16 February 2021
In a letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, experts are today warning that the Government’s new partial peat burning ban contains gaping loopholes that could be exploited and could leave the ban almost completely ineffectual.
Around 70% of upland peat will be excluded from the ban , with exemptions allowing further burning even in areas ‘protected’ under the ban. Unless remedied, this will mean more CO2 emissions and more damage to peatland ecosystems (which capture around three times as much carbon as all of England’s trees). This leaves the problem of protecting the UK’s biggest carbon sink smouldering on ahead of our leadership of global climate talks. England’s peatlands could potentially be ablaze amid COP26, as it is scheduled in the traditional peat-burning season.
New YouGov research  released today by Wildlife and Countryside Link, shows a high public appetite for stronger peat protections:
This follows polling from the end of January which revealed that: two-thirds of Brits want promises to protect peatlands included in UK pledges for COP26 (with only 1% opposed).70% want the government to ensure our natural carbon stores, like peat, are healthy and capture as much carbon as possible.
Professor Rosie Hails, Director of Nature and Science at the National Trust said: "This partial ban on burning vegetation on upland peatland is welcome but much of the best habitats for nature and carbon lie outside the existing protected areas where this ban applies. As such it leaves many areas exposed to future burning and fails to deliver the ambition set out in the Government’s 25 year plan. This partial ban fails to reflect the vital role all our peatlands play in tackling the climate and nature crisis and we call on the Prime Minister to expand the ban to other areas and demonstrate the UK's climate and nature leadership this year.
"The National Trust cares for many peatlands and has been working to restore them for years. In places like the Peak District, we have been blocking drains and planting cotton grass, which improves the condition of the peatlands for wildlife like golden plovers or sundew plants, and for people who visit them. Restoring peatlands can also help them to hold more water, protecting historic artefacts and reducing flood risk for communities."
Joan Edwards, Director of Policy, Public Affairs and Marine of The Wildlife Trusts says: “This year, as the UK hosts the global climate conference, COP26, all eyes will be on the UK’s own action to tackle climate change. Our peatlands are a critically important carbon store, often referred to as the UK’s rainforests, and the Government’s own climate advisors say we need to restore all upland peatlands to meet our climate targets. A partial ban on burning peatlands will not achieve this – and it will be extremely embarrassing if our peatlands are still ablaze when the climate conference meets at the end of the year.
“Only around a quarter of the UK’s three million hectares of peatland is in a natural state and, in many cases, it’s being left to voluntary charities to step in. The Wildlife Trusts have restored more peatland than the Government is currently committed to do. The Government needs to show much greater urgency to protect our wildlife and tackle climate change and restoring our peatlands should be top of their to-do list.”
Emma Marsh, RSPB England Director said: "The RSPB agrees wholeheartedly with the recent Government statement that clearly states that the burning of vegetation on blanket bog is damaging to peatland formation and habitat condition. And, further, that it makes it impossible to restore these habitats to their natural state.
"Given the proposed ban relates only to protected sites, a mere 30% of the total area, we fail to see how allowing burning to continue on non-designated sites can be anything other than bad for the climate and bad for nature. We urge the Secretary of State, given that we are in a climate and ecological emergency, to close the identified loopholes and protect all upland peat from burning."
Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “Peatlands are rare and amazing habitats that have taken thousands of years to grow and lock away phenomenal stores of carbon, which can then be burnt away overnight. We are glad that the Government has recognised that burning is damaging our most important carbon sink, but concerned that the regulations expected in Parliament soon could fall far short of the action needed.
“We must fix the limits and loopholes in this ban and commit to strong additional peat protections, including banning all sales of peat compost, ahead of the UK’s presidency of the G7 and COP26 talks. A good global deal on climate action depends on us leading by example with decisive domestic action.”
The charities identified a number of serious problems with the announced partial burning ban that need to be addressed:
Environment experts are urging the government to widen the ban on peat burning to cover all upland peatland in England, not the 31% outlined in the current ban, and to tighten up loopholes to prevent the widespread bypassing of the ban. It is essential that these flaws in the ban are fixed before regulations for the ban are implemented in law this month.
Conservationists are also calling for wider measures to be announced ahead of COP26, to tackle peat damage caused by intensive farming, forestry and horticulture. These include a complete ban on the sale of peat-based compost in the UK and the rewetting of drained and dried out peat in lowland areas. A Yougov survey last month shows high levels of support for these actions from government, with the strongest levels of support for a peat compost ban among older consumers, who are the biggest purchasers of gardening products. 
Notes to Editors:
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