The Heather and Grass Burning Code of 2007 may have escaped your attention although it is a quite remarkable document carrying, as it does, the logos of Defra, Natural England, the Moorland Association, the CLA, the NFU, the Heather Trust and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.
In paragraph 10 that document clearly states that:
There should be a strong presumption against burning sensitive areas. Doing so may permanently damage the environmental interest of the land and may be unlawful. In special circumstances, the advantages of burning on sensitive areas may outweigh the disadvantages. If you feel a sensitive area on your land falls into this category, you may wish to contact Natural England for advice.
Now this is a voluntary code – I guess it was the Labour Government’s go at a ‘Big Society’ approach where you get everyone together, decide what is sensible and then rely on their good will to implement the code and not to cheat when it suits them. You may recollect I am a bit sceptical about such approaches.
The code goes on to make it clear that peat bogs, including blanket bogs, raised bogs etc should not be burned unless in line with a management plan agreed with Natural England.
The Walshaw Moor estate is part of the South Pennine Moors SPA, the South Pennine Moors SAC and the South Pennine Moors SSSI – yep! it’s a moor in the South Pennines with just about every nature conservation designation that it could feasibly have. So the crux of this matter, at least the biological crux of this matter, is whether ‘too much’ burning damages this protected habitat and what is ‘too much’.
That is the biological crux. The political crux is whether pressure was put on NE to give up this case, where that pressure came from and whether it was legitimate or not.