England: Heather Burning
The Heather & Grass Burning Code for England came into force in October 2007, along with the associated Regulations. The Trust is one of the founder members of the Best Practice Burning Group in England and contributed as part of the Group, to Defra’s review of the Code which resulted in the revised version.
The 2007 Code and Regulations contain the following features:
• Modern regulation. Reduced red-tape and “light touch” controls were aimed at the responsible majority of practitioners.
• Partnership working. The code is an example of Government working with land managers, and others, to produce a solution which is good for business and good for the environment.
• Benefits for wildlife. A new industry standard was established that incorporated up-to-date advice from experienced land managers on how to burn for the benefit of wildlife.
• Legal protection for soil. The restrictions that were introduced are only likely to affect an irresponsible minority. These aim to protect soils from significant exposure and erosion which can harm wildlife, pollute watercourses and cause carbon to be lost from peat soils.
• Informing Neighbours. The requirement to inform neighbours prior to burning was changed to a need to consult neighbouring land managers and commoners if they might be affected by smoke or fire.
The restrictions that were introduced by the 2007 Code aim to prevent burning:
• outside the burning season.
• on steep slopes, or on exposed rock or scree.
• fires covering an area >10ha; and
• fires that produce an area of bare soil >0.5ha, or an area of bare soil that extends >25m along a watercourse.
The 2007 Code and Regulations introduced new responsibilities for Natural England. The organisation:
• Became the enforcement agency for all burning issues;
• Became the authority to decide applications to carry out burning activities that would otherwise be banned;
• Was granted the power to require notification prior to burning from people who have not complied with best practice in the past.
Best Practice Guides
Some Guides have been developed and more are planned. These provide specific advice in more detail than is available in the Code, and as the Guides have only been published online, they can be changed easily, when required.
In south-west England, heather burning is referred to as swaling, and there is a tradition on the south-west moors of burning on a larger scale. However, all provisions of the Regulations and the Code apply, but a best practice guide that is relevant to this part of the country has been drafted.
Website for Downloads
More information is available on Natural England's website and all documents can be downloaded.
The Heather Trust View
The Trust welcomed the 2007 Code and congratulated Defra on resisting the temptation to increase the level of control exercised over heather burning. The 2007 Code was a triumph for common sense; it could not satisfy everyone’s wishes, but it was a very acceptable compromise.
Defra accepted that the majority of burning follows acceptable practice and the ‘better regulation’ message runs throughout the Code. This places most emphasis on guidance rather than (unenforceable) legislation, and the Code and Regulations provide Natural England with the power to target those who do not comply.