Calder Valley hunger strike update

Statement from Treesponsibility, yesterday evening:

Natural England will be conducting a site visit to the moor in the week commencing 24th February and will be analysing the evidence in the week commencing second of March. Treesponsibility will be meeting with Natural England the following week.

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16 Replies to “Calder Valley hunger strike update”

  1. Article in the Guardian yesterday which is relevant to Calder Valley:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/20/grouse-moors-owners-threaten-government-with-legal-action

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  2. Well Done and a Massive Thanks to Dongria.But what a sad and sorry state of affairs ,that it had to come to this in the first place.With the Climate Emergency we are facing ,we need drastic action.These rich and powerful landowners have got to tow the line.Surely all these bad practices to Our Environment ie burning off,draining off Our Precious Uplands and all the associated damage to the Wildlife and Environment, as to Cease.If the Government is really serious about Climate Change,they have to show it and act NOW.

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  3. Many people may think it was an extreme reaction to go on hunger strike outside N.E's offices but when you have been campaigning for 8 years to be listened to and have just watched your community flood for the umpteenth time it puts this action in context. Natural England do not have a good track record on protecting Walshaw Moor and recently consented to a 5 km track on Blanket Bog ,only overturned by the efforts of campaigners ( special thanks to Mark here ). Those of us in the Calder Valley now look forward to N.E investigating our concerns about burning,digging out of grips and many tracks and Grouse butts sunken in peat that are appearing ,apparently without consent. I'm sure N.E's response will be of interest to those who read Mark's blog.

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    1. No doubt you've seen it, but anyone doubting the ignorance and arrogance the people of the Calder Valley are up against should look at some of the comments made to the original post about Dongria on the Treesponsibility FB page. Either grouse moors actually reduce flooding (!?!), or the EMBER report has been 'rubbished' (in a 'study' that didn't acknowledge it had been sponsored by grouse shooting interests and which itself has been deeply criticised), or rivers need to be dredged, or it's actually the fault of building in flood plains. Even if it had always been possible to build where there was no flood risk - and that's more of an option for the rich who can afford to shoot grouse - faster run off from the hills means the floodplain is now effectively bigger. And then there's still the issue of damage to better quality farmland and infrastructure such as road and rail that can be massively disruptive and expensive in its own right - collapsed bridges for one. They are desperately trying to wriggle out of any responsibility for what's happening, we shouldn't let them. I feel a bit of anger rising in me towards the conservation organisations who I believe have been trying not to rock the boat or even ingratiate themselves with highly vocal vested interests by not pushing this subject publicly as much as they should have done. How many people in Gloucester know there's almost certainly a link between higher flood risk there and treeless Welsh hills kept that way by subsidy? That's NOT democratic. Decent people getting their homes flooded are being neglected by those hoping to appease some nasty, selfish loudmouths. The people of the Calder Valley should be getting more support.

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  4. Best wishes and good luck to all concerned but I have zero confidence of any effective action emanating from Natural England. The organisation has been progressively emasculated over the last two decades to prevent it from challenging the interests of powerful landowners.

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  5. Without going as far as to rubbishing the EMBER Report we all have to accept that it clearly stated 'River flow in catchments where burning has taken place appears to be SLIGHTLY more prone to higher flow peaks during heavy rain. However, this was NOT a conclusive finding' (my caps). This is in stark contrast to those who claim that the EMBER Report conclusively supports their view that prescribed burning was a significant factor in the recent devastating floods in the Calder Valley. Even Odoni's report hedges his conclusions by saying ceasing burning AND the conservation and restoration of sphagnum on Walshaw Moor would lead to a reduction of between 2.5% and 5% of flooding at Hebden Bridge. He doesn't quantify how much either the cessation of burning, or the conservation and restoration of sphagnum would contribute to this slight reduction. but does say that his modelling showed that 'conservation and restoration of Sphagnum lead to a marked lowering of the flow peak at HB'. Which begs the question how much would cessation of burning actually help the poor people of Hebden Bridge?

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    1. wildscapes - Thank you for your comment which is partly right and partly not completely right.

      You are right that that is what the original EMBER report stated, as accurately reported on this blog on the day of publication https://markavery.info/wp-admin/post.php?post=14734&action=edit It also said some other things that are relevant to this matter which you haven't quoted (just to be fair).

      You are also right that some slightly misquote EMBER in the way that you suggest and that is understandable.

      But you are only partly right because there is another, follow-up, paper (which has been mentioned several times in this blog, but not for quite a while) which I think may be a further analysis of the EMBER data (or it might be new data, or a mixture) which was published the year after EMBER. Here is that paper Holden, J., Palmer, S.M., Johnston, K., Wearing, C., Irvine, B. & Brown, L.E. 2015. Impact of prescribed burning on blanket peat hydrology. Water Resour. Res. 51: 6472-6484. It would be perfectly fair, I think, for people to refer to this paper as the EMBER study even though it takes the analysis on further from the EMBER report.

      It's a pretty fierce read - I do have a bit of science in my head but I have to take a while to get my head around this paper anew every time I read it. Whilst the subject is complex, the sentences that I would alight upon as understandable and relevant to the plight of the flooded in Hebden Bridge are

      'storm analysis also suggested that this buffering in catchments that have undergone prescribed vegetation burning was ineffective for the highest magnitude rainfall events where the flow peaks were instead exacerbated by burning with more intense (spikier) hydrographs, despite longer hydrograph recession limbs for burnt catchments overall. These novel findings therefore have direct relevance to catchment managers and policy makers who are keen to reduce downstream flood risks from upland peat systems [Acreman and Holden, 2013].'

      and indeed this one

      'During the wettest events, when overland flow is more widespread, velocities of water across the peat surface are important for driving hydrograph flow peaks in peat catchments [Ballard et al., 2011; Gao et al., 2015; Lane and Milledge, 2012]. Holden et al. [2008] showed that measured flow velocities were generally an order of magnitude greater on bare peat compared to Sphagnum covered peat. Sphagnum cover was significantly lower on burnt plots compared to unburnt ones at our study sites. Thus, the loss of a dense and rough understory due to prescribed burning may result in enhanced flow velocities over the peat surface during the wettest events.'.

      You may understand this better than I (not a very high bar) so I'd be interested in your further thoughts. The paper is online here https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2014WR016782

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      1. I also find the heavy-duty literature on floods and that a bit heavy-duty. I blame journal editors - they should send incomprehensible papers back - it's not an obscurantism race, even if obscurantism is an obscure word that I thought I might have just made up whereas it is actually a thing.

        Anyway - I find the most enlightening of heavy-weights on this topic to be Stuart Lane - I'm guessing that might be him in the Lane and Milledge 2012 ref. He often writes in simple language that appeals to simpletons like me because he goes to the trouble of putting his real or modelled data into a land management context even if he has never turned a sod of his own. A recurrent theme of his is that any linkage between land management and flood risk cannot be generalised and taken out of its specific catchment and flood event context. He refers to the belief that there is a simple and general association between land management and downstream flood risk as a chaotic conception - rather than the impacts of land management being specific to location, time and scale. He showed that land management changes in the upstream catchments of the Swale, Ure and Nidd are plausible reasons as to why there is a pattern of increasing magnitude and frequency of flooding at York. But he also showed that these flood patterns correlate with other drivers of flood risk, such as the changing frequency of dominant flood-producing weather types.

        He considers that the very severe difficulties that catchment-scale flood risk modelling present relate to the complex interaction of a number of controls, and whether or not rural land management impacts upon flood risk depends upon the specific rainfall event, catchment and scale of analysis.

        His take-home point for me: It follows that the search for a general conclusion as to rural land management impacts is not a meaningful scientific quest and a clear answer is unlikely ever to emerge.

        I suspect that this conclusion contributes to the lack of prominence of burning in the general treatment of upland flood risk by researchers and authorities. I guess there just aren't enough single-issue scientivists among the obscurantists.

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  6. I think that you understate the case when you write ‘some slightly misquote the EMBER Report’. There is an active campaign to convince public opinion that prescribed burning causes flooding. That’s was the only message in Chris Packham’s ‘The real Price of Grouse: Flooding’ in which he said “when it rains very hard this land doesn’t hold water and it rushes off very quickly, bad news if you live in places like the Calder Valley when in 2012 you were flooded twice and again in 2015”. In your ‘Review, The Real Price of Grouse’ you said “all that burning and drainage…that causes lots of problems it increases flood risk…” I am sure you’ve read George Monbiot’s recent article in The Guardian titled ‘If you want to cut flooding we need to stop burning the moorland’ no slight misquoting going on there either!

    But let’s cut to the science.
    I agree Holden et al 2015 does conclude that the buffering resultant from a deeper water table diminishes as the peat becomes more saturated and that peak flows were exacerbated for the highest magnitude rain events. However as Ashby Heinmeyer 2019 pointed out the spatial separation of the catchments studied introduces variables such as mean monthly temperatures, monthly rainfall, elevation, underlying geology and vegetation communities that can all influence hydrostatic response making accurate comparisons difficult. As the authors of the EMBER Report conceded ‘some catchments may be flashier that others’. I suggest that this is why they wrote that these finding ‘were not conclusive’. I see no new data revealed in Holden et al 2015 on river flow to correct for the fact that some of their sampled catchments may naturally be flashier than others, so these findings remain inconclusive.

    Holden et al 2015 does say that unburned plots had less sphagnum than burned plots, however again the spatial separation may have an influence on these data. It is worth noting that this finding is at variance with both Milligan, Rose, O’Reilly, Marrs 2017 and Noble O’Reilly Glaves 2018 who, on their two separate studies found greater sphagnum abundance on sites that had been burned 10 year previously compared to 20, 60, and 100+years (no burn). They suggest this is because sphagnum doesn’t compete well with heather when the latter is allowed to dominate, it is widely accepted amongst scientists that prescribed burning reduces heather dominance, increases plant diversity - and coincidentally reduces fire load which mitigates against wildfires which destroy all sphagnum.

    Given that Holden 2008 emphasises the superior value of sphagnum in ‘attenuating flow velocities’ isn’t it wrong to condemn burning as a significant contributor to flooding as emphatically as yourself, Packham and Monbiot do? Your statement in your blog of 10/8/16 saying that ‘permitted cool burning destroyed sphagnum and left bare peat’ is, to any impartial reader way more than a ‘slight misquote’ of the science.

    I will finish by quoting the paper on burning by Davies, Ketteridge, Stoof et al 2015 in the published Royal Society’s journal - Philosophical Transactions B. ‘Unfortunately, the way in which research is presented in the media is not always unbiased, and research can be manipulated or misinterpreted by persons or groups that may have a pre-determined agenda. We emphasize the challenges of such debate through the discussion of recent case studies some of which were highly publicized within the UK media. Through these case studies, we highlight how the scientific position can become skewed both within scientific publications themselves, and in their subsequent representation within the media. Please don’t tell me that you don’t have ‘a pre-determined agenda’! PS. I stand shoulder to shoulder with you on the issue of raptor persecution.

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    1. Owen - not really. It appears from the papers above that prescribed burning can cause flooding (but obviously not all flooding everywhere) and under real circumstances does cause flooding (but not all flooding everywhere). And I would certainly stand by 'all that burning and drainage…that causes lots of problems it increases flood risk…'. You'll be telling me next that drainage doesn't drain the moors? And George Monbiot won't, I guess, have written the headline for that Guardian piece (it will have been some rushed sub-aditor who is probably neither a hydrologist nor a scientist of any sort). But you will find that the third sentence of that piece is a very accurate 'The burning of peatlands, research suggests, is likely to exacerbate floods downstream.'. Are you really disagreeing with that? If so, you seem to be trying very hard here.

      You pointing to the fact that some catchments are flashier than others merely states the obvious. Which is the Calder catchment?

      We are all well aware that the way science is portrayed in the media is not always unbiased, but then, how science is portrayed in the scientific literature is not always unbiased either.

      The statement in my blog of 10 August 2016 isn't my statement! It is from a press release sent out by the ban the burn campaigners from Hebden Bridge! I think it is frowned upon to change the words in other people's press releases so I don't. If I had wanted to change the words then I would certainly have corrected a split infinitive there. So that sorts that jibe out.

      I have a strong agenda against driven grouse shooting that's for sure. It isn't a view that I've always held. It has evolved over the last 10 years, largely in response to the evidence of ecological harm that has grown through that period. So, is that predetermined? Hardly. But I've read all (or most of) this stuff several times - how many others have read the paper in Water Resour. Res. from 2015? Where else have you seen it quoted? How many would have bothered? So there's no need or justification for you to pretend that my view is predetermined although it is firmly held and based on a wide range of scientific studies but also, of course, values about how the world should be and how we should spend public money and stick to the law etc.

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  7. Dear Mark, my consistent point in this discussion has been that what little published science we have about the effects of prescribed burning on moorland hydrology and whether or not it represent a significant influence on flooding is far from conclusive. You have presented nothing in this discussion that appears to change the EMBER Report statement that its finding on flow peaks were not conclusive. Furthermore you have totally ignored my reference to Ashby, Heinmeyer 2019 that offers an assesement about why these findings were not conclusive.

    It is surprising that with your scientific training you should be advocating such a radical change in the way our moorland are managed based on such inconclusive science. Surely any scientist would advocate adaptive management of an ecosystem as complex as our uplands. What about Harris, Allen, McAllister et al 2011 that said ‘Lack of burning results in heather dominated habitat and reduced diversity’? What about the growing body of science (Milligan, Rose, O’Reilly, Marrs 2017 – Noble, O’Reilly, Glaves 2018) that shows reducing heather dominance through prescribed burning increases sphagnum abundance - the very species that provides the all-important rough surface that reduces run-off and carbon capture. If you have read these papers, why do you choose to disregard them, are they flawed, are their findings about increase sphagnum abundance in10 year burn plots inconclusive? If you believe so please explain.

    By ignoring these papers you are avoiding a contextualised evaluation of the consequences of banning burning. I refer you to this statement published in Davies, Ketteridge, Stoof et al 2015 in the published Royal Society’s journal - Philosophical Transactions B ‘In the absence of sound evidence and consensus, it is vital that managers and scientists adopt an ‘adaptive’ approach to decision making. Core principles of adaptive management include the need to monitor and learn from management actions, to keep an open mind until the evidence is settled and consensus reached, and to involve all stakeholders and viewpoints in decision making. Managing for a single ecosystem service, be that traditional burning practices for game production or banning burning to try and reduce the colour of drinking water, (or attempting to reduce the possibly slightly higher peak flows -my inclusion) is unlikely to be sustainable if the wider impacts of management regimes are not considered’. I don’t think your call for a ban on burning can be considered an ‘adaptive’ approach.

    We can agree that grips that were dug with government funding in the 60 and 70’s to increase agricultural productivity across huge swathes of our uplands were an ecological disaster that also significantly contribute to flooding risk. So why, if you are concerned about reducing flooding, has there been a huge emphasis on ending prescribed burning rather than campaigning loudly for more grip blocking and sphagnum restoration on bare peat which would do far more to rapidly reduce flooding risk?
    It would appear that it’s difficult for you to acknowledge the fact that it’s mainly keepers doing the valuable flood reducing work of grip blocking and sphagnum restoration on grouse moors. I guess this weakens your message that the work keepers do on the moors significantly increases the risk of flooding, as stated in no uncertain terms by Chris Packham in ‘The Real Price of Grouse: Flooding’.

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    1. Owen - no, you play down your consistent themes. Your consistent points have been to denigrate the EMBER study and any who mention that excellent 5-year, 10-catchment, multi-issue study, to ignore all points made by me in reply (eg that you misquoted my words and misrepresented George Monbiot's) and that when the science doesn't fit with your, shall we call it predetermined narrative, then you just ignore it (as with the Holden paper in Water Resour. Res). You really underplay your consitency.

      But your consistency is truly consistent in your comment here now. I do not advocate such radical change on the basis of 'such inconclusive science' do I? You seem to be ignoring all the evidence for damage to blanket bog caused by burning. That has forced DEFRA to consider a legislative ban on burning see here https://markavery.info/2020/02/24/defras-very-clear-explanation/ It's not clear how your campaign against EMBER would undermine this so I wonder why you bother really.

      More particularly, all science is somewhat inconclusive but EMBER does not fall into the inconclusive category according to my reading of it, thanks. But have I ever said that the only reason for advocating change is this one part of the EMBER study? No, that straw man is of your invention. I advocate change on the basis of a whole suite of studies and impacts including other impacts illuminated by the EMBER study which you haven't yet made any attempt to denigrate.

      As you know really, I'd like to see a ban on driven grouse shooting and a ban on burning for a whole suite of ecological benefits - I can look at Scandinavia and many other parts of the world to see what our uplands would look like, and how they would function without burning. It is for those who support burning and driven grouse shooting to rovide the evidence that they make the world a better place not really for those of us who would be happy to move to less drastic and intrusive management to argue for nature. You haven't got very far with that, have you?

      You talk as though the age of new drainage ditches ended years ago, as those led by Andrew Gilruth often do. It's not true is it? Let's just take Walshaw Moor as an example. Ha ve a look here https://markavery.info/2016/01/05/wuthering-moors-52/ or here https://markavery.info/2013/09/07/wuthering-moors-38-photos/ for a bunch of photos or here https://markavery.info/2013/09/04/wuthering-moors-35-walk-moors-camera/ for a bunch more.

      It is the taxpayer who is mainly paying for grip-blocking just as we did for grip-digging. that is always the way of the world. It's just like the taxpayer provided grants and other incentives for hedge removal and then provided grants to put them back again. The land owners always says it wasn't their fault that they were paid so well to do bad things and it's all to their credit when they took the money partially to repair the damage.

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  8. My views on burning (not fixed in stone) have largely been informed by ‘The role of fire in UK peatland and moorland: the need for informed, unbiased debate’ published by the Royal Society in their journal ‘Philosophical Transactions B’.

    To my knowledge this is the only meta-analysis on this topic, it is authored by 12 eminent experts on the subject drawn from the international scientific community and references a large body of published science on the subject. I would suggest that if anyone involved in policy making hasn’t read this comprehensive assessment of the science on burning they should be taken to task, (possibly legally) for a dereliction of their duty to consult the available science. Of course more recently published science needs to be considered and this would include not only the EMBER Report, but the papers that showed how burning can increase sphagnum abundance.

    I will quote one key point that these eminent experts have written in their conclusion – ‘Fire is a valued and integral component of the ecosystem manager’s tool kit capable of being used as well as abused in a multiplicity of different ways. Throughout Europe, managers, ecologists and conservationists value prescribed burning as a tool to protect and restore globally rare heathland and moorland ecosystems and there is a growing body of scientific literature to inform best practice. Much of this knowledge comes from research in the UK and it is ironic that while the public debate here has shifted strongly against the use of fire, scientists in other countries are using this evidence to promote the reintroduction of burning. Further scientific evidence is urgently needed on the benefits and costs of differing fire regimes for peatland and moorland ecosystem services. Such assessments need to focus on the landscape scale and on elucidating trends over the entire fire rotation rather than just looking at the short-term outcomes of single burns that are a pulse disturbance with obvious negative outcomes for particular metrics. Until integrated evidence is available, all scientists should be concerned when potentially interesting and informative research is used as a forum to propagate what amounts to hearsay or to promote political agendas. The use of press releases to publicize a particular point of view when the actual scientific evidence from a study is incomplete or unrelated should be discouraged.
    In the absence of sound evidence and consensus, it is vital that managers and scientists adopt an ‘adaptive’ approach to decision making. Core principles of adaptive management include the need to monitor and learn from management actions, to keep an open mind until the evidence is settled and consensus reached, and to involve all stakeholders and view- points in decision making’.

    Please feel free to question the importance of this statement.

    “But what about the climate emergence? I hear you say. Well the government has to make a complex cost benefit analysis of each and every policy they adopt to reduce our carbon output and increase carbon capture. Currently government, moor owner and NGO’s are implementing actions that can improve the health of our uplands and improve carbon capture and biodiversity. This is being done in a way that ensures species such as golden plover, curlew and lapwing can continue to avoid national extinction because of the way moors are currently managed (Dead, Burned, and Barren is a big fat lie).
    Meanwhile as revealed by your last post, yourself, Packham and Monbiot have no interest in this adaptive approach (as illustrated by never mentioning it), you simply want revolution, repossession and rewilding of the whole damned lot. I suspect this is more driven by politics than science, never a good approach when it comes to the management of delicate, unique and internationally recognised globally rare ecosystem… shame on you!

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    1. Owen - I'm glad you have a pet paper from 2016, life has moved on. But as you can see from yesterday's blog I have indeed read your pet paper: I read it before it was published but did not comment on it then, unlike the GWCT and YFTB. They, and you perhaps, did not comment on it because of the excellennce of the science, after all, it's basically a review paper, but because it had a go at George Monbiot, the RSPB and maybe even myself.

      But I'm looking forward to bringing you up to date with the science on the subject over the next few days, if time allows.

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  9. Well this is pretty disappointing, I really had hoped that this exchange would be all about the science. It started well but deteriorated with your last two replies offering me nothing but links to your blog (echo chamber) and a suggestion you might get back to me with some science soon.
    How fascinating that my reference to the scientific review paper on prescribed burning published in the Royal Society’s journal sends you off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the substance of the paper itself, but can be more accurately described as a knee-jerk reaction because the paper in question also dared to criticise George Monbiot, the RSPB and maybe yourself! Continuing to avoid addressing the substance of the paper you offered a further link to posts on your echo chamber, that then provided five more links to posts on your echo chamber about how scurrilous GWCT had been about the breaking of an embargo. However right you are about breaking an embargo, this is another argument entirely and yet again you avoid addressing the content of the paper.
    Please don’t spend any time finding me links to science, I have read quite a lot of those referenced in the Royal Society paper and most of those published on the subject since 2016. I’m pulling out of this conversation which on the whole both of us have manged to keep respectful, for that I thank you.

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    1. owen - well this is pretty disappointing - you never respond to a point made to you, you never apologise for your errors and you never move away from the pne paper that you seem to have read on the subject of burning.

      I haven't finished with the subject and I'm sure you'll be reading future posts here, and probably commenting too, but maybe under another name. Bye bye!

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