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Providing evidence to improve practice

Individual study: A systematic review to determine if burning degrades blanket bog vegetation in the UK

Published source details

Stewart G.B., Coles C.F. & Pullin A.S. (2004) Does burning degrade blanket bog? Systematic Review No. 1. Centre for Evidence-Based Conservation


Burning, traditionally used in moorland management in some areas of the uplands of UK, has a significant impact on floristic composition and vegetation structure. Blanket bogs, many of high nature conservation value, are one of the habitats that are impacted, but whether of not burning is compatible with nature conservation objectives, such as maintaining plant communities, is often unclear.

A systematic review (see: for methodology) of the effects of burning on blanket bog was undertaken in order to determine if burning is compatible with nature conservation objectives, specifically, whether or not burning degrades blanket bog vegetation. Eight articles were included in the meta-analysis, these reported the results of 11 independent datasets.

Three data sets indicated that burning degraded blanket bog, five were contradictory and three indicated that burning did not degrade blanket bog. The evidence for degradation became stronger when randomized controlled trials were distinguished from site comparisons. However, outcomes were dependent on interpreting changes in floristic composition in the context of favourable condition criteria. They were not robust to changes in favourable condition criteria and were subject to problems of scale, standardisation and repeatability.

The weight of available evidence suggests that burning either degrades blanket bog or is contradictory in effect. If quality of evidence is used to discriminate among studies then the evidence for degradation becomes stronger. However, a degree of caution is required given the small sample size, variable timescales of the studies and problems in the interpretation of favourable condition. Only one article (2 datasets) reported on the effects of rotational burning.

Pending further investigation, the authors suggest that burning of blanket bog and wet heath should normally be avoided if favourable condition is to be achieved or maintained.

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