Vegetation burning for game management in the UK uplands is increasing and overlaps spatially with soil carbon and protected areas

David J. T. Douglas*, Graeme M. Buchanan, Patrick Thompson, Arjun Amar, Debbie A. Fielding, Steve M Redpath, Jeremy D. Wilson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Burning for habitat management is globally widespread. Burning over carbon-rich soils is a global environmental concern due to the potential contribution to climate change. In the UK upland heath and blanket bog, so-called 'moorland', often overlies carbon-rich soils, and has internationally important conservation value, but is burned as management for gamebird shooting and to a lesser extent for livestock grazing. There is little detailed information on the spatial extent or temporal trends in burning across the UK. This hinders formulation of policies for sustainable management, given that the practice is potentially detrimental for soil carbon storage, water quality and habitat condition. Using remotely sensed data, we mapped burning for gamebird management across c45 000 km(2) of the UK. Burning occurred across 8551 1-km squares, a third of the burned squares in Scotland and England were on peat >= 0.5 m in depth, and the proportion of moorland burned within squares peaked at peat depths of 1-2 m. Burning was detected within 55% of Special Areas of Conservation and 63% of Special Protection Areas that were assessed, and the proportion of moorland burned was significantly higher inside sites than on comparable squares outside protected areas. The annual numbers Of burns increased from 2001 to 2011 irrespective of peat depth. The spatial overlap of burning with peat and protected areas and the increasing number of burns require urgent attention, for the development of policies for sustainable management and reversal of damage to ecosystem services in the UK uplands. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-250
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date17 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

We thank Maider Guiu, Trevor Smith, Tessa Cole, Jonathan Groom and Emma Teuten for data collection and map production. We thank Natural England (especially Matthew Shepherd) and James Hutton Institute (especially Steve Chapman) for provision of peat depth data and advice on interpretation. Data collection was funded by RSPB and James Hutton Institute, the latter supported by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development through project HUNT (212160, FP7-ENV-2007-1). Analyses were funded by RSPB.


  • Blanket bog
  • Calluna vulgaris
  • Designated site
  • Heather moorland
  • Peatland
  • Red grouse
  • Water color
  • Great-Britain
  • Fire regimes
  • Peat soils
  • Histories
  • Peatlands
  • Australia
  • Impacts
  • Forests


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