A failed legal challenge on heather burning in England may have a positive impact on how future regulation of muirburn is shaped in Scotland.

The latest court defeat for Chris Packham’s Wild Justice group came this week when a High Court ruling by Mr Justice Dove dismissed Wild Justice’s ‘speculative’ attempt to judicial review Defra’s most recent burning legislation in England.

The attempted judicial review had sought to disrupt the Heather and Grass Burning (England) Regulations 2021. The regulations ban heather burning on England’s most protected sites with peat of more than 40cm, unless under licence for special beneficial circumstances.

In Scotland, muirburn is undertaken in accordance with The Muirburn Code. The code provides good practice guidance for burning and cutting of vegetation, and sets out the statutory restrictions that apply.

Tim Baynes, Moorland Director at Scottish Land & Estates, said:

“Mr Justice Dove had the opportunity to listen to the evidence and rejected Wild Justice’s case against DEFRA’s Heather and Grass Burning (England) Regulations 2021

“This judgement is relevant north of the border where the Scottish Government has announced their intention to legislate on muirburn, and may be looking at the English situation.

“We have seen opponents of muirburn trying to use concerns about climate change ahead of the COP26 conference to generate publicity.  Their allegations about the impact of muirburn on carbon and net zero are not backed up by the latest science and this judicial review confirms the weakness of their case.

“We recognise that there are groups who are ideologically hostile to shooting and suppressing moorland management such as burning is part of a wider campaign to stop shooting. It is disappointing that such campaigners continually misrepresent the actions of moorland managers, and the science around this conservation management, and we are pleased that this latest attempt has failed once again.”

BASC, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Countryside Alliance and the Moorland Association successfully applied to join the proceedings as interested parties and as a result were able to submit evidence to the judge in the case, Mr Justice Dove, who considered this material when reaching his decision to throw the case out.

Wild Justice has been ordered to pay Defra costs up to the sum of £8,900 and the interested parties £1,100.

A spokesperson for the organisations, said: “This is positive news for the dedicated and hard-working land managers who are responsible for protecting, preserving and promoting our uplands.

“Wild Justice’s application was speculative at best but required a firm opposition by Defra which was reinforced by our submissions as interested parties. We will continue to work with Defra to ensure land managers have the tools at their disposal so that they can benefit key habitats and species.

“The interested parties have agreed that the costs recovered from Wild Justice will in turn be donated to the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust, a charity close to all our members’ hearts.”

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