Wuthering Moors 32

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.

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19 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 32”

  1. Clearly Mr Day isn't as well connected ministerially as Mr Banister or could it be that there is a difference between a pheasant shoot and a commercial grouse shoot in terms of DEFRA buy-in? Maybe he couldn't find a shooting organisation to help fight his battle now the spotlight has shone on Walshaw or could it be that the sort of organisation that stands up for moorland owners is more influential politically?

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    1. worth pointing out that Walshaw Moor is not commercially managed. It is just shot for "fun".

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  2. Gelt Woods used to be part of the RSPB reserve at Geltsdale. It was part of 270 acres leased to add managment when the moorland only had access. As soon as I left as warden the next warden removed it from the reserve even though it had over 10,000 visitors a year. Mr Day's area of woodland was never under the RSPB but in a trust fund making it impossible to sell. A comment by the BBC said that the last persons to damage the wood were the Romans!!

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    1. John - thank you for your local knowledge. I am told that the RSPB manages part of Gelt Woods that is contiguous with the SSSI, but not actually part of the SSSI itself.

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  3. I think Janette Wards statement sums up perfectly what is wrong with both Natural England and to a certain extent Defra too. A person in job that's "designated" not only to protect the enviroment but also to increase "wild" areas who is only worried about not upsetting individuals and rocking the boat that may have a future implications in their next job/s. I always get a feeling that some people within such organisations (and that includes conservation NGO's) are only doing that job role as a stepping stone to another job and/or sometimes it was the only "job around at the time", we've all done it at one time. Finding someone that you describe as being passionate about their job role is increasingly rare, we could easily put this to the test, sit Janette and others like her down with a book with all the wild animals and plants etc in it (minus the names) and lets see how well she does at putting a name to the species etc.
    As for the punishment, it's great Mr.Day got fined, but again why haven't they stepped in and confiscated the land, obviously Mr.Day has no real interest in the land other then profit, it's owned in trust so why not approach the trustee's, compulsory purchase the land and hand it over to the local wildlife trust to manage. That (compulsory purchase) would send a strong message to other land owners who may wish to do similar.

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    1. I realise people's passions run high on something like, but unfairly maligning the Natural England staff and ascribing attitudes to them which you can't possibly know doesn't help. Individuals (especially senior managers!) in organisations like this are under a lot of constraint in what they can say publically, but that doesn't mean they aren't knowledgable and don't care deeply about their job.

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      1. I know one person in a senior position in the RSPB who would not know one species from another, but that person is very passionate and very good at her job. We may relate better to professionals who are birdwatchers (or whatever), but that does not mean that those who do no share our interests cannot do an excellent job.

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        1. If they're doing such a great job Phil how come there has been a series of blog posts by Mark (and others) regarding NE and Defra and how badly they are doing?
          Now I never mentioned the RSPB but is passion really required for a job at the RSPB? I would've hoped species knowledge and passion would/should go hand in hand!

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    2. Maybe said person can ID lots of stuff. Maybe she can't as ID courses have been cut; maybe she's not allowed out to practice in work time and has a young family to raise in her 'spare' time, and maybe she's very passionate, but constrained by NE or Defra policy? Who knows?

      The local wildlife trust (Cumbria?) will want to run the site through its acquisition strategy and make sure there's enough dosh to manage it in perpetuity (especially in these straitened times of reduced staffing and rising demands) lest it accept a ruinous gift; and the RSPB is apparently right next door, so maybe better placed to take on the site if it meets its criteria?

      Realities keep getting in the way.

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    3. I can tell you that Janette Ward is one of the few senior people at NE who does know and understand nature conservation and has a demonstrable track record to show that. The problem is all the other dross.

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  4. Mark, the Financial Times has an editorial on this today (4 August 2013) under the heading "A law ignored: The UK Freedom of Information watchdog refuses to bark"

    (Free) registration may be required to read the article.

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  5. I don't know how may similarities there are, but I remember reading in Richard Mabey's The Common Ground about Sladden Wood in Kent, a much loved local beauty spot, which had a Tree Preservation Order served on it in 1978 even though the trees had been flattened by it's new owner. It later recovered and has been a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve since 1992:
    http://www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserves/sladden-wood
    So there is certainly "hope" for restoring badly damaged SSSIs. No doubt you and your readers will know of many other examples.
    This one seems to have escaped the dreaded ash dieback for now... (would a minister in the current govt. be so enlightened as to serve a TPO on a collection of stumps knowing that if left alone they'd grow again?)

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  6. Yep...
    Muirkirk Moors SPA. 100 acres destroyed by mine companies with the blessing of SNH. The promised restoration has melted away with the bankruptcy of the mine companies. There is nobody to take to court because the companies have gone. The locals have reported the case to the EU but undoubtedly the public will have to pick up the bill...which will be in the millions.

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  7. Just a thought.
    http://www.shootingtimes.co.uk/news/536859/Exclusive_RSPBNational_Trust_contractor_damages_moorland.html

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  8. Damage to part of Thorne Moors SSSI (reported on your blog 17 January 2013), reported to Natural England and RPA back in October last year.

    What's happened .... absolutely nothing, both defra agencies play ping pong with who should act. The RPA refuse to investigate so will not take back the 'welfare payment for agri-industrialists' ooops sorry the SFP that the landowner is in breach of compliance with, anyone out there any useful contacts?

    It does raise the question, what use are they (defra agencies), too close ever closer and too cosy & yes I'm sure there are some individuals somewhere with a backbone but they're a rare species on these moors! Ever an agnostic despite the decades ....

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