Wuthering Moors (57) – NE paving the way

Walshaw Moor Estate is applying for planning permission to build a big new track through an area of moorland protected for its wildlife interest.  Track building has been highly contentious on this site for many years (see here, here) and the statutory nature conservation agency, Natural England, is well aware of that.  However, NE is paving the way for this damaging development by including the track in the plan that it agreed with the estate on 25 January and which has come to light through FOI/EIR requests.  Here is a link to the plan.  Is this not a track which NE has previously refused to agree?

Here is the link to the planning application for the part of the track which will have to be considered by Pendle Borough Council as the planning authority.  I can currently find no trace on the Calderdale Council planning portal of a planning application for the rest of the track (can anyone else find it?).

The excuse for building this large track through an already-damaged SAC, SPA and SSSI is to allow better access for estate staff and, if ever needed, emergency services. The fact that the proposed track will provide easier access from the south to northern lines of grouse butts, one of which is adjacent to the proposed track, is a mere happy coincidence.  Back in 2013 Defra admitted to the EU Commission that some of the alleged damage carried out on WME by building tracks etc may never be restored.

The estate clearly regards this track as being very important to them as there is a very prominent clause, 1.2 see below, in the agreement which basically says ‘we ain’t doing anything unless we get permission for the track’.  This made me catch my breath – it is abundantly clear that the grouse shooting industry feels that it has our statutory nature conservation agency by the throat (or perhaps by some lower anatomical appendages).

The Habitats Regulations Assessment of the impact of the track on relevant bird species (of the SPA) and blanket bog and other protected habitats (of the SAC) is extremely generous to the developer – it should be challenged in my opinion.

In particular, the Habs Assessment does not properly or fully or adequately consider the impact of the proposed track on the bird assemblage (see Habs Assessment pp 38-41).  There is no assessment of the indirect disturbance of the existence of the track (nor of shooting butts and turning circles) to species of importance such as Golden Plover, species of potential importance (such as all those Hen Harriers which Defra want to come flooding back to the uplands) nor of the upland assemblage for which the SPA is designated.  This is inadequate and Pendle and Calderdale Councils would be unwise to rely on the NE assessment.

The previously published Wemmergill plan, about which I don’t think I have written, also has a new track in it – although of a much, much smaller length. It is clear that NE is allowing shooting estates to use these Moorland Management Plans as opportunities for further development of grouse moors when they should be delivering restoration of the habitat and putting an end to rotational burning (I’ll come to that matter later; probably later today).  In the conclusions to the small-scale and short-term trial of a track at Wemmergill NE themselves agreed that ‘there is some vegetation loss beneath the structure‘ but also that ‘the trial was only short term and therefore long term effects are still unknown‘.  That is not a good basis for going along with, indeed paving the way for, a much bigger track of the same nature.

I think we can take with a pinch of salt and a bucket of scepticism, the idea that this track would only be used in emergencies during the birds’ nesting season, which in any case is incorrectly and inadequately defined in the plan as being between 15 April and 1 July (see for example p42 of the plan).  How does NE feel it can ensure compliance with that measure?

There is a lot more to say about this plan but the case of the Walshaw track illustrates quite clearly that the disgraceful NE is ushering the shooting industry along a motorway to ever greater grouse bags whilst the public, wildlife and protected habitats are sidelined on a side road which is quite possibly a dead end.

Natural England is failing to do its job for the public and failing to protect wildlife and habitats. It is a failing organisation.

 

 

 

 

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12 Comments

  1. Ian Carter says:

    I feel you are being a touch harsh here. You must remember that NE are not necessarily aspiring to find the 'right' solution but the 'best' one. Perhaps this is it. And it's quite a big site so if some of the habitat is lost and much of the wildlife on the rest of the site is subject to increased disturbance, think of the longer term benefits for NE in its ability to work harmoniously with the estate. It's a bit like in Bowland. Surely we can accept the loss of a few of the birds that form part of the special interest of the site in order to foster better relationships and all that might flow from that. Your blog typifies the problematic attitudes of the past - an inability to think of novel solutions and an inflexible insistence that NE should stick to the spirit and the letter of the wildlife legislation.

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    • Mark says:

      Ian - I hope that others will realise that your tongue is in your cheek here.

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    • john miles says:

      Must be a policy as we had that on one of our moors- Extend the road for blocking more drains. Why not just block the drains as we pay for this moor any way -£156,000 a year!! Oh and forget the £1 Billion it has coast for 2 floods in Carlisle!!

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  2. Ian Carter says:

    Yes, maybe there should be a different font for sarcasm?

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  3. Bowland Bruce says:

    Is there anyone left in NE who is honestly interested in wildlife protection or of upholding environmental law?

    Their bird monitoring programme (page 36) shows this plan for what it is:

    3.2 Breeding birds
    Bird assemblages will be monitored across the Estate by the keepers, once yearly when
    undertaking July Grouse Counts

    Well done NE, well done.

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    • Mark says:

      Bowland Bruce - 😉 Thank you for your comment. I was going to come to that later - but you are, of course, right!

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    • Ian Carter says:

      BB, yes there are plenty of folk left in NE who believe in the legislation and regularly voice their concerns. But, sadly, they can do no more than that - they are powerless to change things.

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      • nimby says:

        If this is the kind of arrangement they enter into then we need to review how, if at all we fund upland estate owners? If my memory serves me correctly this estate received an eye watering amount of tax payers money, for what - where's the public benefit? Whilst there may be nice folk work for NE a NDPB there are, IMHO too many 'politically appointed' managers, especially at a senior level ....

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  4. jbc says:

    "It is a failing organisation".

    I fear it is succeeding all too well in achieving the objectives required of it by its Board and its political masters. It's just that the objectives they have in mind are different to ours - ours involve more wildlife and theirs involve political and economic convenience for the select few.

    I also can't help comparing the hoops they make us jump through to tick the right boxes (by us I mean my own organisation, another part of the so-called Defra family, doing good things) with the lack of oversight in this case. If we wanted to bulldoze a track across an SAC I can't imaging the fuss NE would make. They make a fuss about people walking on the beach here, as if that was something the local landowners could stop if they wanted to. But on a grouse moor it seems to be "would you like cream with that m'lord?"

    And in all this discussion, the responsibilities NE inherited from the old Countryside Agency, for protecting the landscape from developments that degrade landscape character and erode sense of place; bet those considerations didn't cross NE's mind. They all too often don't nowadays, but they really really should have done so here.

    It pains me to say it, but NE should be scrapped. At best it's now greenwash, at worst it has become part of the problem.

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  5. Paul says:

    This angers and depresses me. It leaves me feeling the nature conservation movement is impotent in the face of a government that wilfully ignores the law in deference to its chums. Can anyone provide some glimmer of hope regarding the best way forward?

    Likes(1)Dislikes(1)
    • Paul Fisher says:

      Maybe.
      Mark says 'it should be challenged in my opinion'.
      So, why don't we? Surely we can find a non shooting, friendly barrister, and Crowdfund his fee between us? Is anyone else up for this?
      Because, frankly, I'm sick and tired of feeling impotent against these people protecting their pals and funders.
      Yes, legal opinion is expensive, but split between say 50 of us? We can do that can't we?

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