The scale of burning of English blanket bogs revealed by the latest RSPB work is scary.
There are 127 separate consents (mostly through HLS agreements – ie we taxpayers are paying for it too) for burning on blanket bogs. These affect these seven Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)(Border Mires, Kielder-Butterburn; Ingleborough Complex; Moor House – Upper Teesdale; North Pennine Moors; North York Moors; Simonside Hills; South Pennine Moors) and these four Special Protection Areas (SPAs)(Bowland Fells; North Pennine Moors; North York Moors; South Pennine Moors).
The area involved is, according to the RSPB, 94,000 ha which amounts to 74% of the deep peat soils in those SACs. That’s an area of about 30km by 30km (or roughly 20 miles by 20 miles, in old money).
That’s the big picture – and it is a big, scary picture. It tells a tale of massive habitat damage in the name of a field sport and economic activity. Yes, of course grouse shooting brings money into local communities, but this private benefit should not be at the expense of carbon emissions, water discolouration, increased flood risk, damaged habitats and illegal removal of protected wildlife (all of which are costs shared by the public at large).
All enthusiasts can get things out of proportion; twitchers can, football fans can, I dare say train-spotters can (really?) and I know that I can, but the pursuit of big grouse bags, for profit or fun, looks like a an enthusiasm that is being taken too often to too distant extremes.
I noted in Ian Coghill’s comment on an earlier blog today that he appeared rather unperturbed about moorland managers losing the freedom to burn blanket bogs saying ‘…either way it won’t matter to grouse shooting. Burning blanket bog is not essential to the success of grouse shooting, it has accommodated all sorts of changes and can obviously live with that‘.
I think Ian must be right, although if he is, then he is in conflict with this previously advanced view of Ed Bromet of the Moorland Association to the (then) Defra Minister (and grouse moor owner) Richard Benyon, in an email on 22 December 2011, and obtained under FoI/EIR and published on this blog on 1 July 2012.
‘We spoke yesterday but I can do no better than send over the attached by way of information. What Natural England are doing is complete madness. Suggestions of readdressing the basis of existing agri-environment schemes and whether heather burning should be allowed on blanket bog and wet heath has the potential to destroy 2/3rd of heather moorland in England and with it all the mammoth economic and environmental benefits!! It would make the management of moorland, most of which is privately funded, completely impossible. It is a ridiculously shortsighted move and has the ability to destroy co-operation or constructive discussion.‘.
I have a feeling that the two gentlemen cannot both be right. I expect the Moorland Ass is making the same point privately now, too.
It would be bad enough, indeed it would be terribly bad, if private money were damaging important habitats, the wildlife they support and the ecosystem services they provide, but it is all the more galling that it is my and your taxes, through the oversubscribed and very stretched Higher Level Scheme, that is paying upland landowners to damage blanket bogs. That doesn’t seem right at all. Some nice lowland farmer could be helping the Turtle Dove with the money that is going to a grouse moor owner to burn blanket bogs.