the public to share records of recent and active burns whilst out and about on their phones.
‘Rotational burning’ or ‘muirburn’ is used by shooting estates in their management for red grouse, and by farmers and crofters in their management for livestock. In Scotland, burning can be undertaken from October to April each year, with the practice being regulated by the 1946 Hill Farming Act and the voluntary Muirburn code.
However, burning also has a significant impact on our upland landscapes and the diversity of wildlife which call them home. Regular burning damages peat bogs and leads to the release of carbon dioxide and soil carbon and changes in plant life, causing the bogs to gradually dry out and begin to release carbon.
At present, it is estimated that 80% of Scotland’s peatland is degraded with much of the damage being the result of intensive land management practices such as burning and draining. In 2021, emissions from peatlands were added to the Scottish Greenhouse Gas Inventory and it is estimated that they account for 13.5% of total Scottish emissions.
Following recommendations from the Climate Change Committee, the Scottish Government committed to banning burning on peatlands and introducing a licensing regime for any burning taking place elsewhere.
Andrew Midgley, Senior Land Use Policy Officer for RSPB Scotland said, “In the context of the nature and climate crisis, many of our members are worried about continued burning in the hills and frequently send us reports of burning that they are concerned about. We have created the burning app to provide a mechanism to capture the data in a consistent way.
“In this first season, our Upland Burn Reporting app has been an invaluable tool and we are grateful to our members and the members of the public from across Scotland who shared their reports of burning and helped us to build a clearer picture of what is happening in the Scottish uplands.
“The data collected through our app, when overlaid on existing peat depth maps, provides us with an insight into what is happening across these landscapes and will help to inform debates about burning and land management in our uplands.
“This exercise has revealed some important information in that it appears that burning is taking place on deep peat, despite the code of practice saying that this should not happen. This suggests that the current light-touch regulation is not sufficient and supports the government’s planned approach of introducing stronger regulatory control of burning.
“RSPB Scotland supports the Scottish Government’s proposed approach of banning burning on peatlands and introducing a licensing regime for any burning taking place elsewhere and we urge the government to deliver their proposed licencing scheme as soon as possible.”
The burning season has now ended, but members of the public can still submit evidence of burning. To anonymously report a burn and download the app (available on iOS and Android), members of the public can visit the RSPB Burning website. There they can find instructions on how to download the app, as well as information on how to spot a burn and to stay safe when reporting a burn.