I learned a new word recently, swaling, which is the West Country term for controlled burning of moorland. It comes up in the Dartmoor National Park Management Plan 2020-2045, and in ACT’s response to the consultation on the Plan.
Swaling only gets two mentions in the Plan. The first notes that the Moorland Vision for Dartmoor, agreed in 2005, confirmed that swaling, along with grazing, was “essential to delivering the Vision”. The second advises that concerns about swaling being in conflict with climate change objectives were raised when the Management Plan was developed.
One of the Principles in the Plan under the section headed A grazed moorland landscape is to “Ask Government to review the Heather and Grass burning code to provide updated guidance for land managers on management regimes to deliver conservation objectives and respond to the climate emergency.” This needs to take account of the wild fire risk and other means of delivering environmental outcomes, it adds.
ACT in its response says swaling needs to be reduced and better controlled, although this needs to be balanced against the risk of wildfires.
There are many other aspects of the Plan that Act’s response covers but swaling caught my eye because of its novelty value. I looked it up on Google and came across a polemic about the practice by George Monbiot, in which he states that swaling, and grazing (he’s not a big fan of sheep), are causing “an environmental disaster”.
Competing interests will always present challenges, but we must make sure economic interests do not always trump those of wildlife and the environment.