We have to address the issue through legislation, because the alternative simply has not worked.
The environment department is considering introducing laws to prevent the burning of peat, the UK’s largest terrestrial carbon store, Zac Goldsmith has revealed.
During a debate on natural solutions to climate change and rewilding yesterday, several MPs spoke out about the burning of peat. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “Ministers could make a decision right now to ban the burning of blanket bog, ending the release of huge amounts of emissions that could otherwise be captured by peat.”
Several environmental campaign groups have called for peat burning to be banned, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Friends of the Earth. Last year, over 150 estates signed up to a voluntary initiative supported by government to scale back the fires.
However, Goldsmith said that the voluntary approach “had not proven 100 percent successful as had been hoped. We are developing a legislative response to the problem and we will come back to the House in due course with our plans.
"There is no disagreement with the honorable members who have spoken today about the need to address the issue, but we have to do that through legislation, because the alternative simply has not worked.”
Amanda Anderson, director of the upland landowners’ group the Moorland Association, said: “There is a world of difference between severely damaging wildfire and careful, skilled burning. Grouse moors are delivering a substantial environmental benefit, particularly in terms of carbon capture on peatland, and we believe strongly that this should be taken into account by government.”
Government figures suggest that carbon emissions from heather burning in the uplands account for two percent of peat emissions, she added.
A spokesman for Defra said that the government would publish its strategy on peat by early 2020.
The debate on rewilding was secured by Rewilding Britain, after more than 100,000 people signed a petition supporting large-scale restoration of nature.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.