Being open


Members of the ‘Sodden 570’ at last year’s Hen Harrier Day event in the Upper Derwent Valley will recognise this area  – we were getting soaked just off the left hand (western) side of the map on 10 August last year.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act provided open access to open ground (in England) such as moorland – such as that moorland in the Peak District featured on the map.

However, as I understand it, and I am no expert, land managers can apply for closure of the land for specific reasons – perhaps because they are shooting Red Grouse on particular days. In addition, as I understand it, they can close the open access for four weeks without giving any reason. This seems to be what has happened on this piece of land in the Peak District for most days in May and many days in June. You were allowed access on the last Bank Holiday Monday though!

I looked at the website and discovered that the Derwent Moors were indeed closed for the dates shown on this sign, and that I couldn’t take my non-existent dog off the rights of way, but I couldn’t see whether there were going to be occasional days of grouse shooting on what I believe to be a grouse moor.

So, and you might have guessed this, I ‘phoned the Natural England number and spoke to the Open Access Contact Centre (0845 1003298).  The couple of staff there were as helpful as anything but I’m still a bit perplexed.  Having used up the 28 days of closures which are the land manager’s discretion, it is unclear to me whether the moors can be closed on any further dates, for example for grouse shooting between 12 August and 9 December. The NE staff couldn’t tell me whether there was the possibility of further closures whilst lead is whistling around the moors or not. And it’s worse than that (although not their fault, obviously (obvs!)), they said that if there were any further closures they might be made with only five working days notice. This makes it very difficult for me to plan my weekend or autumn short break in a National Park to enjoy the scenery and wildlife because I might book my B&B on the Friday and find the next Monday that the area I want to walk is closed at the weekend.

So, in planning my walk across the Derwent Moors – or maybe any other moors – I am completely at a loss to know whether I am safe to book my accommodation and travel north or whether I might find the place shut when I get there, or discover after I’ve booked my trip that the moors will be shut on the dates of my visit.  The NE staff were very helpful, and I admitted to them that I worked for the RSPB when the CROW Act was being made law so maybe it was more my fault than theirs, but it isn’t a great system. Or at least it seems not to be if I have understood it correctly.

This looks to me like it is the land owned by the National Trust and managed for grouse shooting (I might be wrong – who can tell me, please? [Note added later – see comment below on this blog. I am told that this is not NT land. Apologies. The general point remains though; this is land in a National Park]). National Trust members, like myself, aren’t getting much value for their large annual subscriptions in areas like these if such closures are common. And this is in a National Park remember – set up to protect and enhance natural beauty, not for industrialised game shooting and ‘vermin’ control.

Maybe the NT would like a Guest Blog here to update us all on how they are progressing with their excellent High Peak vision?

Maybe NE would like to put me straight on how I plan my walks in the English uplands during the grouse shooting season? Or maybe that is a job for Defra to explain?

If the Moorland Association would like to clarify this matter that would be good too. Do they have a code of conduct for their grouse shooting members about informing the public about closures sufficiently far ahead to minimise inconvenience?  What is that code of conduct, please?

And I do wonder why we are allowing driven grouse shooting in National Parks anyway.





21 Replies to “Being open”

  1. The western part of Derwent Moor on the map is indeed NT owned, a most enjoyable walk up Derwent Edge can be had if you are allowed in on what is basically public land in a National Park.

    My local bit of English upland is also restricted for access but in this case with dogs from 22/12/14 until 21/12/19. The reason is apparently to protect grouse at the land manager’s discretion. I find this somewhat ironic as the local keeper is often out with his dogs and come the glorious 12th onwards its full of dogs and strange dressed people disturbing the hell out of grouse. Double standards?

    Should our government environmental agency really be allowing this for double-standard commercial reasons – its not as though its to protect ground nesting birds (like hen harrier that are absent from this area)? Interestingly a search on the access database doesn’t show such restrictions on the adjacent UU estate or English upland RSPB reserves where I suspect genuine protection of ground nesting birds and their habitats is taking place.

    We really should get to the bottom of this anomaly as it effectively shuts down large chunks of the uplands (something to hide?) with poorly justifiable reasons and makes a mockery of the principle of access land. What is the process to get such closures, does it involve a public consultation and evidence to back up the need or merely a rubber-stamping exercise at a grouse moor manager’s request?

    1. Gongfarmer – as I understand it, for substantial periods of closure then there is a consultation. But a lot seems to be left to the land manager. I don’t entirely understand whether the land manager tells NE what he/she is going to do or asks permission for anything above the 28 days. The NE staff didn’t seem to know (no criticism intended). But [perhaps NE and NT and Moorland Association might like to clarify the state of affairs and how they see things.

  2. I can’t see the exception to the 28 days except in relation to dogs. In other words I believe I now have open access to the Derwent Moors after August 12 as long as I don’t take a dog which is not a guide dog. What have I missed? Shooting grouse is not land management.

    1. Alan – well, that’s how it looks but NE couldn’t tell me that was the case (their Open Access Contact Centre no less). And I assume that the land would be closed for shooting, so is there to be no grouse shooting at all on this grouse moor this year? Maybe I have to start checking the access to other grouse moors in the north of England.

      1. So the position is that if after August 12 the moor is ‘closed’ and I go for a walk with my pet cat off the rights of way, either I will be acting unlawfully or the moor owner will be. As you say, clarity on the point would be helpful; Erwin doesn’t like uncertainty.

  3. Is this really what the NT is there for ? Does restricting access at one of the best times of year for the countryside really chime with the Trust’s new direction giving more emphasis to the countryside, people and access ? Some serious thought required here rather than a woolly NT fudge.

  4. This is privately owned land and is not National Trust property, my guess is that the owner is seeking to minimise the disturbance to ground nesting birds from visitors to the moor. Several rights of way exist across this land and these are shown on the relevant OS map, you can still visit the area but you cannot exercise the right to open access.
    I would encourage all visitors to open moorland at this time of year to stick to footpaths and keep dogs on leads (check whether there is open access entitlement to take a dog – some moors don’t allow dogs off Public Rights of Way).
    I am sorry that I cannot, at this point, answer the other points raised about further closures or the timing of any such announcement.

  5. A quick response from Natural England. I don’t want to comment on the circumstances of a particular case but here’s a summary of how the basic system works. There are three types of restriction potentially in play on a managed grouse moor: (1) the 28 day allowance of closures, which as you say the law allows the owner to use for any reason during the calendar year; (2) the ability for the owner to exclude people with dogs from the land, for up to five years at a time, because it’s a grouse moor; and (3) the ability to apply to Natural England, or the National Park Authority if the land is within a national park area, to exclude people at other times if it’s necessary to do so for land management, safety or fire prevention reasons. There may also be nature conservation restrictions in some areas at some times. None of this affects any public rights of way. I hope this makes things somewhat clearer. Defra lead on CROW policy and legislation.

    1. Paul – many thanks to you (and Natural England) but, and it may just be me, I am still a bit puzzled. So if the 28 days have been used up, as they will have been by the middle of June on this site, does that mean there can’t be any other closure days this year? Presumably a land manager of a grouse moor can, on grounds of safety, apply for other days closure to allow for shooting in the grouse shooting season (12 August – 9 December)? Is that right or not, please?

      And if it is right, what are the grounds on which NE can or have to give permission (since you use the word ‘apply’ which suggests to me that it might be turned down). I am talking generally here not about any particular site. And if a grouse manager applies for permission to close a moor on grounds of safety for grouse shooting, how much notice will I have, as a member of the public wishing to exercise my right to roam under the CROW Act, that I cannot walk where I want to? And how do I find out which areas are closed and which aren’t?

      And is there anything to stop a grouse moor manager applying, on grounds of safety of course, for his grouse moor to be closed for all the time, or most of the time, for the shooting season? How does that work, please?

      Thank you again for your response. I am interested in how this system works, and I am, in that ghastly phrase, a ‘stakeholder’ as i want to walk on open access land that is managed for grouse shooting and want to be sure I know how to do this with the least hassle possible. Thank you.

  6. Hi again Mark – I’ve emailed you the details of the contact in the ‘relevant authority’ who administer these things, they will help you with your detailed queries.

    1. Paul – thank you. they aren’t very detailed enquiries really, but thank you.

  7. I can not understand why England has such a strange attitude to access… they could learn a lot from Scotland.

    1. Circus – indeed. And in many other areas – when are the SNP going to stand in England?

    1. we unfortunately allow it because national parks are almost all private land and grouse shooting is sadly a legitimate land use and even if they wanted to stop it national park authorities have no power to do so. its a pointless question aimed at the wrong target, sorry for being a grump.

  8. Some of the moors here in the Dales I go on use their 28 days in May and June too. historically it was because that is when OA came in and after the local announcement one got to the moors to find them closed during the week ( although in the first 2 years the closure notice just had a start and end date— so no clear notice of being open at weekends). Presumably this was to ruin the opening as it were– typical of the landed classe why the hell we didn’t have a revolution years ago and give them what they truly deserved is beyond me!
    However now they use it to keep birders et al off except weekends excuse is nesting birds but thets when they get rid of everything!however it does mean when they shoot the moors are open so they use a shoot security gang to try to dissuade you from walking thro’ the shoot. 12 th of August anyone?

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