Shrub clearance for Natural England
By Jennifer Holmes

Shrub clearance for Natural England

case study: Shrub clearance reduces risk of fire spread

In this case study, we look at how clearing silver birch from peat bunding located on Doncaster New Humberhead Peatlands controlled potential risk of fire spreading to underground Peat areas. (Picture left shows ‘before’, main picture show ‘after’).

You can read the key case study highlights below, or download the case-study in full to get the whole story.




  Site background

Large areas of Hatfield Moors have been intensively surface milled for peat since the 60s. This ceased in September 2004 and since has been profiled and managed to allow the key peat forming plants such as sphagnum mosses and cotton grasses to re-establish across the old, milled areas. The vast workings have been split into smaller compartments as part of the management for ease of work, each having a peat wall (bund) as the distinction between adjacent compartments.

After the fire on Hatfield Moors, part of the Humberhead Peatlands Natural England deemed it would be beneficial to remove the silver birch scrub, followed by treatment with herbicide and careful placing of arisings to remove additional fire risk moving forward and to make access on foot along the cell bunds easier. If left to grow the trees would cut off access completely, and cause environmental issues, so it was best to carry out this project whilst the trees were juvenile.


  A challenging landscape

Access to site was the main concern – with a speed limit on site of 10MPH we had to keep driving off any hard core roads to a minimum to ensure the tracks were not damaged for foot access. Due to the nature of the site all precautions had to be taken to eliminate any possible spillage of herbicide use and minimal or no damage to the surrounding patches of heather. As the Silver Birch are the pioneer species on this site, if a fire were to occur it would naturally sweep through the heather but when it reached the Birch the fire would slow causing the fire to go underground, and the peat reserves are the fuel. Removing these trees would allow fire to sweep across and burn itself out.

  What solution was implemented?

A site visit and walk around the cell bunds was conducted along with the lead contact for these works from Natural England. This was necessary due to the complexities of the site and to carry out a risk assessment. The old peat extraction bunds formed footways spanning 1 metre wide. We devised a 4 step plan to complete the project:

  • Cut Silver Birch to ground level.
  • Larger birch to be cut into smaller sections.
  • Throw arisings into the wet bund areas.
  • Paint neat Glyphosate including dye onto each stump face.


 The outcome

We cut down (as level with ground as is possible on bunds) any scrub growing on bunds and up to 3 meters off each side. Any living specimens were treated with Glyphosate that contains a blue dye to help identify them. The arisings were removed to a cell that was either wet or obviously going to become wet through winter to avoid arisings becoming a fire source later. Herbicide was applied to any remaining stumps, ensuring all areas of the stump were covered and enough dye was used to make it visible for a long period of time.

The bunds were completely free of vegetation after all works had been completed. Removal of the trees gives clear access across the site, and the methods we used ensures minimal environmental impact on this beautiful natural site.


Full details on how we cleared the site of silver birch growth

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