Wuthering Moors 21

This email between Natural England’s Andrew Wood and others (including some recipients whose names have been withheld) contains several matters of interest;

  • Its title – this is the first time the the Secretary of State’s, Caroline Spelman’s, name has appeared to my knowledge in this case. It appears that back in December 2011 this case was subject to a close degree of political scrutiny.
  • There is a paragraph redacted at the beginning of the email which appears, from what is written further down, to include a ‘cautionary note’.  I wonder what that was?
  • NE were engaging in a prosecution of the Walshaw Moor Estate on 43 separate counts of alleged breaches of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Habitats Directive.

 

—–Original Message—-­ From: Wood, Andrew (NE)

Sent: 22 December 2011 15:26

To: Thompson, Guy (NE); and names that have been withheld
Cc:  Dondi, Arik M (FFG- CCDR);  and name(s) that have been withheld                 ,

Subject: RE: Urgent – query from SoS’s Special Advisor


[Word – perhaps a name? withheld here]

We spoke a few minutes ago and I undertook to put my key points in writing.

Whole paragraph withheld here.

Brief Background. Natural England is both prosecuting (on 43 separate counts) the Walshaw Estate for breaches of its consents under both the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the Habitats Regulations; and seeking to modify the consents themselves. The court case is likely to be heard in the late summer of next year. The estates appeal against the modification is due to be heard on 18 January. Ministers will determine the outcome of the appeal. Hence my cautionary note above.

The Moorland Association is a party to the appeal, because they are concerned that the outcome will set a precedent for other grouse moors. It is the Moorland Association who have suggested to Ministers and others that we propose wholesale revocation of consents. This is not true. Walshaw is a single case with very particular circumstances. It is also the MA who are suggesting that could be considerable costs attached to the case.

Costs. The prosecution is a criminal proceeding. No costs are awarded in criminal cases. There is likely to be a cost element to the appeal. If the estate win the appeal, they have indicated that they would claim costs against Natural England. They may not be granted them, of course. If they are, it is difficult to calculate what they may amount to, but almost certainly significantly less than the [figure withheld here] the MA are quoting. If Natural England win, we could be liable to pay the estate compensation for the changes to the consents. Again, the MA claim this to be in the order of  [figure withheld here].  Our own calculation is that compensation could amount to a few [figure withheld here].

I hope this is helpful. Don’t hesitate to come back to me if you need any more.

Andrew

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

This email, forwarded to a very senior civil servant in Defra by the (then) Chief Executive of Natural England shows the high priority (or sensitivity) that the Walshaw Moor case was given by Defra and its delivery agency.  It also sets out Natural England’s view that following a change in ownership there was significant increased burning and vehicle access which were damaging the site and were not compatible with the site’s conservation objectives.  It makes it clear that the site is designated under EU and domestic legislation.  It also makes it clear that Natural England felt that burning of blanket bog on this site (and presumably other sites) was incompatible with the conservation of the site’s natural interest.

 

From: Phillips,Helen (NE)

Sent: 11 January 2012 07:49

To: Unwin,Peter (ERG)

Subject: Fw: FOR APPROVAL: Walshaw Moor lines for Shooting Times

Importance: High

 

For info.

 

 

From:  [name withheld]

To: Phillips, Helen (NE)

Cc: Wood, Andrew (NE); [several names withheld]

Sent: Tue Jan 10 20: 16:07  2012

Subject: FOR APPROVAL: Walshaw Moor lines for Shooting Times

 

Hi Helen

Cc Andrew- to note that this version has changed slightly following advice from legal

The Shooting Times approached us today asking for background to the Walshaw Moor Public Inquiry. The statement below has been approved by both Janette and Andrew- as well as our lawyers. I would be grateful if you could confirm that you are happy with it- or whether you require any amends. I would like to get it over to the Shooting Times asap.

 

Many thanks

[name? withheld]

Walshaw Moor is notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and designated as part of the South Pennines Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive and as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Wild Birds Directive for its blanket bog, flushes and mires, wet and dry heath, acid grassland, upland breeding birds and millstone grit exposures.

Walshaw Estate currently relies upon a letter written in 1995 as granting consent for unspecified amounts of burning. It is Natural England’s view that, following a change in ownership, burning and vehicle use has significantly intensified – which is damaging the site and is not compatible with its conservation objectives.

Following lengthy discussions it was concluded that a formal modification of the consent was necessary, permitting burning rotations of 15-years on dry heath and 25-years on blanket bog. It would remain possible for the Estate to request permission for other burning rotations.

On 31 March 2010, Natural England issued Walshaw Estate with a Notice of Modification of Consent (NoMoC) under the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act (as amended).  The Estate has appealed against this notice :..  primarily against the limits imposed on burning on blanket bog -which accounts for approximately 70% of the Estate- and on dry heath. This appeal is beingheard at a Public Inquiry, beginning on Tuesday 10 January 2012 at NovotelLeeds Centre.

Following concerns that damaging activities have intensified over the last year and that the restrictions imposed by the March 2010 NoMoC did not fully address the level of damage being caused, a further NoMoC was issued (under the terms of the Habitats Directive) on 9 December 2011. This sets a baseline of no burning on areas of blanket bog, a 15-year burning rotation on areas of dry heath, and restrictions on vehicle use and grazing. However, it remains possible for the Estate to request permission to operate outside of these restrictions.

Senior Press Officer

Natural England

Block 7 Government Buildings, Chalfont Drive, Nottingham, NG8 3SN

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14 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 21”

  1. Wow ! I'm impressed. I always thought it was really impressive (and rarely worth the effort) when friend got off a single speeding ticket - but 43 separate counts - it stretches the imagination that NE wouldn't have won on a single one. It is also clear from the tone of the NE correspondence that this is an extreme, not a representative, case which is why NE took such a hard line. My view is that the bullish Moorland association have made a very serious tactical error. You rein in the nutters, not set them up as exemplars for your industry. I very much hope this case will become the pivot for a re-visit to moorland management resulting in NE's position being reinforced, not eroded like the moors they are trying to protect.

    Remember, anyone who wants to can visit and walk Walshaw Moor under the Countryside & Rights of Way Act which gives open access to all 'open ground' including moorland - so why not go and asses the damage for yourself ? (especially if you happen to be a national newspaper journalist - one for the estimable Mike McCarthy perhaps ?)

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    1. Roderick - thank you. And if I have understood previous information from NE correctly ((see blog Wuthering Moor 16 of 23 May), the Walshaw Moor Estate 'have not been required to remove any of the existing infrastructure' which may have formed the basis for some of those 43 (43 is a lot isn't it?!) alleged offences.

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  2. Mark,
    Think you are getting somewhere here now, Mr Benyon and the MA need investigating. Clearly with 43 offences on the cards, how the hell can they drop this over night like they did? Can you imagine someone to be charged with 43 counts of burglary to be let off and get a large cheque from the tax payer afterwards? There would be a massive public outcry, it stinks.

    I’m interested by the first email with the MA's involvement, justifying it to make sure it wouldn’t set a precedent for other grouse moors. What sort of precedent has this corrupt and politically interfering case set now - we can continue to blindly damage, burn and abuse some of our most important internationally important (and protected!!) habitats in the interest of grouse management? This case has set the worse president ever, who was speaking up for the interests of biodiversity and compliance with the law? DEFRA and NE sure haven’t later on in the case.

    If you do follow Roderick's suggestion, don’t take a dog as the moorland owner has also sown up the CRoW legislation to get them banned (even under control on a lead), not in the interests of protecting ground nesting birds but for "disturbance to grouse" - surely a business not conservation need as most NGO's upland reserves/estates do not have such a restriction. Another clear bending of the rules in the establishments favour that restricts law abiding families and walkers from large chunks of upland grouse moor - why do they want to limit access, something to hide??

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  3. And while you walking these moors check where all that water has gone from them. Down the drains 20 metres apart across blanket bog and down into towns like Hebdon Bridge!!

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    1. John - quite right. The 'ecosystems service' roles of the uplands may be prejudiced by grouse moor management.

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  4. From Nature on the Map

    http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/special/sssi/unitlist.cfm?sssi_id=1007196

    The reason for adverse condition on the units that are 'Unfavourable no change' is Air pollution, drainage, moor burning and other - specify in comments

    And then says in the Condition assessment comment: Restoration works are required to ameliorate the loss and damage to habitat as a result of unconsented operations. Enforcement action is being undertaken to address this issue

    if "restoration works are required" can these units recover if "enforcement action" has stopped?

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  5. It beggars belief that they did not ..... They obviously knew they would get .............. .... moor owners can do as they like with no fear of the law at all. We should not be surprised it happens with raptor persecution time after time with the maximum being a occasional slapped wrist.

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    1. Dennis - thank you but as you can see I have edited your comment so that you and I aren't libelling anyone.

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  6. It's worth putting this issue in perspective (correct me if I'm wrong, Mark) but I recall that when EN set out to improve the condition of our SSSIs 70% of the unfavourable area was in the uplands, and it was unfavourable for the reasons under discussion here. Bearing in mind that it is 'case law' such as this that decides where the boundaries are drawn, the message going out from this is massively disastrous - on an area basis perhaps the biggest single disaster of the last 10 years, and potentially reversing much of the effort which went into improving our SSSIs.

    I know some people won't like it but I really don't blame NE permeanent staff: having been there, there is only so far you can go. What is happening here is, however, exactly what many of us expected from Government's stifling of NE's ability to go public on issues like this. Non executive Directors are a different matter. I do not think Pol Christensen should have stood up and thrown away NE's plan for the uplands: I think he and the other non-execs on the NE should be seriously considering their positions now.

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  7. Thank you Mark how funny is that,does that mean we have to be law abiding citizens,unlike some.

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  8. I went for a walk over this moor yesterday. We walked along a new track, which I believe to be unconsented. I went up to the top of Heather hill, following the fresh JCB tracks and was incensed to find the level of damage done. Patches of sphagnum moss were hard to find, and then often dying. They do however, along with the cotton grasses show that this area really is/was a blanket bog. There are recently dug long grips (drainage ditches) every 10 or 15 metres across the top of the hill and grouse butts not shown on the OS map. The land had been burned in most places, with heather getting it's foothold where the sphagnum and cotton grasses would be. I reckon I saw no heather over 5 years old. The whole moor is littered with medicated grit feeds for the grouse. I saw an ATV on the other side of the valley driving over blanket bog, presumably to service the grit feeds.

    The blanket bog at the top of Heather Hill is in a terrible state and the grips ought to be infilled as soon as possible. If the people who live and work in Hebden and the surrounding towns and villages could see the damaged done, and link it to the recent flooding they would be up in arms, but nobody ever goes to these places except to kill wildlife threatening to grouse, or to kill the grouse themselves. I'd implore any locals to go and see for themselves what has happened. A gulley which looks like a stream on the OS (Waterfall Sike) is now a hard core track for 4x4's, the water having been diverted, to allow for more heather and grouse shooting.
    I'd also implore all your readers Mark to ask their MPs why Natural England has dropped the 43 charges against the Walshaw Estate when the High Level Subsidies they are receiving are to protect these internationally important habitats.

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