Michael Gove has asked moorland owners to be good boys (and girls – although all the landowners in the room at the time were actually men) and to stop damaging blanket bogs through burning them. Burning is carried out so that men (and a few women) can shoot lots of Red Grouse for fun as it creates the perfect habitat for this gamebird (well, until they are shot, of course).
Many grouse shooting estates signed up to a voluntary agreement in order to help the Secretary of State for the Environment to re-assure the European Commission that he was getting a grip on the situation, and that the Commission should hold back from infraction proceedings against Defra for failing to implement the Habitats Directive.
Ironically the estate whose behaviour kicked off a failed legal case from Natural England in 2011, which itself triggered complaints from local residents and the RSPB to the European Commission, and which has led to Defra wanting to be seen to do something on this subject is the Walshaw Moor Estate in West Yorkshire.
Walshaw Moor had not, and as far as I know has not, signed up to the rather worthless voluntary agreements that other estates have signed.
So it comes as no surprise that burning of blanket bog habitat continues this burning season on the hills above Hebden Bridge.
Screenshot from Defra MAGIC system showing area of blanket bog (buff shading) and the area being burned on Monday (red star) pictured above and below.
It is to be hoped that the European Commission isn’t so foolish as to believe that Defra is addressing this issue properly.
There are three levels of inadequacy in the Defra approach:
- not all estates have signed the voluntary agreement – Walshaw Moor has not signed it – and so damaging burning continues (as documented in these images)
- there is evidence that even some estates who have signed up to the voluntary agreement are not sticking to it – Natural England should be checking these and reporting back to Defra (and the European Commission should be aware that a list of estates owners from Defra does not necessarily reflect what is happening on the ground)
- the formal agreements which NE is seeking to agree with individual estates to replace the voluntary agreements are riddled with loopholes which will allow damaging burning to continue (eg the one for Walshaw Moor here, and see here too)
Apart from being useless, Defra’s approach is perfect.
Defra appears to be completely in thrall to grouse moor interests. Not only does Defra not get a grip of habitat damage to protected wildlife sites by this small group of game-shooters but nor do they get a grip on wildlife crime against protected wildlife species by this same small group of shooting interests (see blog at 6pm this evening).