Wuthering Moors 34 – the Defra response to the EU Commission

Further to this morning’s post, here is the information levered out of Defra on their response to the EU Commission regarding the RSPB complaint to the EU over the Walshaw Moor affair and its implications.

WMEL below refers to the Walshaw Moor Estate Limited.

I will post my early thoughts on this, here, at 1500 this afternoon.  What do you think?


Question and draft response


(a) What were the 43 grounds of alleged damage Natural England was prosecuting the WMEL over and what was Natural England’s assessment of the restoration needed?


WMEL were charged with 45 offences. This consisted of 30 incidences of moor gripping, the construction of 5 tracks, the construction of 5 car parks, the creation of 2 ponds by peat extraction, the construction of earthworks (shooting butts) in 2 locations, and 1 incident of using vehicles likely to damage the site. 

In Natural England’s view, restoration of the alleged damage would include the removal of damaging infrastructure from the site, the filling in of moor grips and ponds and re-profiling and re-vegetation of the affected areas.  

(b) How to the UK authorities propose to secure the restoration of that alleged damage now that Natural England has abandoned its prosecution?

The 2012 management agreement reached with the WMEL has resulted in improved conservation management for the SAC and SPA, placing the sites’ blanket bog habitats on a trajectory that will move these towards favourable conservation status.  Among other things, the management agreement places significant restrictions on burning, grazing and vehicle use on the site and also includes a substantial programme of grip blocking across the WMEL estate, which will raise water levels on the sites and have a beneficial effect on blanket bog habitat. 

The achievement of this management agreement on a voluntary basis with WMEL, in manner that satisfies the requirements of the Birds and Habitats Directive, is considered (and, at the time the management agreement was entered into, was considered by Natural England) to be a more favourable outcome for the conservation of the sites than the pursuit of the criminal proceedings.  Even though some of the alleged damage may not ultimately be restored, the management agreement ensures that the overall ecology integrity of the site is secured and moving towards favourable condition.    


On burning rotations in general the Commission services would like to receive information, what burning rotations Natural England (and its predecessor English Nature) permitted on SAC management units containing blanket bog elsewhere in England and could it indicate which of these are grouse moors?


Burning rotations that have been permitted range from rotations of (a) between 8 and 12 years to (b) 25 years or more, with most burning rotations (more than 90% of those permitted) ranging from rotations of (c) between 15 and 20 years  to (d) 25 years or more.  All of these permissions relate to grouse moors. 



In the 2007 Report on Conservation Status of Habitat Types and Species submitted under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive, the United Kingdom reported that the blanket bog habitat type is in a bad conservation status in the United Kingdom. Having regard to this and to the information submitted by the complainant on the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation, the Commission services are particularly concerned that the UK allows burning degraded blanket bogs, thereby preventing them from recovering.

Furthermore, the Commission services understand that the consent issued with regard to the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation and the South Pennine Moors Phase 2 Special Protection Area will have wider implications and will set a precedent for other management agreements entered on upland sites, in particular with regard to such moorland burning activities.


Therefore the Commission services would appreciate receiving explanations on the implications of this particular SSSI Consent 2012 on reaching of objective to “enable the natural habitat types and the species’ habitats concerned to be maintained or, where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range” provided in Article 3(1) of the Habitat Directive with regard to blanket bogs.

The 2012 management agreement achieves a number of important conservation benefits for the site:

a.       WMEL was in possession of a 1995 consent from English Nature to arguably pursue unrestricted burning, grazing and other management activities on the site in perpetuity.  Under the terms of the 2012 management agreement, this consent has been withdrawn and, in its place, a number of significant restrictions in relation to these activities have implemented.   These include the imposition of fixed burning rotations on dry heath and blanket bog  in limited areas and required methods of burning that are consistent with the Heather and Grass Burning Code 2007;

b.      Other management activities on the site, such as grazing, have been set at sustainable levels that will not undermine the sites’ conservation objectives or integrity;

c.       A “re-wetting” scheme, which includes the blocking of grips across a substantial part of the estate has been agreed and will be implemented; this will raise water levels on the site with objective of benefitting degraded blanket bog habitat; and

d.      The 2012 consent for burning, grazing and other management activities  is limited to a period of 25 years, after which WMEL will not be able to carry on these activities, without Natural England’s further consent.  Any future determinations at that time will be made in view of the best available science.

The 2012 management agreement was subject to an Appropriate Assessment, which concluded that the limited activities permitted would not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the SAC and SPA. 

Given the specific circumstances of the WMEL matter (including its former reliance on the unrestricted, 1995 English Nature consent that has now been withdrawn) and the particular way in which it has been resolved, we do not consider that the agreement with WMEL will set a precedent.  Natural England assesses each management proposal made to it on its own merits and in view of the particular facts of the case. 

Natural England is conducting a comprehensive review of the evidence on the impacts of burning on upland habitats, which has been the subject of debate among Natural England’s stakeholders.  This evidence review will ensure that the most recent and best available science is given regard to by Natural England in relation conservation management decisions, and will lead to operational guidance and a wider stakeholder dialogue on the basis of which historic consents can be reviewed. 

Natural England and other public bodies are also engaged in the conservation and enhancement of blanket bog habitat across England.  Examples of two such projects are:

1.    1.  The Exmoor Mire Restoration Project  is one of the partnership projects under South West Water’s Upstream Thinking initiative which is aimed at protecting water resources. The project is one of six and is a partnership in which Natural England is involved. Other partners are local farmers and landowners, the Exmoor National Park Authority and English Heritage, The Environment Agency and South West Water. The aim of the project is restore peatlands in the area which have become degraded over the years as a result of centuries of moorland reclamation, agricultural drainage and domestic peat-cutting leading to a decline in biodiversity on protected sites.  Natural England makes a major contribution to it through use of the HLS capital works programme. Natural England also chairs the project delivery group.

2. Moors for the Future is a partnership project to restore large parts of the internationally important Peak District moors. Through a programme of new initiatives it aims to: raise awareness of why the moors are special and encourage responsible use and care of the landscape; restore and conserve important recreational and natural moorland resources; and develop expertise on how to protect and manage the moors sustainably.  The project is funded by the Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, United Utilities, Severn Trent Water, Yorkshire Water, Environment Agency and Derbyshire County Council.


In the Natura 2000 form of the South Pennine Moors SAC under item 4.3 “Vulnerability” it is specifically indicated that:


“<…>There are a number of key pressures upon the site; these include overgrazing by sheep, burning as a tool for grouse moor management and inappropriate drainage through moor-gripping. All these issues are being tackled, and an integrated management strategy and conservation action programme has been produced as part of an EU-funded LIFE project for the area to the north of the National Park.<…>”


In this regard the Commission services would appreciate if your authorities could explain how those pressures are being addressed and how the SSSI Consent 2012 referred to by the complainant is reconciled with the objective of tackling the above mentioned key pressures?

The March 2012 management agreement does not conflict with the statement.  It tackles the pressures referred to in the statement by place management controls on the site (as referred to in the response to Question 3) which will enable the habitats on the site to move towards Favourable Conservation Status. 


(a) Is any EU Agri-environment funding being allocated for the management activities such as burning with regard toWMEL Estate?

The agreement reached with WMEL Estate withdraws the 1995 consent and places substantial restrictions on certain management activities such as burning.   Accordingly,  payments made to the WMEL Estate pursuant to the agreement, including payments under the Higher Level Stewardship (‘HLS’) agreement (which is part-EU funded) are made as compensation for the restriction of those activities, not to enable those activities.  However, the aforementioned  grip-blocking programme, which will have a beneficial effect on the sites’ blanket bog habitats, will be funded through the HLS agreement.





(b)  Is any EU Agri-environment funding being allocated for burning more widely in the uplands?


The HLS scheme has specific options related to the management and restoration of moorlands with a burning supplement option.

Burning in the uplands, which has been historically used as a management tool by landowners in relation to economic activities (such as grouse management), is also a conservation management tool with respect to some Annex I habitats, such as dry heath, which occurs extensively in the uplands. 

There are some existing agreements (in which EU monies are a component of the payment made to the agreement holder) that do authorise burning that may affect blanket bog habitats.  These agreements will be subject to review in light of the outcome of the evidence review referred to in the answer to Question 3 and Natural England will undertake measures to adjust these management arrangements in circumstances where this is justified by the evidence.  

Is WMEL Estate receiving or has received any EU monies for any of the other damaging activities such as the track construction and other damaging infrastructures within the SAC and SPA sites in question?


Not through Natural England, nor otherwise to the best of Natural England’s knowledge.  


13 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 34 – the Defra response to the EU Commission”

  1. The question is that the EU want to know why natural england is allowing the burning of bogs when it reports say it ruins them. The answer is about how much they are burnt and what is better. That isn’t the question is it?

    The excuse is that burning bogs less reduces damage but EU law says there shouldn’t be any damage at all.

    If the law says no damage wouldn’t the new consent be illegal and any others like it?

  2. Perhaps they should introduce some new definitions of illegal?

    Burning on internationally designated blanket bog = illegal

    Consenting burning on internationally designated blanket bog = stupidly illegal

    Paying public money to burn on internationally designated blanket bog = taking the piss illegal

  3. There is a clear suggestion running through this response that the loss of habitat is not significant (so as to impact the favourable conservation status).
    How much would be significant? If they know what is insignificant, they must have a concept of where the threshold between significant and insignificant lies?

    In my experience of Natura sites, all parts of a site are of equal importance. If they are not important they should have been excluded from the site in the first place.

    I would suggest asking Natural England if they are fully confident that the EU believe that damaging the habitats within the site (which are not in favourable condition in the first place!) is an acceptable approach to improving the sites condition. The directive does place a duty on the member state to get the sites into FCS and maintain them in that state.
    Also, in 50 years time…when their dodgy plans come to fruition and the damaged habitats are all in favourable condition…how will they account for the areas of habitat that have been lost to tracks and roads?

  4. If you dig deep enough into the EU website, you can find a page which gives you the details of the fine structure which the UK have signed up to.

    The fine for infraction is in two parts…. a lump sum of 9million euro’s and a daily fine of up to 220000 euro per day. Its no wonder that they are trying to convince the EU that they have put measures in place…..

  5. I thought it might be helpful to post a brief comment to let you know what the RSPB is up to. For reasons I hope you will understand, we won’t make any further comment at this stage.

    We have indeed received a copy of the UK’s response to the European Commission’s questions in relation to the RSPB’s complaint. As you would expect, we’re considering the UK response very carefully and compiling our reply against the substantive complaints made by the RSPB to the European Commission and summarised in the briefing available on our website (http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/Walshaw_Moor_RSPB_Briefing_on_European_complaint_tcm9-326700.pdf). As you’ll note from that briefing, our complaint relates to decisions taken by Natural England in respect of both:

    1. Failure to take appropriate steps to rectify known damage from unconsented activities (NE dropped their prosecution in relation to activities where no consent had been sought under the SSSI “operations likely to damage” system)

    2. Agreement to management measures that do not avoid adverse effects on the SAC and SPA’s integrity (the SSSI Consent dated 1 March 2012).

    Our reply will address these and other matters raised by the UK’s response. At that point, we’ll update our website (http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/casework/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-326701) with a summary. In the meantime, I’m sure Mark will be returning to this theme on a regular basis!

  6. I think Hebdon Bridge flood victims should be up on the hills repairing this damage. And a legal action taken against Natural England (there are individuals in NE who condoned this ruining of SSSIs).

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