Duke of Westminster’s controlled heather fires on Abbeystead Estate slammed as ‘environmentally destructive’

A red grouse on moorland.
A red grouse on moorland.

A Lancaster resident has called for an end to the controlled burning of moorland heather on the Duke of Westminster’s Abbeystead Estate.

Dick Follows claims the Duke “deliberately sets fire to moorland heather on his 23,000 acre Abbeystead Estate every year”.

“This releases unnecessary amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as drying out the peat soil so increasing the likelihood of floods further down the river valleys – think Lancaster floods in 2015 and Galgate floods 2017,” he said.

But a spokesman for the estate said the controlled burning is done under guidance from Defra and Natural England.

“Currently there is justifiable public outrage at the Brazilian loggers and ranchers who are setting fire to the Amazon rain forest,” Mr Follows said.

“Yet here on our own doorstep, the Duke of Westminster and Our Majesty the Queen on her Duchy of Lancaster grouse moors are annually, and legally, setting fire to their grouse moors, acts which are also environmentally destructive.”

An Abbeystead Estate spokesman said: “The controlled burning of small patches of moorland heather and grasses under the guidance of Defra and Natural England is an effective way to provide a mosaic of habitats that are suitable for feeding, breeding and 
cover for the benefit of grouse and other moorland birds such as golden plovers, merlins, ring ouzels and 
curlews.

“It also reduces the risk of intense and widespread fires seen across the UK last 
year.

“These uncontrolled wildfires not only destroy the nests and young of breeding birds but can burn deep into peat releasing thousands of years’ worth of locked up carbon.

“Abbeystead Estate is part of an extensive investment programme – which has exceeded over £1m in the last seven years – to restore peat and ensure this carbon stays locked up, while also 
working with the Environment Agency to improve natural flood management downstream.”

A Lancaster City Council spokesman said: “Taking action against climate change is now at the heart of all the council’s policies, but with limited resources available it is important that we work with everyone across the district to achieve carbon neutrality.

“The climate emergency declared by the council is a pledge to make its own services carbon neutral by 
2030.

“Further to this undertaking we are also committed to doing all we can to influence, residents, businesses and organisations to tackle one of the most serious issues faced by humanity.

“As a significant land owner in the district we would be keen to work with the Duke of Westminster on our goal of planting one million trees as part of the new Northern Forest, a project which will help to improve air 
quality, mitigate flood risk, support the rural economy and connect people with nature.”