Wuthering Moors 13

To Dave Webster

Interim Chief Executive

Natural England


Dear Mr Webster

I am writing to you, again, concerning the Natural England decision to reach an agreement with the Walshaw Moor Estate over their past, present and future management of moorland and blanket bog.

I believe that this enquiry falls under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, but in any case I am asking about a matter of public interest given that the protection of our natural environment, legal case law, public expenditure through agri-environment schemes and precedents over the management of a large part of the English uplands may all be influenced by NE’s position on this matter.  I would therefore be grateful for a full reply within 20 days of this letter.

I am puzzled that after embarking on a legal case which was bound to be high profile and an attempt to change the consenting regime on the management of Walshaw Moor that Natural England appears to have had either a change of heart or a change of mind.  I am wondering which organ led you to your current position.

I would be grateful if you could please provide me with:

  • a copy of the Appropriate Assessment, or drafts of the same, that went with the first modification of consent notice i.e. the notice that the Inquiry was all about.
  • a copy of the Appropriate Assessment for the Regulation 23 notice and the second notice of modification of consent sent out in December 2011 (or drafts of the same).
  • a copy of the Appropriate Assessment for the consent dated 1 March 2012 following the settlement.
  • a copy of Andrew Wood’s witness statement for the Judicial Review which was referred to durng the public inquiry and which states NE’s views on burning of blanket bog.
  • the HLS agreement for Walshaw Moor.
  • the names of the NE staff who drafted the Appropriate Assessments.

8 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 13”

  1. Mark,am absolutely staggered at your knowledge,commitment and dedication to this cause.I shouldn’t be having followed your blog for so long but this reaches new highs .Thank goodness for people like you,well done.

  2. I picked up on this spat over the Walshaw Moors the day before I went to meet Mikhail Yablokov, the Director of Polistovsky State Nature Reserve. The contrast between this sorry story of an upland grouse moor in the South Pennines, and the natural wonders of a Russian wetland wilderness, could not be starker. Polistovsky is a zapovednik, a strict nature reserve in the Pskov Region of western Russia. Designated in 1994, it was one of the first wetland reserves in Russia, covering 635 sq. km of the western part of the Polistovo-Lovatskoye marsh system. Zapovedniks are publicly owned in the Russian Federation, and completely withdrawn from economic use under the Federal law on protected areas from 1995.
    Peat bog covers 80% of the territory of Polistovsky, with 15% as woodland around the fringe of the bog, but also on the bog islands – small areas of mineral soil that poke up through the peat mass to a height of about 9m. The tree species distribute according to the relative wetness, black alders around the edges of water logged areas, along with bog pine, broadleaved woodland of oak and lime around the fringes, and spruce-fir and aspen on the bog islands. There are scattered pine trees of various sizes across parts of the bog, and with the damp-loving dwarf birch being the commonest tree throughout the bog. The remaining area is taken up by the rivers Polist and Lovat, as well as lakes and flood meadows.
    The Polistovsky reserve has a core area that covers 60% and where there is a ban on human activity, including walking trails. The latter is not surprising since this predominantly waterlogged wetland landscape would be very difficult to traverse. It is due to the impassable nature of this enormous marsh system that the natural ecosystems were so amazingly well preserved, even late into the 20th century, and without a history of centuries of exploitation by humans and their farming. It exists without our intervention, and is thus home to a remarkably diverse plant and animal community that thrives in this remote and undisturbed location. The larger mammals include bear, lynx, wolf, elk, roe deer, and otter. Many bird species associate with the wetlands, including curlew, snipe, lapwing as well as black stork and black-throated loon, and there are the raptors in golden eagle, lesser spotted eagle, goshawk, sparrow hawk and buzzard. Add in 681 flowering plant and shrub species, and there is an inventory of wild nature that is characteristic of true wilderness
    Has Natural England had been leaned on by Government over Walshaw Moors, with its likely sympathies for owners of grouse moors? Richard Benyon owns a red deer and red grouse estate in Inverness-shire, and fills his boots with EU farm subsidies.. It is, however, something you can’t accuse Richard Bannister of doing. I checked Natural England’s Nature on the Map website for agri-environment scheme funding, and the core area of the Estate that is at the centre of the dispute has no funding agreements in place.
    It is often a rational decision for some land owners not to get sucked in by the lure of agri-environment funding, since the conditions of an HLS agreement lock-in the level of use and approach of management of the land on penalty of forfeiture of the funding. The land owners take the decision to forgo the funding as it restricts their ability to use their land progressively, as in Mr Bannister’s case of increasing the grouse numbers on his moor. We now get to the heart of why Natural England has been able to announce that it has come to an arrangement on the future management of the estate for the next 25 years. It was all about saving face for Natural England, from pushing what was increasingly becoming an unwinnable situation – and of course in reaching Mr Bannister’s price! It is as simple as that. The new conditions, while they may be more stringent than those they replace from 1995, still allow a management approach of burning, grazing and predator control. We await now to see how rich the HLS deal will be.
    Natural England dug itself a hole here, expecting to change policy on the fly by forcing a replacement of the so-called “earlier, imprecise and unlimited consents” from 1995 to fulfil a now fashionable fixation with sloppy peat; using bullying tactics that the judiciary considered inappropriate, and which for once they were faced by someone who did not back down. Lost in all this is the farce of putting on a pedestal a contrived landscape, tainted with evil by predator control and centuries of over-exploitation, and which can bear no comparison with the natural wildness of the unmanaged bog of Polistovsky. It is entirely symptomatic of the constant delusion of the conservation industry in thinking that Britain’s highly modified and managed secondary habitats have any international importance.

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