Wuthering Moors 42

Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.
Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

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.

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16 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 42”

  1. Actually I would not disagree at all with Richard Benyon's view on the economic impact of the loss of driven grouse shooting, potentially caused by ill-considered management prescriptions. The point I was making was a different one, that grouse shooting has, in one form or another, survived 2 World Wars, the Industrial Revolution and the crazier excesses of policy makers and it will survive this.
    For the sake of the landscape, our upland waders and significant parts of the economy of upland England, it better had, as there is nothing in the pipeline to replace it.
    A key question is, is the science there to unequivocally demonstrate benefits of such magnitude as to justify a change in an age old land management practice which supports a land use that currently has no viable replacement which is not of itself more damaging to the environment than the one to be stopped. It seems it wasn't there during the Walshaw case or at least the court appears not to have been impressed impressed and it wasn't clear in the RSPB's own review but we will have to see.

    1. I think you refer to Ed Bromet's view, not Richard Benyon's, though one suspects they agreed...

      "For the sake of the landscape" - that's a joke right?!
      For the sake of "our upland waders"? How on earth did they ever manage one wonders without gamekeepers and burning. How did they ever evolve? How do they struggle on in bountiful numbers in other countries without driven grouse shooting? I expect the Scandinavians will be sending delegations soon for advice on burning to help their golden plover, black grouse and capercaillie populations. Oh wait, they have loads...

      As for "nothing in the pipeline to replace it" - how about walked up grouse shooting? Wouldn't require raptor/corvid/mustelid persecution as a day's sport would yield far fewer birds (maybe just enough for one family to eat!) and could exist alongside diversification of the landscape to include some (black grouse friendly) trees on our fire-scarred hills. Oh and some portly gentlemen could get some exercise, possibly relieving some of the burden on the NHS... I note that Ryedale, spiritual home of the English grouse shooting community, is also the fourth fattest region in England (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10617126/Revealed-the-fattest-towns-and-cities-in-England.html)

  2. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/227670507_The_impact_of_raptors_on_the_abundance_of_upland_passerines_and_waders?ev=prf_pub

  3. I live in an AONB have flower rich meadows and loads of butterflies, hares, orchids and all several different BAP habitats. I cannot get an HLS agreement and am having to consider ploughing the lot up this year, reseed with rye and fertilise. I sounds like supporting grouse shooting is far more important.

    1. If you can't get an agreement, cowboy, I imagine it's either because the NFU lobbied Defra to ensure the schemes were underfunded or because the shambles over the RDPE negotiations has left a short period during which new schemes can't be offered. If your land is as environmentally valuable as you say, I'd have thought it unlikely you wouldn't be offered an agri-environment agreement in due course. And if you ploughed up, fertilised or reseeded BAP habitat without first having undertaken an Environmental Impact Assessment you would be breaking the law, wouldn't you?

  4. In a pristine environment, in a country that did not contain 62 million people, and where our history hadn't happened, waders presumably could do very well without any help at all. The high arctic or the Uists perhaps. Well, not the Uists any more, because some animal lover let Mrs Tiggywinkle out but certainly some bits up there still manage it.
    Most other places they need some help. I'm sorry to keep mentioning it but since grouse shooting disappeared from Wales so have the Lapwings, Curlews and Golden Plover. Go and have a look.
    There is plenty of other evidence. On the Elmley marshes the Lapwing on the RSPB, no legal predator control area, produced one tenth of the chicks per pair compared to the virtually identical area where the owner controlled predation.
    Furthermore I recall that RSPB operates predation control at Geltsdale to protect the nesting waders.
    Sadly we must deal with the world as it is not as we would wish it to be. Last year I was told by someone that they considered that without predator control Lapwings probably had no future in Lowland Britain, it was not a Landowner or Gamekeeper but a senior staff member of a great conservation organisation.

    1. Ian - I can see why you don't want to talk about the damage that your members have done to a large proportion of England's blanket bog - which is so important in world terms too.

      Here in Northamptonshire we are seriously thinking of starting driven grouse shooting because that's the only way to get back the much-diminished breeding Lapwing and Redshank, and the completely-gone Snipe. All we have to do is introduce the heather first and then the Red Grouse and then start blasting away at them and all will be fine. Or maybe it really was the switch from spring sown to autumn sown cereals that had more of a part to play, and draining the wetlands, and and and...

      I see so few Grey Partridges too. Sometimes I call in at the RSPB's Hope Farm to see a Grey Partridge or two because they have come back there, even though there is no predator control. Loddington is about the same distance away but there the farm used to have Grey Partridges and they ebbed away under predator control. But now you have made me wander off the subject too.

      Predator control is undoubtedly valuable for increasing breeding production, and it has without doubt been practised for many years on some RSPB nature reserves where it can make a difference, but it isn't the blanket cure-all that some seem to think.

      Talking of blankets, blanket bog is damaged by burning regimes practised on grouse moors, it seems (like it seemed a couple of years ago too). How will the guardians of the uplands react to this news - which you might perhaps have expected them to have noticed themselves? I daresay they did, but perhaps thought that their grouse bags were more important than protecting this habitat. Will they react by saying it's a fair cop or repeat the hectoring demonstrated by Ed Bromet's email in this post or perhaps they will just look for someone else to criticise about something else to avoid the subject?

  5. For a clever man to miss the point as often as you do makes me wonder if you do it on purpose. I do wish you would stop acting as though you believe that I, and others like me, who believe that legal predator control is sometimes an essential conservation tool, in some way did not comprehend the importance of getting the environment right in the first place. We get it! We always did, and a lot quicker than some others.
    I was responding to Hugh who claimed that predator control by, in this case gamekeepers, was irrelevant to wader success because they did OK in pristine environments. I was not suggesting that you could bring Redshank and Curlew back into Northamptonshire by simply killing foxes and crows. What I would suggest however is that if you can get someone to make the habitat right and these birds came back to your much abused county their productivity per pair would be increased by legal predation control.
    I know that you don't think that's very important but I do, so we will have to differ.
    It is a pity that these discussions always come back to the same crazy faux disagreement, everybody knows that in this country and at this time predation control is essential in some circumstances yet as soon as the word gamekeeper appears all sense of proportion vanishes.

    1. ian - for a clever man like you to avoid the point as often as you do pretty much convinces me that you do it on purpose.

      I do wish you would stop acting as though those of us who have actually worked in nature conservation for decades don't realise that predator control can sometimes help maintain populations - particularly those of us who have worked in organisations that have carried it out for decades too.

      This blog was about burning of blanket bogs. What do you think GWCT members, who must own quite a large proportion of England's blanket bog (?), will be doing in response to the NE findings. And do you have any views on what should happen at Walshaw Moor?

    2. ian - for a clever man like you to avoid the point as often as you do pretty much convinces me that you do it on purpose.

      I do wish you would stop acting as though those of us who have actually worked in nature conservation for decades don't realise that predator control can sometimes help maintain populations - particularly those of us who have worked in organisations that have carried it out for decades too.

      This blog was about burning of blanket bogs. What do you think GWCT members, who must own quite a large proportion of England's blanket bog (?), will be doing in response to the NE findings. And do you have any views on what should happen at Walshaw Moor?

  6. The blanket bog on grouse moors seems to me to have been more fortunate than many of the bogs I knew in my youth most of which are now desiccated Sitka plantations. The best way to manage a bog has yet to be decided on but in the main grouse moor owners seem to have done a better job of it until now than foresters and central government policy makers of yesteryear. At least their bogs are still there to be argued about.
    Don't be surprised when people react badly to being told what to do on their own land, not everyone has the cosy relationship with the regulator that you enjoyed at RSPB.
    I've told you before about my friend whose family had owned and managed a grouse moor for generations, and who having refused grants to drain it, fence it, plant it with trees and put roads all over it found that they owned the only hill in the area worth designating as an SSSI. They now are not allowed to manage it in the manner which had led to it becoming a SSSI in the first place. The grouse are gone, so are the Golden Plover, Merlin and Curlew and when it rains the water is still brown because it always was and always will be. Added to which he and his neighbours now live next to the biggest pile of highly combustible material in the county. Whether the place will still comply with the requirements of the Habitat Directive after some buffoon with a portable BBQ has burnt the whole thing to a crisp only time will but what certain is that the people responsible will be nowhere to seen.

    1. Ian,

      I think we are clear on how to manage bog - leave it the hell alone, I'm assuming you mean the game industry is not clear on how to manage it as scientists and ecologists are perfectly clear. It's a climax habitat and that position is fairly clear and even NE's specialists and experts confirm this. To continue dated burning practices on it for grouse management is totally ludicrous.

      The only reason even conservation bodies 'manage it' (cutting/light grazing) is to undo years of damage and neglect caused by burning, overgrazing and drainage that has modified it into some Callluna dominated sub-optimal crap that is maintained by continued burning practices. The cycle needs to be broken, unfortunately the restoration is expensive but I'd rather see that paid for by my tax than subsidising a damaging bygone practice like burning bog for grouse.

    2. "Added to which he and his neighbours now live next to the biggest pile of highly combustible material in the county"


      By highly combustible material I presume you mean a build up of mature and degenerate Calluna, surely you must realise that if the blanket bog was being managed correctly then the Calluna wouldn't be present at such a high density. So don't you see how weak your argument is ? Gongfarmer is spot-on.

  7. If the land Cowboy farms has not been ploughed or chemically cultivated within the last 15 years, then he must apply to NE for a screening decision under the EIA Agriculture Regulations 2006. Not to do so would be a criminal offence.

  8. Have you seen this "interesting" tweet and picture from Jeremy Deller....


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