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Moors fires are a burning issue – they destroy our precious wildlife habitats’

It has been a lively few days in my email inbox.

Last week I reported on a battle raging in North ­Yorkshire between gamekeepers burning heather to boost grouse populations and campaigners who say the practice is creating an ecological disaster.

Many people wrote praising the Mirror. There were others sticking the knife in.

The issue isn’t just confined to the North York Moors National Park. Readers told me how fires also take place in County Durham, the Peak District and also the Yorkshire Dales.

I’ve been called a liar, accused of being in the pocket of anti-bloodsport campaigners and not understanding the countryside because I live by the sea. And apparently I have an agenda because I like birdwatching.

Let’s clear up a few things.

I grew up in the farming county of Bedfordshire where my maternal grandfather worked on the land and regularly went shooting. My three uncles still do.

A brace of pheasants hanging in my grandad’s barn was a frequent sight and I was fed more rabbits than I can count as well as partridge, venison and other game. I’ve even tried grouse (once… not a fan). But I have always despised fox hunting, badger baiting and hare coursing.

I hadn’t given the practices behind the grouse shooting industry a close look until the alarm bells started ringing recently.

Scientists say UK peatlands hold about 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, double the amount of all the UK’s forests put together, and are vitally important in helping tackle climate change.

They warn the burning must stop to protect this vital natural tool and our precious wildlife that rely on it.

But when The Countryside Charity, RSPB, Friends of the Earth and The Wildlife Trust as well as the 53 other organisations that make up the Wildlife and Countryside Link – the largest environment and wildlife coalition – say the practice is severely damaging, surely it is time to listen. Oh, and don’t forget the Climate Change Committee who recommended an immediate ban in January last year.

Denying this clear science is ­potentially as damaging as saying the pandemic is fake news. If we don’t start taking major steps to protect the health of the planet, there will be no more grouse left to shoot.