Natural England moves with the pace of a snail when it comes to protecting wildlife sites but with that of a cheetah when it comes to issuing licenses to bump off wildlife.
Because of NE foot-dragging in the area of Gate Zero there now appears to be a race against time to get the West Pennines Moor designated as an SSSI before a windfarm application is approved for one part of the site. NE were warned, but the guardians of our natural environment have had to be dragged shuffling and muttering to do their job.
The controversial windfarm application is opposed by almost everyone; NE itself, RSPB, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and over 400 residents when the proposal was first mooted. Sadly, in one of those green-on-green incidents, the local FoE group have supported it.
The next stage in the grindingly slow NE process is a week tomorrow but that might lead to the formal designation process consultation starting before Christmas. Meanwhile, the development proposal moves forward through the planning system as though there is nothing standing in its way.
As is often the case, the more the site is looked at, the more important it seems. Evidence for its importance for amphibians has grown enormously on the basis of some incomplete and poorly timed surveys. Some parts of the site have exceptional amphibian populations and others may be outstanding.
I understand the developers have recently, very recently, sought to cast doubt on the quality of the blanket bog in the area of the windfarm, which they claim has been damaged over many years. Let’s hope this last minute move by the developer merely delays the determination of their application to give adequate time for others to rebut their claims (and for NE to move on with the designation process).
There is no win-win result in this case. If the site is designated,as it should have been years ago, and the windfarm proposal is refused, then tardiness by NE has wasted time and money for the developer, the taxpayer and for everyone else involved in the case. Site designation gives the certainty that developers need to direct their efforts at the places where they are most likely to succeed and prevent them from wasting time and money in fruitless planning applications. But if the windfarm is approved and goes ahead then NE’s slow internal processes are to blame.
I am hoping, but not hopeful, that NE will have submitted a complete analysis of their long-term study of Hen Harriers to the parliamentary inquiry into grouse shooting. After more than a decade of study they surely have something to say. And they will be able to bring MPs and the Committee up to date with Walshaw Moor and their abandoned court case. Won’t they?
Previous blogs on the West Pennine Moors see Natural England seem to have forgotten the West Pennine moors, 2 April 2015; West Pennine Moors, 12 June 2015; West Pennine Moors Again, 22 June 2015; Dear Natural England, 22 June 2015; Fair do’s, 22 June 2015; Gate Zero and the West Pennine Moors, 21 September 2015; What the frack? West Pennine Moors, 28 September 2015; A barn of special scientific interest? West Pennine Moors, 28 September 2015; West Pennine Moors complaint to NE over their response, 28 September 2015; Gate Zero and the West Pennine Moors, 5 October 2015, News: West Pennine Moors heading for notification, 20 January 2016.