This post is about damaging tracks, past and present, on protected moorland.
I’d like to take you back in time on Walshaw Moor.
This photograph was posted on this blog in Wuthering Moors 39, 13 September 2013.
I pointed out that this place was marked on the OS map as a stream but now (in 2013) it seems to be a track.
I can point this area out to you on the Walshaw Moor Catchment Restoration Plan map here…
We are looking at the area to the bottom left of the left hand corner of the black box on the map above. This bit…
Yes, all a bit fuzzy but we can do better than that. Here is the most recent satellite image from Google Earth (June 2018)…
Yep, there are the two tracks and the lower one, the left hand arm of the wonky Y shape, is the one in the photograph.
Here is the same place in 2006 (also from Google Earth)…
Same tracks in the same place.
But lo! through the wonders of satellite imagery we can have a look at the same area in 2003 (also from Google Earth)…
No tracks this time – just a stream, or sike, or syke.
It’s very obvious that someone built some tracks here. Here is the relevant area from the JNCC MAGIC system. You can see the tracks on the OS map.
I’d like you to glance at the top left hand area of this map (a part of the Walshaw Moor estate with which you should now be becoming a bit familiar). See the name Warcock Hill? I wonder what a Warcock is?
This seems to be the area where the estate plans to ‘mitigate’ the impacts of the new track, the completely new track which hasn’t been built yet (and I hope never will be) by restoring the blanket bog. Basically the estate is saying that the damage done by building a new track (the one highlighted in the black box on the map higher up this post) will be offset by doing some habitat improvement down in this part of the estate. See here from the planning application papers…
Well that’s interesting. This part of the SSSI (Unit 51) is in Unfavourable No Change condition – I can show you that on MAGIC because it’s an alarming orange colour…
So my understanding is that’s not legal. You cannot use restoration of the habitat in one damaged part of an SSSI/SPA/SAC as mitigation for damaging another part of the SSSI/SPA/SAC. You can see why that isn’t allowed – it’s just moving the damage around rather than repairing it. You’d have to be taking the mickey to suggest such a thing.
If we have a look at SSSI Unit 51 we find that an NE staff member, Andrew Clark, rather pithily commented that for Unit 51:
Restoration works are required to ameliorate the loss and damage to habitat as a result of unconsented operations. Enforcement action is being undertaken to address this issue.
That damage is going to include building tracks, turning circles, grouse butts and drainage etc etc. the enforcement action mentioned is presumably the court case that NE took and which collapsed in 2012. It is difficult to know how much of the issue was addressed.
So, many years ago this grouse shooting estate carried out unconsented actions and it is not clear how much of the habitat damage has been dealt with. Some of those damaging actions were certainly carried out in Unit 51. The estate has been paid large amounts of public money in order to repair some of the damage but NE and Defra have admitted that not all of the damage will be repaired under their agreement with the estate. Now the estate wants to build another track which will cause some more damage. NE consented that track through a Habitats Regulations Assessment which my (our) legal action showed to be unlawful back in May this year.
The estate has now re-applied for planning permission and come up with a plan for mitigation of the damage of the new proposed track which involves carrying out works on a part of its land which was damaged in the past by unconsented operations, and which is in Unfavourable condition, and which the estate has an obligation to get back into Favourable condition (new track or no new track), and which NE has a duty to enforce.
NE must simply object to this planning application and/or tell the two planning authorities involved that they cannot consent the track. And Defra must ensure that this happens.
Or we must.