Skip to content

Why we don’t use controlled burning on Marsden Moor

A helicopter drops water on a fire on the Marsden Moor Estate, West Yorkshire
Fighting moorland fires on Marsden Moor | © National Trust/Victoria Holland

We’re working hard to protect Marsden Moor from future fires and there are many ways to do this. Find out the reasons why we don’t include controlled burning as part of our fire-prevention strategy.

Protecting the peatlands

The primary reason we don’t burn on Marsden Moor is because doing this can severely damage the peat that covers these uplands. Healthy peatlands are an important tool for trapping carbon, even more so than trees.

Burning increases flood-risk

When peatlands are burned, those fires can dry out the moorland, increasing the erosion of the peat soils. This can lead to fast run-off, as water can't be easily absorbed into the landscape.

Burning increases carbon emissions

When peat is exposed, it also becomes a carbon emitter, rather than a carbon store. Instead of using controlled burning, we focus on re-wetting the moorland to reduce the risk of fire spreading and to restore the blanket bog.

Burning reduces biodiversity

Burning can also harm the biodiversity on the moors, as some plants can't cope with being burnt on a regular basis. Though it may look like the moors have recovered quickly after being burnt, that's because dominant grass species are the first to grow back.

These grasses outcompete heather, cotton grass and sphagnum moss, leading to further drying of the moors. Fire can also kill insects and animals such as small mammals and reptiles.

Other upland sites burn, why not here?

Many people ask why controlled burning is carried out on other upland sites but not on Marsden Moor.

Marsden Moor is an area of deep peat, a special protected area and a site of scietific interest. Therfore burning is not permitted here. The moors around Marsden and across the South Pennines are also especially dry and degraded due to years of acid rain damage during the industrial revolution. This means the peat on these moors is very vulnerable, with much of it exposed. Burning these areas would cause even further damage.

Aerial view of Marsden Moor Estate, West Yorkshire
Aerial view of Marsden Moor | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

How burning affects regrowth

Marsden Moor has a lot of Molinia (purple moor grass). When areas are burnt, Molinia is often the first species to grow back. Although this gives the impression the moors have ‘recovered’, much of the biodiversity that was there before has been lost. Additionally, burning Molinia causes it to grow back stronger and that doesn't help us to control the fuel load.

Molinia outcompetes other species like cotton grass and mosses and forms a monoculture. Molinia accelerates the drying out of peat so, unlike mosses and other moisture-loving species, it doesn’t help us to re-wet the moorlands. This means the moors dry out, increasing the likelihood of further fires.

Vegetation breaks

Instead, we use machinery to cut vegetation breaks to help reduce the spread of fire. Using this specialist machinery gives us more control over the areas we cut and allows us to reduce the impact on wildlife.

We plant sphagnum moss to help hold water in the areas that have been cut, which further helps to reduce fire risk. These vegetation breaks are cut in strategic points on the moors such as near footpaths and along road edges.

Grazing the moor to reduce the amount of material

Grazing has been excluded in parts of the moor to give the restoration interventions time to work and allow the bare peat to recover and revegetate. However, we work in partnership with the Marsden Moor commoners and grazing is being increased on parts of the moor.

In the longer term, all parts of the moor will be grazed by sheep and cattle. Grazing moorlands is not only an important part of commoners’ agricultural businesses but an important management tool for nature conservation. The Marsden Moor commoners are vital for the future of Marsden Moor.

Fire prevention education

All moorland fires are caused by people, so our focus is on education and having a ranger presence on the ground during fire season. We work closely with the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Kirklees Council and neighbouring landowners to raise awareness of the dangers of moorland fires, and the ban on barbecues and open fires on Marsden Moor. Find out more about our work to protect Marsden Moor from fires.

Learn more about controlled burning

In 2017 the University of Leeds carried out research into the effects of rotational burning: Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins (EMBER). Read the results of the EMBER report.

The Government is also planning to introduce new legislation to prevent the burning of heather and other vegetation on protected blanket bog habitats.

A woman is leaning against a huge craggy rock with her back to the camera, admiring the view from Pule Hill on Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire. Grey clouds cast shadows across the moor, which stretches for miles into the distance.

Discover more at Marsden Moor

Find out how to get to Marsden Moor, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

Aerial view of Marsden Moor Estate, West Yorkshire

Our work to protect Marsden Moor from fires 

Discover the work we’ve been doing to restore Marsden Moor following a series of devastating fires and learn fire-prevention tips to help us keep the moorland safe.

Three people out on Marsden moor are squatting down in the moorland grasses, planting a tree

Landscapes for Water 

Learn how we're working with partners to protect uplands with woodland creation, peatland restoration and natural flood management to reduce fire risk.

View looking north from Wessenden Head towards Wessenden Reservoir on Marsden Moor Estate, West Yorkshire.

Conservation on Marsden Moor 

Learn how National Trust rangers and volunteers are working to care for Marsden Moor by restoring peat, removing invasive species and minimising the risk of floods and fires.

An apprentice ranger planting sphagnum moss plugs on Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire

Volunteer opportunities on Marsden Moor 

Find out how you can apply to volunteer on Marsden Moor and the roles available, from helping the rangers to repair footpaths, to leading guided walks across the moorland.