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Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River basins

The 1st of October sees the start of this year's moorland burning season.

Our research has increased understanding of the effects of prescribed vegetation burning on blanket peatland hydrology, chemistry and physical properties, and on the hydrology, water quality and biota of rivers in upland peat-dominated catchments. It is the first time that a systematic and comprehensive assessment of burned and unburned catchments has been carried out.

The project was initiated in response to concerns over the intensification of rotational heather burning on blanket peatlands and the lack of evidence to inform various stakeholders about the environmental effects.

An Executive summary (PDF) and full report of Key findings (PDF) are both available.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council with additional support from Yorkshire Water.

If you refer to or use information contained in these reports, please let us know and include us in your citations:

Brown, L. E, Holden, J. and Palmer, S. M. (2014) Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins. Key findings from the EMBER project. University of Leeds.


Report authors

Profesor Lee Brown

Profesor Lee Brown

Profesor Joseph Holden

Profesor Joseph Holden


Dr Sheila Palmer

Dr. Sheila Palmer


Articles published in international, peer-reviewed scientific journals

Vegetation Composition

Prescribed burning, atmospheric pollution and grazing effects on peatland vegetation composition

*This paper examines how burning alters peatland vegetation composition, which contextualises the whole EMBER project.


River runoff and flood generation processes

Impact of prescribed burning on blanket peat hydrology

* This paper relates to Part 4 of the report. It provides more conclusive findings of soil and river hydrology, particularly during peak rainfall events, following further analyses of the data since 2014.


River ecosystems and biodiversity

River ecosystem response to prescribed vegetation burning on blanket peatland

Organic sediment pulses impact rivers across multiple levels of ecological organization.

Sediment deposition from eroding peatlands alters headwater invertebrate biodiversity

* These papers relate to Part 6 of the report


Soil processes

Vegetation management with fire modifies peatland soil thermal regime

 * This paper relates to Part 5 of the report


Fire decreases near-surface hydraulic conductivity and macropore flow in blanket peat

* This paper relates to Parts 3 and 4 of the report


General review/ commentary

Effects of fire on the hydrology, biogeochemistry, and ecology of peatland river systems

* A review paper that integrates parts of the EMBER report with research by other scientists

Moorland vegetation burning debates should avoid contextomy and anachronism: A comment on Davies et al. 2016

* A critical comment on a paper that discussed various issues related to moorland burning

Contextualising UK moorland burning studies: geographical versus potential sponsorship-bias effects on research conclusions

*A critical analysis of previous work and associated funding sources showing that the EMBER findings are robust.