Wuthering Moors 27

Blogs entitled ‘Wuthering Moors’ form a series of articles about the Walshaw Moor Estate and its relationship with Natural England and Defra.

The Observer published this letter from a sizeable group of Hebden Bridge residents who are concerned that the management of nearby grouse moors including Walshaw Moor has increased the risk of flooding for their homes and town.

The New Internationalist blog also commented on events at Hebden Bridge and Walshaw Moor and the launch of the Ban the Burn! campaign – it’s a very good place to start or refresh your interest in this subject.

My MP – or is she any more? – Louise Mensch – replied through her staff to me on my request for her to write to Defra asking for explanations of what is going on here.  In particular, I asked her to write to Defra to ask for a copy of the NE Director’s, Andrew Wood’s, witness statement on this subject.  Ms Mensch’s office said this would be difficult for her to do.  I emailed them on 14 July, they replied promptly and very sensibly on 18 July and I asked them to think again on 19 July.  I have just asked them again to have a rethink.

I have contacted Natural England again to ask for various information on this case.  For example, I have asked them whether in addition to the £2.5m of agri-environment money going into the Walshaw Moor Estate and the costs to the taxpayer of the legal action taken by Natural England whether any other costs have been incurred in this case.  In particular, what other payments have been made to Walshaw Moor Estate?

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38 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 27”

  1. Ref to "Ms Mensch’s office said this would be difficult for her to do", why would that be difficult for her to do?

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    1. Probabllly because it will cause major embarrassment to NE and some MP's. This doccument is a public one and is ultimately in the public interest to see it as it may reveal a costly and morally unjusified action against biodiversity and the ever tighter public purse. I for one want to see a satisfactory outcome in this case and applaud you Mark in your determination. I wonder if those involved get something out of a successful outcome?

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  2. Mark, I similarly wrote to my MP (Alistair Burt) asking the same and received a response on 17/7 saying he will respond in full in due course. I've just passed him another reminder. I do smile when politicians spout about transparency!

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  3. I too have been pressing NE about what costs they have incurred in respect to this case and whether Andrew Wood's witness statement was ever (or could ever have been) available for public scrutiny.
    My contact at NE is, he tells me, conferring with colleagues before responding.

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  4. I worry that all the repeated FOI act requests go on unseen from the public behind closed doors so NE can avoid the question. If only they were pressured into giving up this evidence in a more powerful of publically exposed way in which they would need to be transparent. A well written Guardian article maybe, that asks this central question? Any thoughts George Monbiot?

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  5. My next step will be to appeal to the Information Commissioner regarding NE's decision to withhold the report. I had hoped to get honest,unambiguous answers to my straightforward questions first but NE appear to be "stonewalling" in the hope that we will all get bored and the issue will gently slide away.

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  6. If you find someone lying unconscious in the road there may be two explanations, the first, that they were hit by a motor vehicle, the second, that they were charged by a rhino. I will always opt for the car, others will prefer the rhino option. It is much, much less likely to be right but it is much more fun.
    Unlike, I suspect most bloggers I spent all my adult life enforcing the law in the public sector. I am therefore reasonably well versed in its pitfalls.
    The first is that the CPS is not involved and so there is no external assessment of the quality of the evidence. The second is that you are spending public money, with no financial consequence for failure. The third and perhaps the worst is that the people you decide to take action against are always poorer than the state, spending their own money and potentially facing ruin if they lose.
    As a result of these factors it is easy for enforcers to get carried away and start adopting the old, 'Because I say so' approach. It is also possible that they may not be as rigorous as they should be in distinguishing between opinion and evidence, with fatal consequences to any eventual trial where evidence is inconveniently really quite important.
    I am not speaking from any knowledge of the case which has been the subject of so much speculation, I am simply speaking from 42 years experience in public sector law enforcement when I say that the only reason I have ever known the enforcer to throw the towel in is that it dawned on them that they were going to lose.
    When this has happened a usual outcome is that there is a confidentiality clause in the settlement. This is simply normal and in no way sinister. I have just been a party to an action involving a major conservation organisation which was settled amicably but it outcome is none the less confidential.
    A problem I can see with any witness statement is that it may not have been accepted as fact and thus been the subject of cross examination. Consequently its origional form may be profoundly misleading. In my direct experience it is quite common to see things asserted in signed witness statements demonstrated to be utter rubbish during cross examination under oath.
    I'm sure none of this will have any effect on conspiracy theorists, after all we all know people who prefer to believe that Ms Munroe was murdered by the Kennedys, but personally I'm still not persuaded that the rhino did it.

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    1. Ian - thank you. It's kind of you to try to explain this to the rest of us. I wish NE or Defra would do the same as they actually know what happened, and how they spent our money. For many of us it is the very nature of the lack of communication which raises suspicions. The lobbying of the Minister , one of your former trustees at the GWCT (and a moorland manager), by the Moorland Association, disclosed through FoI requests shows how desperate the moorland community were to see the end of anything that would threaten estates' ability to burn blanket bog. And then suddenly, in this case, without explanation, that appears to be what happened. I can't see anything as firm as a rhino nor as beautiful as a Monroe in this case.

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  7. It is a nice theory and I'm sure people in the Moorland Assoc thought this was a fantastic waste of public money, as it turned out they were right, but I just do not buy it.
    The real question is how should the enforcer interact with those they enforce upon. Your experience with RSPB gives you a potentially rosey view of what it is like. Here is small but factual parable.
    A family has owned a lump of infertile welsh hill since the Reformation. They have shot grouse on it since the invention of the flintlock before that they flew falcons. In the good old days they actually drove it in good years but otherwise it was a day or two walked up in a bad year. Whilst 'rich' compared to me or you in land, their disposable income never got them on the rich list but they hung on to their 'grouse moor'. Over the years governments of various sorts offered them money the drain it, money to fence it, money to put roads and tracks all over it, money to turn it to trees or grass, money to overgraze it. All of this they turned down because they loved their moor and wanted it to be as it always was. Eventually the government recognised what a wonderful place it was and designated it an SSSI. Then an official, who had never managed anything more complex than a window box, turned up and told them that they must stop doing the things they had always done, the things that had made this a wonderful place worthy of designation.
    He was not very good at explaining why but he was good at spelling out the consequences of disobedience. So they obeyed. They have watched the heather grow, they have watched the waders go, they have seen what they have loved for generations destroyed apparently on the whim of a stranger.
    When, in your old life, you met with a government agency it was in the full and certain knowledge that you had a million members/votes to wave, that you had a £100,000,000 plus organisation at your back with scientists, solicitors, and press officers at your command. When you turned up they got out the chocolate biscuits and the best coffee. You can take from me it is not like that for the rest of us.

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    1. Ian - interesting parable but you can take it from me that it wasn't like that in my former life. You should read Fighting for Birds to get a better grasp of what it was like.

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  8. I'm afraid in this case there have been actual damages caused, not conspiracy theory. I've seen the damage with my own eyes and it isn't pretty. As a tax payer, I'm appalled that the statutory agency responsible hasn't taken appropriate action and is now ducking and diving to avoid the facts from coming out. I'm more appalled that it has invested public money in the site despite the condition of the place.

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  9. I very much doubt there was anything wrong with the evidence, there is no conspiracy here, just plain old dirty politics. A confidential settlement is fair enough but surely the public should be able to see some benefit? Surely an agreement of some kind would give both signatories something to walk away with. Here we see none that benefit the environment. As far as I can see, the forty odd things that were serious to make the units unfavourable haven't been put right. Look at nature on the map here.

    http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/special/sssi/reportAction.cfm?report=sdrt13&category=S&reference=1007196

    Many of the units (eg unit 48) say:

    "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"

    So what's happening now then?

    And why do other units permit burning of a European protected habitat when the Regs say it can only take place if there is no doubt that it won't damage it?

    Are we really to believe that England's premier conservation body were overwhelmed by an unequivocal amount of evidence from the scatter-brained Moorland Association? I don't think so. And even if they did why not let things run and win the argument once and for all?

    No conspiracies here I'm afraid. It's plain to see for all someone, somewhere is neglecting their duty, in full knowledge they are ignoring the law.

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  10. "... a usual outcome is that there is a confidentiality clause in the settlement. This is simply normal and in no way sinister." Yes, it is.

    "A confidential settlement is fair enough". No, it isn't.

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  11. Since I was born England and Wales has lost between 20% and 25% of its heather moorland mostly to afforestation with exotic conifers or to 'improved' grassland. The main reason for the survival of the rest is the wish of those who own it run it as a grouse moor.
    A very short time ago the land which is currently the subject of debate could have been deep drained, covered in stone roads, fenced and planted with a monoculture of Sitka Spruce all at public expense either directly or through various grant regimes. Alternatively the owners could have taken grants to drain it, fence it, build roads all over it and then cram as many sheep as could survive on it, to take advantage of generous grant regimes and the headage payment system.
    Had they taken either or both of these courses they would have avoided being the subject of ridicule and abuse. Odd really.
    As the case of the Forestry Commision demonstrates, a record for hill and bog drainage on a mindboggling scale is no bar to sainthood.
    No form of land management is perfect, an infallable land manager has never been born, and I am sure that as further research comes on stream systems will be refined and improved but attacking grouse moor management in isolation from the other systems operating in the hills is at best disingenuous.
    Finally on the confidentiality point which Mr Cobb finds so sinister, I had always rather thought that 'Filbert Cobb' was not a real name, largely on the basis that I could not imagine that Mr and Mrs Cobb would have called their little boy 'Filbert', although I did once meet a Senior Policeman called 'Alfred Hitchcock', so anything is possible. Can I apologise for my mistake I now realise that no one who finds confidentiality sinister would want to keep their identity confidential. I hope you'll forgive Filbert.

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    1. I believe it is sinister that secrecy should be considered normal in the public sector. If I choose to air this belief it is irrelevant as to whether I do this on a publicly accessible internet blog as Filbert Cobb (or BB, or Gongfarmer, or Whomsoever). There are valid reasons for protecting one's identity on-line whenever circumstances allow. If you agree or disagree with the notion - debate that if you want.

      For the record, Mr & Mrs Cobb called their little boy "Filbert" to annoy Mrs Cobb's parents, Mr & Mrs Pollard, who had called their only daughter Hazel. This was because they were never blessed with a son, thus terminating a long line of Pollards. Their chagrin was rendered all the more acute because Grandfather Cobb was a refugee who had changed his name from "Baumgartner" to "Nussbaum", and then to "Cobb" when Frau Nussbaum pointed out that "Nussbaum" didn't really help, either.

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  12. I so sorry Fil I may not have made myself clear. I did not mean to give the impression that out of court settlements are common in the public sector and not elsewhere, they are found in just as much in the private and the third sector, in fact in every sector. This is because presumably,to quote you, 'there are valid reasons'. One persons 'valid reasons' are the next persons sinister plot.
    It is a free country and you can find anything you like sinister and I am free to consider someone who conceals their identity whilst railing against confidentiality an irony free zone.

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    1. Ian - you would, no doubt, agree that for someone to rail against nature conservationists without disclosing that he is a grouse moor manager is a bit 'rich' too? But I didn't hear you agree with criticism of Magnus Linklater. Do you agree that Magnus should have been more open?

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  13. Hitler once said that if you tell a lie, make it big, make it simple and keep saying it - eventually it will be believed. Or something like that. "heather moorland" "heather moorland" "heather moorland". Walshaw moor and most of the Pennine chain is blanket bog and shouldn't really be all that heathery. A huge simple lie that will be drawn out. Spruce or heather - Same thing. Neither should be farmed on these habitats. Shoot grouse by all means, it's not about that. Just stop changing whole ecosystems for one bird and killing all the hen harriers and we might leave you alone.

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  14. Mark, I thought this was about the confidentiality issues relating to Walshaw. I was unaware that Mr Linklater was involved but as you raise it I'm happy to give you my opinion. I don't think it matters a jot. If you argue a position it should not matter who or what you are. What should matter is the force of the argument. To argue otherwise in the context of this blog would be frankly ludicrous. Many of your most vehement protagonists conceal their identity. I have not the least idea who they are, they might be axe murders or moor owners for all I, or anyone else knows, yet they are rightly welcomed to express their opinions.
    Mr B's point about Hitler is true, he did say that, but it is not fairly applied. The land we are talking about, just like your garden and the farm down the road, belongs to someone. They are entitled to make a living from it. There are currently three main ways this can be done, grouse moor, forestry and grazing or a combination of any of those three. That is not a big lie, it is what some people seem to find, in the words of the best President America never had, 'an uncomfortable truth'.
    By the way the greatest risk faced by blanket bog in areas adjacent to major populations is not rotational muirburn but wildfires, which are, ironically, supressed by rotational burning. There is a need to do a lot more research into how we can best preserve heather moorland in general and blanket bog in particular, and thus refine management to maximise the biodiversity and sustainablity of these habitats but there are no grounds for a general prohibition on rotational muirburn.
    Since you got me interested in the subject I've poking around in the science and I'm sure everyone will be pleased that some matters are not as dire as feared. Just a couple of quotes. 'Studies in northwest Scotland found that Sphagnum recovery after burning was variable, but often considerable within two years after burning, with indications that fire may encourage Sphagnum in some cases' and 'It is possible that a lack of burning may lead to declines of Sphagnum abundance in some situations, as a result of the accumulation of standing dead material from grasses and sedges'.
    Actually the more I read the science the more I can see how it might have been quite difficult for NE to win the case at the heart of this saga.

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  15. Land owners are and should be allowed to make a living from the land, but this needs to be in line with legislation that protects our most special sites and species. We also need to consider the huge role the public purse pays in this and that tax payers want value for money and sympathetic and sustainable land use. Also a naturally functioning bog that has not been damaged by previous land management practices isn't a large wildfire risk because it's wet and not dominated by rank heather that is. By continuing to blindly burn and alter the vegetation structure and species you create a more flammable environment when you finally break the burning cycle. On trashed bog, a long hard look need to be taken to restore hydrology and remove heather dominated vegetation from the deep peat and implement robust fire management plans in the recovery phase. We need to tackle this legacy in the wrong place head on and not continue bussiness as usual, especially not on sites designated for more than red grouse. Burning for fire management would be far less than that for grouse management and continuing to do so on bog is stupid. NE made the right call initially, they were just pressured to do the wrong thing and change direction after interference from outside parties with friends in positions of authority.

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  16. Keep reading because you will find that rotational burning gone wrong is the greatest cause of wildfire. How can this happen on rotationally burnt moorland where it 'suppresses' fire? This argument is founded on nothing more than myth. Where is the evidence?

    Burning favours fire tolerant species, heather, which eventually forms a thick low moisture content canopy. That is why it is done to promote heather vigour. It's just snowploughing the problem. The more you burn the more flammable biomass is produced. Thats why its easy to burn, and why places with less heather isn't.

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  17. Perhaps a direct approach to the chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and its associated public bodies - might be more productive than the FoIA route, or the pursuit of the MP for Corby (or is she) now that she has declared her intention to move to that Americol.

    Heard any unexplained clicks on your 'phone yet Dr Avery?

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  18. Two more interesting quotes. ' Management regimes that combine'sensitive' rotational muirburn (e.g. appropriate rotation lengths and fires that are not so severe as to burn into soils) with retention of some stands of degenerate Calluna seem likely to produce maximum plant species diversity on dwarf shrub heath' and 'In relation to blanket bog habitats,insufficient data are available to enable a rigourous assessment of how rotational muirburn affects their overall condition, although available data indicate that detrimental effects are apparent mainly on recently burnt areas, with little evidence of detrimental impacts in studies that were undertaken seven or more years after burning'.
    I don't own a grouse moor but I do unpaid conservation work on a moor where grouse occur and which is cut and burnt. I've never seen a controlled fire turn into a wildfire but perhaps we are better at it than the professionals. We don't burn on a steep slope above a car park and the heather has been growing and and the scrub happily invading until this year when on one of the few bright days some young visitors had a BBQ and the entire slope went up in flames. God knows how it could burn like that in a year like this but it did the only blessing was if had happened in a dry time the damage would have been worse.
    It is great relief to hear that that sort of thing does not happen in the North of England.

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    1. Ian - yes those are interesting selections from an interesting report which I thought I would mention here in the future.

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  19. Is this the report that was funded by the moorland association? It's laughable is all this. This report studies dry Heath species over a tiny timescale. Innuficuent data on blanket bog strengthens the point of the habitat regulations. There is no evidence to prove its not damaging therefore it cannot take place.

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  20. Actually it is nothing to do with the Moorland Association. It's the RSPB's report.
    The odd thing is that there are all sorts of serious land management issues facing the uplands and the way they, and the wildlife they currently support, can be conserved and enhanced. Many of the options or practices seem to have a much more extreme impact than maintaining heather moorland with the hope of shooting grouse but the only one that gets any attention is the management of grouse moors. Odd really.
    It is always dangerous to look at these issues in isolation, in the real world what is needed is comparison of practical alternatives and usually a bit of pragmatism and compromise. In the end it will always be a judgement call, are meadow pipits more important than goldies, is this habitat of more value than that. So we will never get to a point when we all agree. However my view remains that we should be looking for greater concensus based on sound science, which I believe is still in short supply, and avoid the joys of polemics. But hey, who cares what I think?
    I'm off to Scotland now so you can have the last word if you like.

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  21. "However my view remains that we should be looking for greater concensus based on sound science"

    Would this, by chance, be the same "sound science" that Mr Linklater bases his arguments on?

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  22. " ... my view remains that we should be looking for greater concensus based on sound science"

    Consensus-driven policy is fine - when the consensus is arrived at following an objective and comprehensive review of evidence. It is of no use to society if the policy is predetermined (focus groups, vox pop, narrow interest lobbying etc.) and the evidence fitting it is cherry-picked and used to claim a consensus.

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  23. Trouble is its not just the action of burning that damages blanket bog, the excessive regular use of vehicles for fogging, gritting and ferrying idle individuals to butts causes compaction and damages bog vegetation. The whole issue of intensive management of these fragile big habitats needs looking at and the Walshaw case may have well provided conservationists, ecologists, hydrologists and carbon scientists a renewed interest in the subject.

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  24. I agree. I also am very concerned about the risk to human health. How are the risks associated with chemicals in medicated grit assessed by our water companies? Certain literature recommends grit to be placed every 100m. Can you imagine the amounts that are spead over a typical grouse moor? Do people of Bradford and Halifax know they are drinking these chemicals? I seriously think some questions are in dire need of an answer.

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  25. I filled in an online form and Yorkshire Water have admitted to me that they are aware that the chemicals in medicated grit (Flubendazole and Fenbendazole) have a risk to human health. How is this acceptable?

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  26. The link below links to a chain of others providing a very useful primer on peat and restoration of degraded peat and peat workings. The source IPCC is not the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but the Irish Peat Conservation Council. There is some amusing spelling, but at least they can spell "phosphorus", unlike some others. The articles and papers contain no ad hominem remarks or references to H*tl*r, which is nice.

    http://www.ipcc.ie/advice/peatland-management-diy-tool-kit/restoration-of-forested-peatlands/

    Gongfarmer - the Walshaw case is one of many and as far as I can see, conservationists, ecologists, hydrologists have all become carbonistas and do little else but restore peat. Of course, they had plenty to do before carbon was invented, but now the C-word is the "Open Sesame" to the funding wallet. But that's only as far as I can see.

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  27. "You can’t ‘restore’ peat"

    Best drop a line to Defra, John Muir Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, North Pennines AONB Partnership, Moors for the Future, Natural England, University of East London & UTCAA, and tell them asap - before they spend any more time, energy, and our money on it.

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    1. You’ve conflated [Mark writes: I love the word conflated but you have not used a valid email address so I'm not posting your comment]

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