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).

Burning old heather on Blubberhouses moor, Yorkshire.

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.