These MMPs are the response of Defra and NE to the fact that they have been told by the European Commission that their implementation of the Habitats Directive has been inadequate and that ‘we’ in the UK must properly protect this priority habitat and not let grouse moor owners damage it by burning. This news has not yet been announced by either the European Commission nor Defra because there are a few loose ends to tie up (!) but it is the reason why NE has been agreeing these MMPs. They are a vehicle for the regulator, NE, to withdraw consent for damaging burning which they have erroneously been allowing for years.
Thus, and I will say this very slowly, the…whole…point…of…the
But we have already seen with the Walshaw Moor version (which is confusingly called a Catchment Restoration Plan) that the plan is a give-away to the estate, allows burning to go on almost as now, and drives a coach and horses and a 5-km track through the blanket bog it is meant to protect. I also suspect that the Habitats Regulations Assessment for Walshaw Moor was influenced by political direction from on high after completion by expert staff but we’ll see when NE releases the two relevant versions of the document. So, rather than a clamping down on habitat damage, the plans look like they are a vehicle for allowing intensive grouse shooting estates the ability to carry on regardless and indeeed do a bit more industrialising of our uplands.
How does the Wemmergill MMP shape up?
Here is a link to the plan on the Moorland Association website. First, and just in passing, you’ll struggle to find any mention of birds of prey in this document, which in the light of recent events is a shame. At least mentioning that Wemmergill would be a great place for Hen Harriers to come and be cossetted by the estate would have alerted local people to this bird and might have galvanised them now into action to trace the missing Hen Harrier ‘Marc’ and uncover any dark deeds that may have happened. Maybe when the plan is renewed in 2042 then? Obviously no rush, no rush at all.
NE were in a strong position to get whatever they wanted through this plan as the HLS agreement expired on 31 January, as did, I believe, the burning consents, and so the estate had nowhere to go if NE put its foot down. But NE did not put its foot down over burning. My understanding is that this new agreed plan (the point of which is outlined in red above) will not limit the amount of burning that the estate can do at all. There is basically no area of blanket bog on Wemmergill that is pristine and so none of it falls into the category of ‘can’t be burned’. Instead it all falls into the amber category and can be burned. This is a massive cop-out and unless I have misunderstood things badly, which is of course possible, means that blanket bogs are no better protected now than they were before this plan. If that is the case, then the plan is a con.
Here is an image of a minister looking happy even though her statutory agency has sold nature conservation down the river, and opened up the possibility that the EC will come down like a ton of bricks on her department, her boss and her government, and a director of the estate and its Head Gamekeeper who may well be smiling because they have got away with it and now have a government minister looking pleased about them getting away with it!
There are other bizarre aspects of these plans. First, the ability to burn heather on blanket bogs to control Heather Beetle – why? The supposed point of burning the heather on blanket bogs is to get rid of it to restore those blanket bogs with their mosses so why not let the Heather Beetle do its worst? Very strange!
Second, the plan talks about ‘heather protection ridges’ which are a new one on me. The photographs show them to be another rather nasty way of mucking about with decent habitat – have a look at pages 50-52 (p52 shows how spectacularly ugly these are!). And if these don’t exacerbate water loss from blanket bogs then I’d be very surprised. Heather protection ridges look like they are accompanied by drainage ditches to me! They look awful and are a further industrialisation of our moorland, sanctioned by the statutory agency which should be protecting both its landscape value and wildlife value. I bet you that we’ll see more of these in other MMPs and that they are one of the next ways that moorland owners seek to wreck the uplands.
Third, new tracks! The Wemmergill tracks aren’t as long as the Walshaw Moor ones but moorland owners are clearly being allowed to use these MMPs (read the red words above again) to build more tracks that are for the benefit of grouse shooters but to the detriment of the environment.
Fourth, just have a look at the agreed vision at the front of the document. Does this sound like a regulator acting for the public good and putting its foot down? No, everywhere that blanket bog is mentioned there is a caveat which amounts to putting grouse shooting on a par with habitat protection. It’s NE’s job to protect the habitat on our behalf and according to the UK’s international legal responsibilities – not to fudge things for the benefit of the hobby of shooting Red Grouse for fun.
Michael Gove is being made to look like a fool by his own statutory nature conservation organisation. He must be thrilled.