A campaign group has released new footage showing parts of the Cairngorms, an area which has a high density of peat, quite literally on fire, as gamekeepers burn heather moorland as part of intensive management of grouse moors.

The footage obtained by Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform, shows the extent land managers will go to in their quest to create a habitat suitable for just one species - the red grouse. These grouse will subsequently be shot for entertainment.

Revive campaigner Max Wiszniewski said: “The footage that we captured is extremely disturbing showing vast swathes of heather upland on fire with flames and smoke billowing for miles, all for the single purpose of protecting grouse which will subsequently be shot for entertainment.

Burning for business - Shooting estates muir burning 2019 from Revive on Vimeo.

“I’m sure the public will be shocked to see the damage which is deliberately inflicted on our uplands to create a habitat suitable for one species to the detriment of our environment and wildlife.” 

Grouse moor managers routinely burn patches of heather to create a structurally diverse patchwork habitat to favour red grouse. Tall heather provides concealment from predators while younger heather provides adult grouse with more nutritious shoots for food, and short heather provides greater insect availability for chicks.

The practice known as muirburn is hugely detrimental to the environment. Moorlands are of high conservation value for their vegetation, invertebrate and bird communities with large areas given legal protection under the European Habitats Directive. Muirburn is in direct conflict with concerns about meeting global carbon emissions.

Dr. Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland added: “We’re growing increasingly concerned about the extent and intensity of burning on grouse moors, and particularly the effects of burning over deep peat. Where blanket bog is damaged by burning, impacts include a lowered water table and breakdown of the active peat-forming structure, resulting in the carbon store in the peat being released as climate change emissions.

“There is more carbon locked up in Scotland’s peaty soils than in all the trees and vegetation in the whole of the UK.  Urgent action is needed to reduce Scottish climate emissions and lock  stored carbon into our environment. The Scottish Government must put in place plans to reverse the damaging environmental effects of moorland burning and protect our peatlands as the huge natural treasure they are.”

The footage also shows mountain hares fleeing for their lives as their habitat burns, illustrating the devastating impact this practice has on other wildlife.

Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland said: “To witness wild animals running for their lives to escape such willful and deliberate environmental vandalism is extremely upsetting, made worse by the complete lack of justification for this action.

“As well as the iconic mountain hares, seen on the footage, there’s also the extensive risk to many other species including ground nesting birds and all for nothing more than to line the pockets of land owners looking to enrich their stocks of game birds for paying guns.”

The Revive coalition which includes Common Weal, OneKind, Friends of the Earth Scotland, League Against Cruel Sports and Raptor Persecution UK, will set the agenda for a multi-year strategy aimed at encouraging a national dialogue about how Scotland’s moors should be utilised.  It believes that a fresh look at how this land is used could lead to a better Scotland, better for its economy, its people, its environment and its fauna.