I am very grateful to Yorkshire Water for their full and quick response to my approach to them. If only the statutory sector were as quick!
Here is the response from Yorkshire Water’s Andrew Walker copied below for ease and then some comments by me.
“You are right to be concerned about rotational heather burning on blanket bog; we are too. As you are aware from our previous correspondence on the matter, last October, we are working with key stakeholders to find a more sensitive way of managing these internationally important habitats. Simply banning burning will leave the heather to grow causing more damage to the underlying peat.
The work we did last summer, known affectionately as ‘Bogathon’, highlighted that the only habitat which delivers what we all need and want from the uplands is a healthy active blanket bog, with a lot more sphagnum and a lot less heather. Our approach has significantly influenced the Government’s blanket bog restoration strategy which was signed off by Natural England’s Board in March this year. So we are all agreed on the type of habitat we want to achieve – what we need to do now is work out how
we can deliver that habitat and ensure everybody is working to that end.
It’s by no means in the bag, but tomorrow we’re in the Peak District looking at ways we can accelerate the growth and coverage of sphagnum moss and next week the Government’s Uplands Stakeholder Forum is visiting our work on Keighley Moor. This was the first location for our peatland restoration programme, and following the consensus from ‘Bogathon’, I had 5,000 bags of heather mown off Keighley Moor earlier this year.
If collectively we can reduce heather coverage and increase sphagnum, I hope that in time burning will not be necessary, or at least become a rare management practice. It’s taken me 10 years of considered thought and dialogue to get where we are today. I could have chosen to implement a ‘no burn’ policy on the bits of our catchments that we could control, but that would have alienated the very people I needed to convince. By taking a collaborative approach we have formed a consensus that will protect all
uplands, from Exmoor to the Scottish Borders, not just our own catchment land.
With regard to grouse shooting, whatever you may think of it, it is currently legal. I am aware of the issue around raptors and it is a difficult nut to crack. The Moorland Association are committed to seeing more of these magnificent birds on their members’ moors, and I believe there is a Hen Harrier Recovery Plan on the table. Maybe we could ban grouse shooting on the bits of the catchment we can control, but wouldn’t it be better for everybody if we can educate these landowners and gamekeepers into managing their land in a way which actually benefits the habitat and the species that depend on it? That is a far greater prize to me, but it needs a degree of compromise along the way.”
This leaves me impressed by the grip that Yorkshire Water have of the subject, but leaves a few thoughts in my mind:
1. Whilst heather burning continues, it disadvantages Yorkshire Water’s paying customers. Whilst getting everyone to agree everything is a nice idea, the customer doesn’t realise that they are picking up the bill for this softly softly approach.
2. Grouse shooting is currently legal – but so were many things that were wrong, right up until the time when they were made illegal (eg slavery). Leadership and progress involve taking a stand when you don’t have to, not when the law means that you must.
3. As Yorkshire Water must know, the numbers and nesting success of birds of prey (eg Peregrines, let’s not just talk about Hen Harriers) are appalling on grouse moors generally in the north of England. I would certainly question the commitment of the membership of the Moorland Association to there being many more birds of prey on their land. Educating people to keep to a 60-year old law is an approach that doesn’t seem to have worked.