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Prescribed fire in UK heather-dominated blanket bog peatlands: a critical review of “Carbon storage and sequestration by habitat: a review of the evidence (second edition)” by Gregg et al., 2021

This paper questioned the methodology of a recent publication from UK government advisory agency, Natural England, and argued that the review is incomplete and misrepresented evidence on prescribed fire. The authors recommended ways to enhance the review’s value to researchers, practitioners and policymakers.

Andreas Heinemeyer / Published on 16 May 2023

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Heinemeyer, A., & Ashby., M. A. (2023). Prescribed Fire in UK Heather-Dominated Blanket Bog Peatlands: A Critical Review of “Carbon Storage and Sequestration by Habitat: A Review of the Evidence (Second Edition)” by Gregg et al., 2021. Fire 6 (5). 204.

Nearly a decade after the first publication of “Carbon Storage and Sequestration by Habitat” (henceforth Gregg et al.), in 2021 Natural England updated their evidence review. Responding to this publication, however, the authors of this paper outlined a number of concerns about the underlying methodologies and the ways in which the evidence had been synthesised.

The authors first highlighted their concerns with the review protocols of the publication, in that Gregg et al. did not describe these processes in detail. Though Gregg et al. point to their use of a red, amber, green (RAG) assessment system, they do not provide information as to how evidence was categorised. The authors were concerned by this lack of transparency.

The also argued that evidence relating to prescribed fire impacts on blanket bog ecosystems is misrepresented by Gregg et al. on eight fronts, including overstating the value of raising water levels to reduce fire risk; distorting the role and impact of fire in the history of blanket bog formation and perpetuation; overlooking key evidence and misreporting of findings of Heinemeyer et al (2019).

Landscape image of heather burning on Blubberhouses moor, Yorkshire. A small silhouette of a man can be seen just in front of the smoke.

Burning old heather on the Yorkshire moors. Photo: James Elkington / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The authors therefore recommended that Gregg et al. ought to:

  • More clearly describe the methodology used to sythensise evidence in the review so that it can be better assessed by researchers.
  • Remove unevidenced statements or clearly state that they are conjecture.
  • Include a balanced set of peer-reviewers. In its current state, the review includes only a representative from UK charity the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – an organisation invested in opposing rotational burning of heather for grouse moor management.

The authors argued that, since growing evidence supports prescribed fire as a useful and potentially beneficial management tool for blanket bog ecosystems, a judicious, unbiased approach based on robust assessments is now more necessary than ever.

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SEI author

Andreas Heinemeyer

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

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Fire Open access
Topics and subtopics
Governance : Public policy / Land : Ecosystems
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SEI York

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