Moorland Association Director guilty of illegal burning of moorland

Ben Ramsden, ex-Director of the Moorland Association, has pleaded guilty to three charges of burning deep peat on his family’s Lofthouse Moor, which lies within the East Nidderdale Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Landowners burn peat to maintain the moor for grouse shooting.

Raptor Persecution UK reported that Ramsden resigned from the Moorland Association just days before his barrister entered a guilty plea for him at Skipton Magistrates Court in North Yorkshire. He didn’t actually bother to appear in court himself.


Ramsden pleaded guilty to burning on a designated site on peat of a depth of more than 40 cm without a licence. The government introduced a new law in 2021, The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations, banning the burning of our peat moors if the peat is more than 40cm deep and on a legally designated site such as an SSSI. Of course, the government introduced a number of loopholes to this law, and land owners can apply for a special licence even if their land is protected by this legislation.

But with seeming arrogance and the feeling that he could do what he wanted with impunity, Ramsden went ahead and burnt his moor anyway.

Local newspaper Craven Herald & Pioneer reported that in court, Ramsden’s barrister had said that the landowner misunderstood the law:

“The court heard in mitigation that it had been a genuine mistake, that it would not happen again and that Ramsden would make sure his keepers got it right from now on.

Ramsden’s legal representative said it was quite complicated legislation which carried a maximum fine of £1,000. Ramsden had co-operated throughout the investigation which had been due to mistakes made during the depth measurements.”

It is hard to believe that the now ex-Director of the Moorland Association doesn’t know the law on the very subject that he was recruited to be an expert on.

It’s inconceivable that Ramsden was confused by legislation that isn’t actually complicated at all: the law bans the burning peat of depths of more than 40cm on designated sites. Simple.

With directors like these…

Ramsden’s resignation as Director was, likely, an attempt by the Moorland Association to save its reputation. After all, the organisation presents itself to the public through a facade of caring about the environment, concerned with “regenerating” and “recovering” grouse moors. Moorland Association members are, apparently,

“instrumental in finding innovative ways of improving the health of peat for carbon and water quality.”

In reality, the Moorland Association lobbies the government, representing grouse-shooting landowners who own and manage millions of acres of peat moor across England and Wales. Raptor Persecution UK has also pointed out that Ramsden:

“served on DEFRA’s Project Advisory Group for a multi-year project called, ‘Restoration of blanket bog vegetation for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and water regulation’”

It is no wonder, then, that England’s nature is some of the most depleted on earth when men like Ramsden are allowed such key roles.

It’s also unsurprising that when those with a bloodlust for murdering grouse take on such roles, our moorland is devoid of wildlife and birdsong. Protect the Wild’s Charlie Moores described one English moor he visited as “intensively farmed for grouse, virtually sterile, and frequently burnt to the ground to provide the mosaic of habitats that grouse thrive in.” The same can be said for much of the moorland throughout England.

Ramsden’s now-deleted profile shows that his interest in managing moorland has always been profit-driven. A major reason why he took the role was also to build “local, ground-up initiatives demonstrating the benefits, to all, of grouse shooting and the moors, particularly the work undertaken by keepers in maintaining the quality of biodiversity and rich uplands.”


Ben Ramsden Moorland Association


But as Protect the Wild has reported time and time again, there are zero benefits to burning moors. Rather, peat fires are devastating to both biodiversity and the climate. Greenpeace states that our boggy moorland has “soil so wet and rich with plant material that it may store more carbon, acre for acre, than tropical rainforest.” Releasing this carbon is, of course, nonsensical.

The burning of the moors also means that peat loses some of its ability to retain water, which can lead to flooding in surrounding towns. Just days ago, the city of Sheffield was choked in smoke as landowners burnt the nearby Moscar Moor. Air quality spiked to four times the legal limit.

A paltry fine

Ramsden was given such a pathetic punishment that it makes a mockery of the law. The Craven Herald & Pioneer reported:

“Ramsden was fined £300, £100 and £200 for the three offences. Magistrates said the level of fine varied due to the area of land involved. He was also ordered to pay a surcharge of £240 and costs of £85.”

This is a man who owns vast swathes of land, and the amount is peanuts to him. It is extremely unlikely to act as any sort of deterrent and he will  no doubt continue with business as usual, selling grouse to shooters and burning moors as usual.


  • Moorland is critical for storing carbon and rewilding projects are vital for rebuilding biodiversity. Grouse moors are underpinned by wildlife crime (especially raptor persecution – see Birds of Prey and the Law) and many native predators die in snares and traps (see Snares and the Shooting Industry). Offering grouse moor owners a ‘licencing lifeline’ that allows them to continue with a ‘business as usual’ model will make no difference whatsoever to protecting such an important national resource or the wildlife that lives on it. The only viable long-term option is to end grouse shooting once and forever. For more see ‘OPINION: The grouse shooting industry must be shut down‘.


Featured image Moscar Moor burning October 2023. Bob Berzins