Smoke from burning grouse moors choke Sheffield

“This is the unspeakable face of driven grouse shooting saying ‘F**k the environment, public health, wildlife and you’. Underpinned by the criminal persecution of raptors and a cause of poor water quality and flooding this despicable industry needs to end. End of. “

The above is Chris Packham’s entirely understandable response on Twitter to the news that Sheffield was yet again blanketed in thick smoke, the result (as one resident put it) of “a crime against all of us perpetrated by two grouse moor owners“.

Back in August, Protect the Wild joined the “Reclaim Our Moors Walk 2023” (image below) which went up onto Moscar Moor with renowned campaigners including Clive Swinsco and Snared author Bob Berzins.


Moscar is a grouse moor, an SSSI, and has been owned since 2016 by the 11th Duke of Rutland, David Manners. It borders another enormous grouse shooting estate owned by the Duke of Westminster. As we said at the time, the Moor was virtually empty of wildlife on our visit, but “these moors could be beautiful, could be restored and rewilded, could be teeming with wildlife again, and could be places where everyone could marvel at the wilderness just outside their front door.”

It could be a ‘wilderness just outside the front door’, but it isn’t. Moscar and the surrounding moorland is – almost literally -within walking distance of Sheffield. The city can clearly be seen in the near-distance. But it is intensively farmed for grouse, virtually sterile, and frequently burnt to the ground to provide the mosaic of habitats that grouse thrive in. Fires here have been causing problems for decades, and – as activists explained during the walk – when gamekeepers set fires in certain conditions, the prevailing winds funnel plumes of smoke straight towards it.

Which is exactly what happened last week.



As Now Then magazine reported in a stinging attack on the pollution, ‘How do we stop toxic grouse moor burning in Sheffield?‘:

“Last Monday (9 October), around midday, many residents of Sheffield stepped outside to find that their homes had become enveloped in a low blanket of smog.”

The magazine’s reporter went on to note that:

A staggering 1 in every 19 deaths are at least partly linked to air pollution in the UK’s largest towns and cities, including Sheffield. A 2019 study found that air pollution was the direct cause of between 29,000 and 43,000 deaths for adults aged 30 and over.

In Sheffield, the council estimates that air pollution contributes to between 250 and 500 deaths every year.”

Local MP, Olivia Blake, has been one of just a handful of politicians to speak out against the burning, recognising the damage being done not only to nationally-important moorland but to the people living downwind. Other ministers, notably those with close ties to the shooting industry like Richard Benyon, have been dismissing concerns like these for years…



Massive pollution and destruction just so a few people with guns can slaughter Red Grouse on moorland which is recognised as critical for the fight against climate change.

The timing of the fires couldn’t have been worse. The north of England and (especially) parts of east coast Scotland has been battered by Storm Babet this week. Supercharged from picking up warm moisture from the Bay of Biscay before being trapped over the UK by a high-pressure system across Scandinavia, Babet pummeled the UK in a prolonged period of wet and windy weather with widespread flooding.

Moorlands would naturally hold vast amounts of water, but not when they’ve been incinerated as both writer and academic Gregory Norminton and TheGreenParty candidate for Sheffield Council Peter Gilbert noted…


Grouse moor owners insist that burning is vital for moorland health. it’s not. A report from the University of Leeds, Environmental and Socio-economic Benefits of Peatland Restoration, states the following:

“Those in favour of managed burning of UK moorlands, including peatlands, suggest it is an important tool in reducing the fuel load of the above-ground parts of the heather plants, thereby lowering the risk of damaging wildfire (e.g., Marrs et al., 2019). In a short piece in Nature Geoscience Baird et al. (2019) challenge this argument, and note that re-wetting is a far better tool. Heather does not grow well in water-logged conditions, so a wet peatland has a lower fuel load; the heather does not need managing, it does not need burning. The wetter conditions in themselves also act to reduce the chance and severity of wildfire. Abundant heather is an indicator that a peatland is too dry. Rather than continuing with a cycle of burning to manage the heather, it is better to increase the wetness of the peatland.”

The IUCN recognises the importance of peat and moorland for biodiversity and carbon storage too. As we pointed out in our Protectors of the Wild page on > The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021 the IUCN published a Peatland Programme Position Statement: Burning and Peatlands V.4 in April 2023.

A tweet from Rewilding Scotland reproduces the key findings:


What do the typically complacent deniers from the shooting industry make of all of this destruction?

Moorland owners lobby group the Moorland Association are renowned for lying – er, ‘putting a positive spin on everything’, pre-empting the inevitable back in September with a tweet that alluded to the positive impact of burning vast areas of moorland.

It’s a tweet that really hasn’t aged very well…


…and which looks positively satirical given the news broken by the excellent Raptor Persecution UK that Moorland Association Director Ben Ramsden has been convicted for illegal burning deep peat on Middlesmoor Estate grouse moor, Nidderdale (an AONB renowned for crimes against birds of prey and the cocktail of banned pesticides used by local gamekeepers).

As RPUK explains, Ramsden was found guilty at Skipton Magistrates Court of three counts of illegal burning on the Middlesmoor Estate in Nidderdale, Yorkshire on 8 April 2023. He is a prominent figure in the grouse-shooting world and his conviction will, as RPUK puts it, “no doubt be embarrassing for the industry”.

The grouse shooting industry lies: it lies about raptor persecution, it lies about the ‘sustainability’ of shooting dead thousands and thousands of birds for ‘fun’, and it lies about the fires it sets.  It pollutes, kills, and couldn’t care less about the impact it has on the country and its biodiversity. It bloody well should be embarrassed.

Embarrassment though means an awareness or understanding of social or personal mistakes. It’s a form of internal (or societal) feedback so that the individual learns not to repeat the error. The shooting industry is incapable of that sort of self-awareness. It is incapable of that sort of change.

As Chris Packham said above, and we ourselves have said many times, this despicable industry needs to be shut down. Now.