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If we want to cut flooding we should stop burning the moorland

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Last Friday, campaigners in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, issued an urgent warning. The peat bogs on a grouse shooting estate, in the hills that drain into their valley, were on fire. The burning of peatlands, research suggests, is likely to exacerbate floods downstream. Towns in the Calder Valley such as Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd have been flooded repeatedly – partly, local people argue, because the higher parts of the catchment can now hold back very little of the rain that falls on them..

On Sunday Storm Ciara landed in the UK. The River Calder rose higher than ever before, and the three towns duly flooded. The next day the environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, made a statement in the House of Commons expressing her “support and sympathy to all those whose homes or businesses have been flooded”. She assured the House that “every effort is being made to keep people safe”. But she said nothing about the land management that might have caused the flood.

Last year a paper published in the Journal of Hydrology X reported experiments conducted in the Pennines, the hills in which Calderdale is located. It found that when peat bogs are restored, when deep vegetation is allowed to recover and erosion gullies are blocked, water is held back for longer in the hills and peak flows in the streams draining them are reduced. Broadly speaking, the rougher the surface, the less flooding downstream. Burning moorland for grouse shooting reduces roughness and increases erosion.

In October the government announced that, as landowners had failed to stop burning........

© The Guardian