Torch the parks


As I drove north up the A1 through Yorkshire, plumes of smoke were rising from our National Parks: the North York Moors on the right and the Yorkshire Dales on the left.  They were being torched in order to provide the right conditions for unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse.

Passing through parts of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland I came across many places where the heather was being burned in National Parks and AONBs.

Quite how this form of industrial management contributes to the ‘preservation and enhancement of natural beauty in England and Wales, and particularly in the areas designated under this Act as National Parks or as areas of outstanding natural beauty‘ as originally envisaged in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, I cannot explain.

As I travelled, I looked at the patchwork of recently and less-recently burned heather and wondered how this could be allowed in a National Park – if you are looking for nature then the burning regime of a driven grouse moor is about as far from it as you can get.

And this burning and drainage is now thought to have a wide range of unfavourable ecological and financial impacts on us all: increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased flood risk, increased need for water treatment, lower aquatic biodiversity.

But there were lots of Red Grouse – all potential targets for shooting practice for the guns on the Inglorious 12th and after.

I thought several times how tough these Red Grouse are: living up in the hills all through the year. It was cold enough up there to send me back into the car pretty quickly.

Three cheers for the famous grouse – and three boos for the grouse shooters.

red grouse
Many thanks to Donald Shields for the permission to use this amazing image.


Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive

Get email notifications of new blog posts

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

18 Replies to “Torch the parks”

  1. Together with the mindless slaughter of any creature which is considered likely to threaten those Grouse numbers.Hares stoats weasels fox all birds of prey.Quite unbelievable in an enlightened civilized society?But are we?
    Burning the Moors prevents any other form of Flora to flourish And we complain about The Amazon, Indo China and Madagascar.

  2. Mark – burning is an important conservation tool (used, for example, by the RSPB and partners to restore Langholm Moor). Burning is used across several National Parks including the New Forest – which has no grouse shooting. Where there is no grouse shooting interest the state has to organise the burning – in the New Forest that is mostly undertaken by the Forestry Commission. You can see this without having to leave your car if you drive along the B3078.

    1. Andrew – yeh right. What did we all do for the thousands of years before the men in tweed came on the scene?

        1. Don’t think muirburn is carried out to help meet the country’s need for protein! It’s far, far better at screwing up the hills, rivers and wildlife than feeding people.

      1. Mythology test; which bird’s survival is entirely dependent on regular treatments of fire?

        A) Phoenix
        B) Red Grouse

    2. Please keep your eyes on the road when driving along the B3078 it’s dangerous enough what with all those ponies and cyclists without people gawping at heathland when they should be concentrating on causing traffic congestion

    3. This is part of the reason why UK NP’s are in such a mess. Burning is so destructive that it is extremely bizarre that it is perceived as an important conservation tool, particularly when it creates the artificial landscape of moorland.

      This is what George Monbiot has to say about “Scorched Earth Conservation” –

      “Why is it that practices we recognise as destructive when we see them elsewhere in the world are judged “environmentally friendly” here? When we see land being burnt in Indonesia or Brazil, do we call it conservation, or do we call it destruction? Because it damages soil and hydrology, incinerates wildlife and simplifies ecosystems, destruction is the correct term. Burning on Dartmoor has the same impacts. It’s about as environmentally friendly as tipping bleach into a river”.

  3. I was under the impression that stubble burning was a banned practice these days so how do the grouse managers get away with it?

    1. I would recommend that if you see burning over peat, probe the depth and report it if the depth is over, 5m and the Muir burn code has been broken. They never follow the rules… but they get away with it because nobody checks.

    2. Because ‘we’ let them?

      Revelations about management practice impacting on water quality etc. (eg EMBER) might make more of the tax paying public question payment to landowners simply for land owning?

      Lest we forget the shameful NE arrangement with £25m was it, of our taxes?

      So, the influence in corridors & clubs vs critical mass of collaborative community? Tenacity and determination vs spin & pr budgets?

  4. Environmental impacts notwithstanding we need to be wary of the natural beauty discussion. Some, many perhaps, might describe the landscape featuring in the previous blog as an impoverished, bare emptiness with no vegetation over knee height whereas it “should” have a rich riparian vegetation, river full of salmon and trees and montane scrub running up the hills.

    1. Agree. And it’s worth pondering how the dominant woody species, going from valley bottom to mountain top, should look almost everywhere in the highlands:
      Alder; pine; birch; juniper; dwarf willow (very simplified list).
      Then along this series the following game-type birds:
      Woodcock; capercaillie; black grouse; red grouse; ptarmigan.
      Result: beauty everywhere and a constantly changing and biodiverse world with every foot of climbing. And for those who want vistas – there’s plenty of it above the tree line. The tree line? What’s that?
      Most people can be excused for their ignorance – it’s a rare mountain indeed that possesses such a feature in the UK.

      1. on the upside, if it is Coignafearn then there is the fighting chance that there may be some ‘3D’ vegetation eventually. There won’t be if the owners stick to deer and grouse!

    2. Good comment, Bimbling. Those photos represent what is so wrong with our uplands – degraded, empty landscapes with only a few trees and what looks like a conifer plantation.

  5. Unfortunately National Parks have little or no control of those things that fall outside planning law or other statutory requirements even if they wished to. Remember NP committees have on the representatives of local communities and interests ( the usual suspects in favour of all we are against).
    Its actually worse than some think, on one estate in the Dales the head keeper hates trees on the moor or in moorland gills in his words they are “vermin perches.” So many of said trees have recently been removed by allegedly a group of some sort of conservationist trainees! I kid you not and this moor is a SSSI. IF NE know do they bloody care!

    In fact most moors in the Dales NP and Nidderdale AONB, indeed throughout the Pennines and Bowland are SSSIs and part of SPAs so NE have some control over burning plans. Thinking of it just makes me even more bloody angry!

Comments are closed.