Blogs entitled ‘Wuthering Moors’ form a series of articles about the Walshaw Moor Estate and its relationship with Natural England and Defra.
Defra were supposed to reply today to my complaint over their late and uncommunicative response to an FoI request. I had an email from them on Friday saying that they have now decided to reply by 3 September. It may be that no stone is being left unturned, no dark place is being left unilluminated, no statement being left unscrutinised – or it may be that they are, again, just taking the piss.
While Defra and Natural England continue to attempt to shroud their activities over Walshaw Moor in secrecy from the taxpayers to whom they are ultimately responsible, who have picked up the legal bill, who are paying the Walshaw Moor Estate agri-environment payments and who pay the salaries of the agency staff, civil servants and ministers involved, there is, elsewhere in the uplands, some good news to report.
The Walshaw Moor Affair is all about a shooting estate, owned by a wealthy businessman, allegedly damaging an SSSI (and SPA) and the authorities chickening out of seeing through the legal case to a final result (whatever that might have been). This case, Gelt Woods, is about a shooting estate, owned by a wealthy businessman, damaging an SSSI and the authorities seeing through the legal case to a final result.
The final result of the Gelt Woods case was a fine of £450k with a similar amount of costs (we all should have been lawyers!) for the destruction of some nice oak woodlands by the River Gelt (see media reports Telegraph, Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Times if you have a subscription).
The latest (very recent) SSSI assessment of Gelt Woods is that 73% of the area is unfavourable and not recovering (maybe that means it was cut down?) and 12% is unfavourable but recovering. Even the dry and dusty SSSI citation makes this damp woodland sound like a nice place, rich in plants and beauty.
It is always good to see realistic penalties being handed out for causing environmental damage; even if their value is more to prevent further losses than to expiate a past crime (an ancient woodland can’t be bought into existence).
We used to understand this type of thing much better and Voltaire gave us the ‘credit’ for it in Candide; ‘Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres’ (‘In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.’).
Natural England’s Janette Ward said: “Legal action is always regrettable, and we were disappointed that a woodland of such ecological importance, and one that was very special to the local community, was so severely damaged. We welcome the fact that Mr Day has undertaken a programme of voluntary restoration and hope that he will now work with us to manage this special area more appropriately in the future.”
Well, Janette, and Natural England, legal action is not always regrettable – it is sometimes absolutely the right thing to do and should be entered into with enthusiasm as a regulator and protector of the environment. I haven’t heard the police regretting taking criminals to court. And you were disappointed were you? That seems to be what statutory and NGO conservation organisations say a lot of the time these days – I was cross when I heard the news that a publicly-recognised part of our ecological culture had been destroyed. Where is the passion? And I would expect (not hope) that you will require Mr Day to work with you (not hope that he does) in the future.
Gelt Woods is apparently an RSPB nature reserve although I can’t find any confirmation of that on the RSPB website – I imagine it’s a small part of the Geltsdale nature reserve. Perhaps the RSPB has an access and/or management agreement over some or all of the land in question. The RSPB is not quoted in the newspapers and I can find no comment from the Society on their website – that seems a little strange.
The RSPB has made a complaint to the EU over the Walshaw Moor Affair.