When left unburned, heather loses nutritional value for grouse. ‘Until now, there was little evidence of the environmental impacts of moorland burning. Yet, many moorland owner and individuals who hold sporting rights to the land have felt pressured by regulators and conservationists to change their burning regimes,’ said Dr Lee Brown from the University of Leeds.
EMBER researchers compared 120 peat patches in ten river catchment areas across the Pennines with an equal split between burned and unburned areas. Water table depth, the level below which the ground is saturated with water, proved to be deeper in areas where burning had taken place. Deeper water tables mean that peat near the surface will dry out and degrade, releasing pollutants.
‘Altering the hydrology of peatlands so they become drier is known to cause significant losses of carbon from storage in the soil,’ said Professor Joseph Holden from the University of Leeds. ‘This is of great concern, as peatlands are the largest natural stores for carbon on the land surface and play a crucial role in climate change. They are the ‘Amazon’ of the UK.’