AN ANIMAL rights group is calling for a ban on heather burning after firefighters were called to Askwith Moor.

A crew from Harrogate was called to a ‘controlled burning incident’- believed to have been part of the moor’s management for grouse shooting - at 10.38am, on Saturday, February 16.

North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service said: “This was controlled burning that had become out of control. Due to the windy weather conditions and the size of the fire, crews gave advice to extinguish this fire and supervised this whilst the owner extinguished.”

The blaze created large plumes of smoke that meant drivers on nearby roads had to proceed with caution.

Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, which is campaigning to end grouse shooting, is now urging Harrogate Council to issue ‘stop orders’ to prevent further heather burning on the moor.

Spokesman Luke Steele said: “Burning on grouse shooting estates is extremely damaging to wildlife and the environment. It is concerning that those responsible on Askwith Moor lost control of a fire they deliberately started, resulting in the fire brigade being drawn away from other emergency situations to deal with it.

“We urge Harrogate Council and Natural England to intervene as a matter of urgency to block any further heather burning on Askwith Moor.”

The Countryside Alliance, however, said such a ban could not be justified. A spokeswoman said: “Management burning rarely gets out of control and is restricted to one small area of moorland.

“Stopping this increases the incidence of wildfire, which can be devastating. Only animal rights activists who put ideology above public safety argue for such a thing.”

A Natural England spokesperson said: “We recognise the important contribution that moorland owners make to the restoration of blanket bog habitats and we will continue to work collaboratively with landowners, land managers and other stakeholders to achieve this.

“We have been working with the Moorland Association and others over the last 12 months to reach long term voluntary agreements on how bogs are managed within the framework of the legislation that protects these important sites.

"Consents for burning are issued only exceptionally, where it is necessary for site restoration.”

A Harrogate Borough Council spokesperson added: “The controlled burning on moorlands is regulated by Natural England and Defra.”