Wuthering moors 6

I am very grateful to Natural England (that’s @NaturalEngland for those of you on Twitter, where you can find me as @MarkAvery) for sending me details of the Walshaw Moor management agreement.  They were clearly eager that I read it, so I have, and so can you here.  What do you think of it? I’d be very keen to hear from experts in upland ecology on the subject.

On the face of it, and since this apparently resolved ‘dispute’ was mostly about burning of blanket bog, the agreement seems to allow an awful lot of burning to go on – just as, I assume, the Estate wanted.  The Estate can burn active blanket bog, wet heath and degraded blanket bog as well as dry heath.

Indeed, one reading of the agreement is that it makes burning of active blanket bog mandatory with 5% of the site having to be rotationally burned each year.  Is that consistent with favourable condition of the habitat?  I would need experts to tell me the answer to that question.

It is unclear to me, but what do I know, that NE has gained anything from reaching this agreement and, more importantly, it is unclear whether the internationally important blanket bog habitat has gained anything through NE reaching this agreement?  I wonder whether the agreement meets all the concerns outlined by NE when they embarked on this case and if it doesn’t why they have reached an agreement?  Was it because they were completely wrong to be worried in the first place or is it because pressure has been applied on them?

And you might want to wonder about it too since you will be paying through your taxes for the HLS agreement that will underpin this management.

I’m still rather puzzled by why NE reached this agreement so i will have to ask them and ask some other questions too.  I think I’ll be writing a few letters at the weekend and asking NE why they were worried about burning of blanket bog on this site and why they now aren’t? And I will write to Defra to ask Richard Benyon whether he had any meetings, telephone calls or paper or electronic correspondence with NE about heather burning, particularly about heather burning at this site, over the last few months.  If there are any people out there who’d like to suggest other questions, or more precise versions of those questions, then I’d be very happy to hear from you.

And this agreement is important as it seems that this has been a test case and similar agreements will apply over large areas of the uplands.

There is something about all this that sets my nostrils twitching.

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10 Comments

  1. John Miles

    Weed species first - How to create mono-culture and remove several breeding birds from a heather moor.
    Vermin control - No need to add to that one as all species that the estate want to remove will be removed.
    Blocking all drains - Did not see that there.
    New roads - Did not see that there.
    Burn as you like as all the keepers have to say is the fire got away from us.
    As Blanket Bog is supposed to reduce heather growth how will an estate encourage its expansion?

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  2. Andy Richardson

    Could one not argue these habitats became SSSIs only after heather burning ?

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  3. Hi Mark. As I am putting together the next edition of Conservation News I will share with you some stuff: The Upland Management Handbook (English Nature, 2001 – still available on NE's website), Recommendations concerning burning of blanket mire and wet heath (Box 6.11) start with, “As a general rule when managing mires for nature conservation, if in doubt, do not burn .. [and] .. Where blanket bog and wet heath is in favourable condition, the ideal option for nature conservation is not to burn at all”. This was of course written well before the subject of carbon sequestration was identified as a priority. (Bullet number three in the Handbook says “A 20-year burning regime is the recommended minimum rotation for blanket mires and a burning rotation of 20-30 years may be preferable”). Again, remember this recommendation does not take into account carbon costs – and indicates that the Handbook urgently needs to be updated to take climate change issues into account.

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  4. Roderick Leslie

    Unfavourable SSSIs ? From what I remember when EN launched the SSSI target some 70% of SSSI area in unfavourable condition was upland and was due to overgrazing and excessive burning.

    Whilst a huge area has been brought into unfavourable - recovering the challenge we now face is to turn it into favourable - the alternative appears to be an inevitable slip back into unfavourable.

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  5. Gongfarmer

    Mark,
    I admire your determination with this subject, clearly we need to get to the bottom of it as I still think it stinks of ministerial interference with an a vested interest. I’m afraid the minister should have no say on issues like this, he may own his own grouse moor, but he is no expert on upland ecology and ecosystem services. I would love to know what NE specialists who were originally dealing with this case think before its media machine no doubt stepped in to clean up the situation. Clearly there was a presumption against burning originally by NE so we need to get to the bottom of the u-turn. I’m afraid NE’s recent press release and details on the agreement does little to persuade me, it appears a result of the building pressure on the organisation over this issue.

    There is growing mountain of peer reviewed research suggesting that burning of bogs and vegetation on deep peat is a bad idea in terms of biodiversity and latterly water quality and carbon resource. Why do we burn – to provide grouse and sheep ideal feeding conditions on new heather shoots. This is to prop up an industry and we should not be managing these upland ecosystems for a single species such as red grouse. Burning of bog results in a dryer, bryophyte poor, heather dominated heath community and impedes the accumulation of further peat. A pristine deep peat bog community should be diverse, wet and the jewel in the crown of the UK’s habitats. To give a sporting business environmental payments to allow it to burn this sensitive habitat are as bad as giving a thief a public funded incentive to break into your house. I thought this money was income forgone i.e. paying them not to burn it and look after it properly? It sets a poor president.

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  6. paul Irving

    This is actually about par for the course in terms of burning agreements and better than many. That's not to say it is ideal, i for one would want the recommendation from the burning code of no burning on blanket bog.
    One could look at it as a holding proposal in that hope fully nothing will deteriorate as long as the really best bits are recognised as special and not burnt. I think this is not good enough and those bits of degraded bog and wet heath should be managed to become much better they were afterall probably good bog 200 years ago.

    NE seem to set the bar too low!

    then there are all the water and carbon sequestration issues that must be addressed , if not now when. Dry peat is oxidising peat which produces CO2. Ne should be demanding that moors are re-wetted yes still allow some burning but the peat needs to be in good heart.

    In the short term burning does aid bird biodiversity but it depresses that of plants, bryophytes and presumably invertebrates. In the long term if not burnt some would become upland woodland and scrub on the drier ground the bogs would flourish and the whole would be better for climate change mitigation, water conservation and quality and bio diversity. But then there might be too few grouse for driven shooting. What we ought to be aiming at is that the best should be allowed to do as i suggest and the poorer could be managed for grouse as long as it did not degrade and oxidise the peat.

    Come on NE and Defra have some bloody vision and stop be satisfied with a poor status quo that suits a few grouse shooters.

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  7. Gongfarmer

    Should we however fund moors for commercial driven grouse shooting with public money to deliberately go against the ideal requirements for the moor? It would certainly make the wooly economics around the industry much harder to justify when daft claims are made on it's importance to the economy.

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  8. Joe W

    Mark,

    Have Natural England confirmed that Walshaw Moor is to be entered into a HLS agreement ?

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  9. Peter Rafferty

    Hello Mark,

    The detrimental effects of moorburning have been known for decades in the geomorphological literature. By coincidence I refound the Tivy when looking through my offprints just the other day and just after having read your comments above.

    Thus:

    “Moorburning is an even more intense and effective agent of erosion than the movement of sheep. It may result in the complete destruction of the vegetation, exposing the soil beneath to breakdown and erosion. This is frequently produced when, on a recently-burned area, overgrazing prevents the re-establishment of a dense plant cover, or when, for some reason or another, the fire has been too intense. A prolonged and intense fire can destroy the roots and the peat layer as well as the above-ground parts of the heather: in dry, well-drained podzols the narrow Ao and A horizons can be completely destroyed in a single fire. In the thicker Ao horizons, especially those of peaty podzols, the burning of the upper layers of the peat can render the soil temporarily sterile and impermeable, which impedes the re-establishment of the vegetation. If heavy rain falls on a peaty surface laid bare by burning it reduces the material adjacent to the surface to a fine mud which prevents all infiltration, and the severe rilling that can result on steep slopes can remove the upper layers of the peat in a similar way to rainwash. When conditions are dryer, accelerated oxidation and deflation by the wind can add to the destruction. The more the return of the vegetation is impeded, the greater the risk of complete destruction by these processes.” (Tivy 1957). (My translation)
    Young (1972) adds that “Heather-burning can convert moorland into a condition resembling the tundra”.

    Refs:

    TIVY, J. 1957. Influence des facteurs biologiques sur l’érosion dans les Southern Uplands Écossais. Revue de Géomorphologie Dynamique 8 pp9-19.

    YOUNG, A 1972. Slopes. Oliver and Boyd

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    • Mark

      Peter - welcome and thank you for that.

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