Muirburn and Peatland

See Supplementary Information – Muirburn and Peatland

Key Issues:

  • Peatland plays a valuable role in supporting a range of land uses and providing natural services. It needs to be managed carefully in order to continue that role.
  • When in good condition, peatland will have a high water table, a high cover of Sphagnum bog-mosses, and slow heather growth, which rarely becomes rank.
  • Techniques are available to improve the condition of some degraded peatland resulting in the restoration or improvement of the multiple services that peatland provides.


  • Burning should not take place on peatland unless it is part of a habitat restoration plan approved by SNH.
  • Such a restoration plan will almost always include drain blocking, or other actions to raise the water table. Although cutting will normally be preferred, burning may have a role in:
    • reducing dense vegetation which may shade out mosses and thus hinder recovery, and
    • exposing drains and facilitating dam installation.
  • More information about a habitat restoration plan is in Supplementary Information – Muirburn and Peatland.
  • If burning is to take place, a low severity fire should be used, normally burning with the wind, when the litter under the canopy is moist.
  • Peatland areas should never be burnt in very dry conditions, as this can cause significant damage and lead to serious peat fires.


  • As part of habitat restoration, where ground conditions permit, cutting can be used to open up the canopy and allow a range of bog species to recover and re-establish.
  • On wet peatland, lightweight cutting equipment, mounted on low ground pressure vehicles, should be used to minimise the amount of compaction.
  • Care needs to be taken to avoid scalping hummocks. 


  • Peatland can be damaged easily by incorrect management.
  • Fires that ignite peat can be very damaging and difficult to extinguish.
  • Many peatland areas form part of drinking water catchments.  Inappropriate management can lead to impurities in the drinking water, which are expensive to remove.
  • Bad burning practices can produce bare peat, which is easily eroded by wind and water, allowing it to enter watercourses.
  • Badly managed cutting can damage the surface of the peat.


  • Reducing a heavy vegetation fuel load on peatland may reduce the risk of lasting damage should a wildfire occur.
  • In some circumstances, burning and cutting can break up dominant heather and grass cover, which may increase the diversity of the vegetation and create space for peat-forming Sphagnum mosses to re-establish or expand their cover.