Managing the fragile habitat of the North York Moors is key in order to preserve them, says Robert Goodwill, and burning is currently part of that.
Mr Goodwill was speaking in a House of Commons debate about moorland burning where MP for Sheffield Hallam Olivia Blake had voiced her support for banning the “destructive” practice in order to protect and restore peatlands.
Responding, Mr Goodwill said: “Two thirds of the North York Moors national park - that glorious countryside that many of us will have seen on the television programme Heartbeat - lie in the Scarborough and Whitby constituency, and 79 per cent of the North Yorkshire Moors and Pennine special protection areas are managed as grouse moors.
"It is vital, I agree, that we preserve that peat.
“The North Yorkshire Moors are not, in the main, blanket bogs.
"They are dry heathland peat, and different ways of management need to be conducted on different types of moorland.
“It is also vital that we preserve these fragile habitats, and if we are to preserve them, they do need managing.
“I must make the point that the North Yorkshire moors are not a natural environment.
"They are a fragile environment.
"In the middle ages, the moors were covered in trees, which were cut down for fuel and used to smelt the iron stone found under those moors.
"Only in the Victorian era did management systems come in that encouraged sheep farming and grouse.
“That involved cool burning the heather in the winter period when the fire was unlikely to get into the peat itself.
"That involves burning small patches of the moorland to create a patchwork of different stages of heather, some of it very tender and young.
“It is the tender, young heather that the sheep and grouse can feed on.
"The old, woody heather is no good for the grouse and is certainly no good for sheep.
"It is also no good, by the way, for ground-nesting birds such as the golden plover, the lapwing and the curlew.”
Mr Goodwill says moors that are not managed, such as Troutsdale Moor, risk becoming scrubland or victims of wildfires.
“I say to the Minister that we need more science before we make any decisions. The science is unfolding.
“We also need to understand that some people are against the burning of moorland because they are against grouse shooting.
"That is a perfectly respectable position to have, but they should not use it to destroy the very fragile environment of the North Yorkshire Moors.
“If we do not have a managed moorland, we will have no grouse, no sheep, no lapwings, no curlews and no birds of prey.”
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