EMBER: Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River basins

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography

Abstract

Controlled burning is used worldwide for the management of vegetation, yet there is serious concern about the environmental implications of such practices. Across Northern England and parts of Scotland, moorland burning is a traditional practice for encouraging and maintaining heather growth (75% of the world's heather cover occurs in the UK uplands). However, detailed evaluations of the costs, benefits and sustainability of burning are hampered by a lack of basic scientific data. Many moorland owners feel pressured to change what they see as traditional practice despite any convincing evidence of environmental degradation and this is causing serious tension between farmers and regulators. The problem also has major financial implications because heather burning is subsidised by the government under its environmental stewardship scheme, whilst paradoxically an estimated £450-630M is being spent on trying to improve the quality of water courses to meet Water Framework Directive requirements. Unsurprisingly, evaluation of burn sustainability is one of the most pressing applied ecological issues for which upland managers are requesting evidence from the scientific community. EMBER will address these issues by providing the first co-ordinated evaluation of moorland burning effects on river catchment hydrological and ecological processes. Case study sites influenced by prescribed burns will be established in internationally important SSSIs in the Peak District and North Pennines, UK. Without this research, our understanding of hydrological and ecological responses to moorland burning will remain poor, biodiversity will be at risk and these systems will potentially fail to meet EU and UK policy requirements with resultant implications for landowners. EMBER will increase understanding of the processes linking prescribed moorland burning, hydrology, water quality and stream invertebrate communities in upland peat dominated catchments. Four work packages (WP) will aim to: 1. increase understanding of the effects of moorland patch burning on the hydrology and physicochemistry of peat, through examination of changes in soil hydrology and water quality. 2. provide a better understanding of the effects of moorland patch burning on basin runoff quantity and quality, through examination of river flow regimes, suspended sediment concentration and water chemistry. 3. assess the influence of changes in stream hydrology, water quality and sediment fluxes on stream ecosystems through examination of stream invertebrate community biodiversity and fish abundance 4. gain a more fundamental understanding of some environmental drivers of upland aquatic community response to burning by experimentally manipulating fine sediment flux under controlled conditions using a series of streamside mesocosms. Taken together these packages will provide a holistic patch- to basin-scale evaluation of burning from the perspective of peat hydrology, chemistry, river water quantity and quality, and stream ecosystems, thus providing the balanced knowledge base which is currently lacking. In the longer-term we expect EMBER to act as a major reference underpinning UK moorland burning policy.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Upstream 
Description Trudi Entwistle worked with water@leeds to explore how water influences the character of the landscape in and around the uplands of the South Pennines. "Upstream" charts Trudi's changing perspective of this landscape based on dialogue with the scientists who study the upland environment. http://www.wateratleeds.org/about/art-exhibition/ 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Several exhibitions and artist contributions to workshops 
URL http://www.wateratleeds.org/about/art-exhibition/
 
Description Our research has increased understanding of the effects of prescribed vegetation burning on blanket peatland hydrology, chemistry and physical properties, and on the hydrology, water quality and biota of rivers in upland peat-dominated catchments. It is the first time that a systematic and comprehensive assessment of burned and unburned catchments has been carried out.

The project was initiated in response to concerns over the intensification of rotational heather burning on blanket peatlands and the lack of evidence to inform various stakeholders about the environmental effects.
Exploitation Route Key information for upland management relevant to grouse moors. E.g. landowners, regulators, other scientists
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

URL http://www.water.leeds.ac.uk/ember
 
Description Used by general public, environmental groups/agencies and land owner groups in discussions about land management
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Discussed in parliament
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Discussed in houses of commons debate
URL https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-11-18/debates/92B33DDB-FCE9-4118-A35A-8D054E9CC15C/Moorla...
 
Description Holden invited to SNH review of Muirburn
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Ilkley Moor Management Plan
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact The City of Bradford Metropolitan Council Environment and Waste Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee, in November 2015, recommended that alternative techniques to vegetation burning (such as cutting or flailing) be explored. These suggestions have been formalised in the management plan with reference to the EMBER project outputs.
URL https://bradford.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s11701/Ilkley%20Moor%20Management%20Plan%20Final%20Consul...
 
Description Natural England
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Evidence for land management impact on soils and water quality - influence on management actions
URL http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5978072?category=4993022171283456
 
Description Natural England freshwater narrative
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Influence on conservation priorities within Natural England, for headwater rivers
URL http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/6524433387749376
 
Description Research discussed in 2x Westminster debates
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2016-10-31/debates/7076f2c8-30d3-4c38-8608-988eb871b6cb/Westmi...
 
Description Monitoring water quality in Chellow raw waters - Woo Gill experimental catchment manipulation.
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation Yorkshire Water 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2013 
End 05/2015
 
Description NERC Innovation - Yorkshire iCASP
Amount £4,800,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P011160/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2022
 
Description Understanding plant-soil feedback effects impacted by peatland fire
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2018
 
Title
Description  
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Dataset associated with 'Prescribed burning, atmospheric pollution and grazing effects on peatland vegetation composition';. 
Description Subsets of two vegetation surveys held by UK government body Natural England with additional environmental data including plot physical attributes, burning status and deposition of atmospheric pollutants. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title EMBER comparison - systematic review 
Description Shortlisted papers considered as part of a systematic review of moorland burning literature, with codings for seven ecosystem properties relevant to the EMBER research project. Soil temperature disturbances, water table depths, FPOM concentrations, invertebrates, water temperature. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL http://archive.researchdata.leeds.ac.uk/696/
 
Title EMBER plot locations 
Description Grid references, burn age categories and slope position categories for the study plots used in the EMBER project. Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Description Chris Packham video 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Chris Packham refers to the research in one of his broadcasts
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-injdXcWm8&feature=youtu.be
 
Description Committee on Climate Change 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact citations in 2015 progress report
https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/6.736_CCC_ASC_Adaptation-Progress-Report_2015_FINAL_WEB_250615_RFS.pdf

increase in discussions by MPs about the role of grouse moor management in flooding and climate change related events (December/January 2015)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/6.736_CCC_ASC_Adaptation-Progress-Report_2015_F...
 
Description Media 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media coverage in the Times, the Independent, Herald, Scotsman, Yorkshire Post, BBC Radio 4 Farming Today, BBC Look North (TV), BBS Radio Scotland, BBC Radio York. Also various coverage on blogs by organisations such as RSPB, Moorland Association, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

RSPB requested further details for inclusion in presentations.
Large scale coverage on Twitter including tweets by Chris Packham
Discussed at IUCN peatland conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.wateratleeds.org/ember/
 
Description Media interest 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media coverage in Financial Times and Guardian journalist George Monbiot's Twitter followers and his personal website

Contact from further journalists (Channel 4/ITN news)
Contacted by an Australian scientist looking to initiate a class action against grouse moor owners by flooded residents in upland areas of Yorkshire
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/543de6d2-aeec-11e5-993b-c425a3d2b65a.html
 
Description Sustainable Restaurants Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact see http://www.thesra.org/grouse-changing-the-rules-of-game/


see http://www.thesra.org/grouse-changing-the-rules-of-game/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.thesra.org/grouse-changing-the-rules-of-game/