Wuthering moors 2

Last Wednesday all Natural England staff received an email entitled Natural England’s work in the uplands.

It tried to explain why NE’s Chair, Poul Christensen, had been reported as saying that NE’s Vital Uplands document had ‘let his organisation down badly’.

Because not everyone agreed with the NE vision, which you may have noticed was produced before the last General Election and before the neutering, emasculation and silencing of NE, it will soon be taken down from the NE website and will no longer form the basis of …well, of anything really.

The same email drew staff’s attention to the statement about the Walshaw Moor case.

Many NE staff across the organisation are wondering what will be next.  It seems to many that a perfectly good piece of work on the future of the uplands has been unceremonially ditched on instruction from Defra and that a crucial piece of regulatory casework has been conceded. They may be wrong to interpret events like that but that’s how they feel.

In many ways the repatriation of the policy function by Defra, and removing it completely from NE, is a good thing in terms of democratic accountability.  It means that Ministers  should answer for the actions of their delivery bodies such as NE.

And so we should expect Richard Benyon to be keen to answer the following questions:

Has he written to NE or spoken to senior figures within NE concerning Walshaw Moor?  If so, what was the nature of his input and did he instruct or advise NE on the line they should take? If so, what was the nature of his instruction or advice?

Does the agreement reached between NE and the estate lead to more, less or similar amounts of heather burning over blanket bog areas? And is that outcome consistent with the scientific advice that the Minister has received?

Does the agreement with the estate include agri-environment payments under HLS and, if so, are these payments entirely in line with the level of payments received by other land owners with similar habitats and issues?

Does the Minister have any interests himself in grouse shooting?

I wouldn’t expect an answer from Richard Benyon as a Guest Blog here (although Minister, you’d be very welcome) but I will jot down these questions and put them in a letter to the Minister soon.  Perhaps there are people out there who could help me with some other questions that are worth asking – or maybe could guess at some answers even?





19 Replies to “Wuthering moors 2”

  1. If you want to get to the truth follow the money.

    There is also a question of what in the uplands document the Government disagrees with? Do they have a vision? If so what is it?

  2. I would happily help compose a list of questions on this and related questions Mark.
    Does the minister have interests in grouse shooting? Yes
    Does Walshaw Moor receive HLS payments? Almost certainly.
    Are there cross compliance issues worth investigating associated with the above? Almost certainly and I suspect that such an investigation will not happen.
    Until NE make all of the “agreement” with Walshaw public these are legitimate issues and may remain so afterwards.
    It seems that when it comes to controversial issues in the uplands that central to it is the conflict/disagreement over a series of important subjects between the grouse shooting industry and conservationists. What we need are ways forward where both sides win but currently we may well be, with the compliance of NE on the road to nowhere (loose-loose).

  3. As I said yesterday this is nothing to do with Red Grouse shooting but effecting a wider area. Like Geltsdale streams and rivers become destroyed of most of its life due to peat run off. Water quality is destroyed. Springs which are the main catchment for reservoirs no longer work. Here at Geltsdale a filter bed had to be installed 20 years ago costing the water company £7.1 million pounds. Carlisle flood in 2005 cost £500 million. So the actual income from Red Grouse shooting is a minus not a plus. The only way forward is to take an independent court case against the owner which is possible under the European law. The case has to ask for every drain to be blocked and the owner to do at least 10 years in jail. But remember these people have a funny hand shake so will get away ‘Scot free’.

  4. Interesting points here Mark, that do need answering. To help you on your way, a bit of Google research on Mr Benyon turns up his registered member interests, including land holdings in Berkshire, Hampshire and Inverness-shire. Discount the first two grouse absent counties and look at his land holdings in Inverness-shire a bit further and you come up with some interesting links to Glenmazaran estate and a Richard Benyon – a grouse and deer estate. Could we have found Mr Benyons interests in grouse shooting in 10 minutes trawling the internet? Not a great deal of detail out there admittedly but a request to the Scottish land registry may confirm a few key facts to clarify the situation.

    1. Gongfarmer – yes I’d found that! I might even have been saving it for tomorrow’s blog if you hadn’t…. But thanks!

  5. Mark,on another subject would like your opinion.I see that several groups including RSPB AND N E are going to do a survey,think they call it scientific, of Ring Ousels in this country using I think calls from a MP3 player if I understand it correctly.Well I thought that I read this was bad practice as the birds used unnecessary energy so called protecting there territory or perhaps those rules only affect us ordinary folk.
    Personally I obviously think that with approximately one million people looking for Ring Ousels it would be better to get us all to record sightings to say local RSPB reserve.Various places I believe take great care not to disturb nesting Ring Ousels.

    1. Dennis – I don’t think you should worry. Repeatedly playing bird songs will seriously annoy any resident bird of the right species – but just a few blasts of song is quite a good way to see what’s about. And I imagine that the survey will be a sample survey of potentially suitable areas.

  6. It may be possible to obtain copies of some of the relevant documents under a freedom of information/environmental information regs request. If the information is refused they have to give a reason for the refusal and you can appeal against the refusal).

    1. Jonathan – indeed. Although if, for example, the Minister had written to NE then the more detail one had about the letter the easier it would be to write the FOI request…. I wonder if anyone out there could help….

  7. Sorry to steal your thunder there Mark. I’m sure you know plenty more, so would hope it doesnt put you off posting more on this intriguing story tomorrow! I think your getting close to the rot at the heart of the matter. What a sham, let’s hope there is no truth in any of this as it’s going to be an embarrassing pickle to reverse out of.

  8. I find all this – especially the Defra/ Christensen position – quite bizarre. Poul Christensen may know a lot about dairying but real sheep husbandry and subsidy farming are two completely different issues – we’re only just emerging from a dreadful era of ranching as many sheep as possible when real sheep farming is about lambing rates & speed of fattening – frequently at odds with silly CAP stocking levels.

    Don’t blame NE – they won’t have been asked and the dumping of their strategy mirrors the instant dumping of the England Forestry strategy I led under the last Government. The irony of that is that after immense effort and grief the Independent Panel on Forestry looks like slowly working its way back to a lot of what was in Englands Trees, Woods and Forests. (like the NE strategy don’t bother looking on the web – it disapeared well over a year ago)

    The real story is in John Miles’ comments – the uplands have never been important for food but their importance for big environment issues like water is huge and should be bigger and it would make far more sense to pay farmers to deliver the products society will increasingly need as climate change bites.

    And, on that note, in a recent article in Forestry Journal I suggested – along the lines John is talking about – that adopting the landuse we need as we face an uncertain future could actually save £1 billion a year – and I name the pots the money is in – unlike the Chancellor whose promised savings from cutting environmental regulation are completely vague – we should run a competition to see whether new thinking & more efficient use of money we are already spending beats the wild, mangerially incompetent statements coming out of Government.

    And, by the way, Richard Benyon – where are the Hen Harriers and what are you going to do to save them in England ?

  9. Thank you for clarifying Mark also looks as if we could be in for a large Badger vaccination program in due course starting with parts of Wales and would assume other hot spots must follow the same procedure.Everyone should back it and hope it works rather than condemn it in the first instance.

    1. Dennis – I agree. I didn’t think this statement from Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Elin Jones: “Farmers will now have to decide how best to protect their cattle and I for one would not blame them for anything they do.” was the most helpful thing to say.

  10. Yes saw that Mark and tactfully that was what I partly meant.However think there are only odd farmers who think like that otherwise there would have been some taking illegal action in the past and have never heard of anyone taking the law in their own hands which in my opinion feel quite proud of farmers because there must be a big temptation for farmers having large numbers in their herds culled.
    Do hope the vaccination comes in general use soon as we have lost too many cattle and would think Badgers as well.
    Think it important everyone embraces the vaccination,lets hope the NFU does.

    1. Dennis – I do wonder whether it’s just the odd farmer who takes the law into their hands – I hope it is. I have met farmers who claim to have killed lots of badgers on their land – but maybe they were just winding me up at Game Fairs.

  11. With reference to Elin Jones crass and vitriolic remarks I think it is high time her new leader shut her up once and for all. It is her attitude to this subject that certainly led to her not winning the leadership race even though she started as favourite. Anyhow a good result for all those who have been campaigning so hard. It is nice to win sometimes.

  12. Well Mark think it highly unlikely if a farmer killed Badgers he would tell anyone and generally these sort of things get known in the social group and have never heard of anyone taking such action although there are sure to be odd cases of illegal activity in all things.In my opinion my guess would be that farmers are split probably equally as Badger lovers and those with a strong dislike of them which is probably passed from previous generation which I do not understand but even those seem to tolerate the Badgers.With respect Mark suspect those who tell you they have killed Badgers on their land may be provoking you as you probably do to them innocently of course.

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