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Enzymatic haem and non-haem high-valent iron-oxo species are known to activate strong C-H bonds, yet duplicating this reactivity in a synthetic system remains a formidable challenge. Although instability of the terminal iron-oxo moiety is perhaps the foremost obstacle, steric and electronic factors also limit the activity of previously reported mononuclear iron(IV)-oxo compounds. In particular, although nature's non-haem iron(IV)-oxo compounds possess high-spin S = 2 ground states, this electronic configuration has proved difficult to achieve in a molecular species. These challenges may be mitigated within metal-organic frameworks that feature site-isolated iron centres in a constrained, weak-field ligand environment. Here, we show that the metal-organic framework Fe2 (dobdc) (dobdc4- = 2,5-dioxido-1,4- benzenedicarboxylate) and its magnesium-diluted analogue, Fe0.1 Mg1.9 (dobdc), are able to activate the C-H bonds of ethane and convert it into ethanol and acetaldehyde using nitrous oxide as the terminal oxidant. Electronic structure calculations indicate that the active oxidant is likely to be a high-spin S = 2 iron(IV)-oxo species.