Moorland balance indeed?

by Hugh Webster
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7 Replies to “Moorland balance indeed?”

  1. What I'd like to see in terms of 'balance' is a balance sheet (for each country), that is to say a realistic accurate one in which we see the public funds provided to these large estates alongside per reviewed figures of benefits to local economy, public goods provided and also the negative impact of muirburn on water quality and the monocultures devoid of raptors etc. and accurate figures for wildlife tourism set against grouse shooting. Which amongst the grouse shooting fraternity would believe such an assessment would be helpful and collaborate with producing an assessment of the economic and public benefits of grouse shooting?

    Another interesting set of statistics might be the value of Natural England assistance provided to these large estates?

    We are told if DGS is banned then the uplands will see additional sheep and conifers planted as they pay, so perhaps this review will see stock levels examined and the purpose of such a regime set against private profit and public benefit from public funds?

    I'm loathed to use economics as an assessment option but it's the one politicians and regulators understand. Public anger is only heard a short while ahead of an election .... then we get the platitudes, where is the balance?

  2. "I'm loathed to use economics as an assessment option"

    There are reasons to be cautious about arguing that nature should be protected because of its economic contribution but this case is different. It is the other side that is using the economic argument and you are simply countering it. One of the main arguments used in support of driven grouse sheeting is the claimed economic benefit it brings to rural communities. Given that there are substantial holes in the reasoning behind those claims it would be foolish not to challenge this argument.

  3. I think we can safely say that more conifers are out. The economics don't stack now that the tax breaks aren't there any more, plus an owner wouldn't get planting grants for new sites on high value nature conservation sites as we keep being told grouse moors are. So that's a red herring.

    Upland sheep farming is pretty economically marginal too - basically its loss making before grant income, and with Brexit who knows what the future grant regime will be? Add in a free trade deal with the ANZACs and UK sheep meat production will be in real trouble regardless, again esp in the uplands. Not a good investment for City money.

    Besides, on any SSSI sites, if NE were competent they'd never allow more conifers or more intensive sheep. The problem is that word "If"...

    Most likely is abandonment, or something like it, which you can call loss of much loved landscapes or rewilding according to taste. So the economic and nature conservation impacts of that (there will be wildlife losers as well as gainers) is something to put into the mix. Personally I'd love to see wilder, more tree'd uplands.

    In the context of the subsidy regime for hill farming , one also has to ask some social questions. I seem to recall another obsolete uneconomic industry based largely in the north and Wales that the Tory government was only to keen to write off and close down. Why are small hill farming/grouse shooting communities so much more worthy of endless subsidy than mining ones were? Public money is a lot tighter now than it was then.

    One way or another, the uplands will be changing. Amidst seemingly endless bad news for wildlife, I'm looking forward to a wilder future for our hills.

  4. Did anyone see that bit on Springwatch last night about the sheep eating wading bird chicks and eggs? How come gamekeepers and moor owners aren't calling for removing sheep from grouse moors to protect waders as well as culling ravens and killing birds of prey?

  5. It's not that hill sheep farming wouldn't be profitable without subsidy - its far worse than that - declared farm incomes in the uplands are frequently less than the subsidy, meaning farmers would earn more doing nothing than farming sheep. And for all the huffing and puffing, when it comes to the crunch the one big issue for farming is farm income. It would be wouldn't it, and the same applies to the rest of us.

    What it means is that we need to decide the sort of uplands we as a nation as whole want. There's a lot of space out there and different things can happen in different places. Worst would be 'free fall', a simple economic collapse likely to benefit no one, and probably not the wildlife that much. But there is a powerful trend, led by farming, but supported, albeit because people know no better, by conservation that you have to do the same thing everywhere. There needs to be an open, informed debate but there's a tremendous tendency at the moment to close down new ideas - and again conservation is frequently as bad as the people it would see as against it.

    And as for the trees ? Yes, some more of the right sort in the right places in the uplands, but if you want a lot o0f trees that produce timber amongst many other benefits the right places are on improved farmland around our towns and cities, aimed primarily at space for people, and preventing floods & providing other resilience benefits - as recommended by the Natural Capital committee.

  6. "Why are small hill farming/grouse shooting communities so much more worthy of endless subsidy than mining ones were? "

    Voting tendencies?


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