Moorland Association challenges government policy to ban burning of heather

I’ll blog more about this but it’s difficult not to giggle all the time as I write about it.

To see, as I have, the feeble letter from the Marquess of Downshire to DEFRA, dated 18 September 2019, is rather amusing. I’m surprised the letter didn’t include the phrase ‘Don’t you know who I am?’.

But we do know who Arthur Francis Nicholas Wills, Lord Downshire is – he is, apparently, a farmer. He’s probably out milking some cows right now. And like most other farmers he is, or has been, a director of a hotel company, a cleaning service for linens and furs (sounds interesting), an electricity generator, a non-life insurer, a commodities dealing company, several schools and a plastics manufacturer. It’s amazing that those cows get milked at all.

And he is the Chair of the Moorland Association. The Moorland Association were very miffed that having given their word, as gentlemen (and Amanda) not to burn, and being caught out burning, this was not going to go in their favour. If the chaps at DEFRA can’t take the word of a bunch of aristos and some nouveau riche businessmen then what is the world coming to, eh, eh?


8 Replies to “Moorland Association challenges government policy to ban burning of heather”

    1. A British ruling aristocracy imposed on the native peasants of Ireland. The titles and privileges should have long been abolished, at least they no longer sit in the House of Lords.

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever met Nick Downshire as he calls himself but I have been on his moor many times, indeed had permission off his keeper in the nineties to do so. The moor, Agra on the map but also known as Jervaulx Moor is part of what one might call the Colsterdale block and is north of the Swinton Estate moors, east of Caldbergh with Scrafton and abuts the NTs Braithwaite Moor, a small part of it is within the YDNP with most in the Nidderdale AONB. Twenty five years ago it used to host two or three, occasionally four pairs of Merlins and a good array of waders. Since 2001 there have been few Merlin nesting attempts. In 1993 there was one Hen Harrier nesting attempt which failed at the egg stage with both birds disappearing. In those days much of the top of the moor ( Brown Beck Swang and towards Brown Rigg) was short or heatherless due to a huge uncontrolled fire a year or too before.
    There are now almost always climbers on Slipstone Craggs and birds have moved away from this area with a subsequent decline in waders.
    I surveyed much of the moor for the BTO Atlas project and it was possible to walk from Slipstone Craggs to Brown Rigg in ankle high heather due to frequent burning, the Birk Gill valley side part of the estate used to be all long heather but is also mainly short. there were a number of smoke columns from this moor when I visited Yorkshire in late January, the moor is still heavily burnt.

  2. This is the GWCT’s somewhat bizarre letter to the Guardian on the subject.

    Government reviews have found no link between flooding and burning:

    “our letter to The Guardian

    In George Monbiot’s celebrated book No Man’s Land he describes tourists in Africa as ‘aristocrats who shape the lives of local people and how they use their land’. He might have said the same of this country.

    Our beautiful countryside, visited by millions, has also been carefully shaped over thousands of years by the communities that look after it. George Monbiot forgot to mention that controlled winter heather burning (Opinion, 12 February) has been used for thousands of years to create and protect our open heather moorlands.

    It’s bizarre he also failed to mention that successive Government reviews have found no link between flooding and this type of burning, the sort promoted by the Green Party in Australia to control wildfire risk.

    Burning now joins a growing list of things he no longer wishes to see when visiting the countryside, including the sheep and cows that have been part of our countryside since Neolithic times. Has he become an aristocrat?

    Andrew Gilruth
    Director of Communications
    Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

  3. Clearly, the gentry don’t like our government’s consultations. I can’t imagine why… oh, on second thoughts, having responded to numerous consultations on various issues over the last few years around flooding, fracking, planning policy etc, I’ve discovered that irrespective of the level of informed opposition to their proposals (up to 98% in one case), responses appear to be completely ignored. I suspect that those with a surfeit of money, land, power and entitlement expect better.
    The letter above reminds me of this one in our local Gazette & Herald. I discovered it was also published in the Yorkshire Post, York Press and Northern Echo.
    My response was also printed (2nd letter down).

  4. Here is a reply to my reply from George Winn Darley, a prominent landowner of grouse moors in this area. I’m not sure how long the newspaper ping pong can last, but does anyone have any well informed responses, particularly to the bird issues. I already know that the studies mentioned, disputing the EMBER study have been thoroughly discredited due to them using ‘selective data’ and not admitting to funding from the shooting lobbying organsations (it is rather hard to believe that they are therefore successfully peer reviewed)
    Dear Sir,
    Mr Potter makes several interesting points in his letter (Benefits of ban on burning – 26/02).
    Whilst climate change was unquestionably a factor in the Australian wildfires many of Australia’s indigenous people have strongly criticised the current land management policies that have curbed traditional burning polices (which they have been utilising successfully for 60,000 years).
    Dismissing the possibility of wildfires on Yorkshire’s moorland based on the “chillier” weather is oversimplistic – the 2019 wildfire on Caithness’s Flow Country (which doubled Scotland’s entire carbon emissions for the six days that it burned) is proof that living in a cooler climate is no guarantee against wildfires. A recent review by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service recognises controlled burning as a safe, effective and a very efficient suppression method for our moorland.
    Scientists from Lancaster University and the University of York have recently criticised Project Ember as being “flawed and unreliable” in a peer-reviewed critique for the Journal of Applied Ecology suggesting the academic research on controlled burning is not as clear cut as Mr Potter suggests.
    A paper on the Impact of Management on Avian Communities in the Scottish Highlands shows that curlew, which the RSPB consider the UK’s species of highest conservation concern, are more abundant as the percentage of recently burnt ground increases. Golden plover have also been proven to prefer to nest in areas of heather, particularly where burning has occurred in the last five years. And it is not just waders which benefit – last year reported sightings from 14 grouse moors by gamekeepers on the North York Moors last year revealed 25 pairs of Merlin displaying breeding behaviour – with at least 56 young Merlin observed on the wing, suggesting a high rate of successful fledging.
    I extend an invitation to Mr Potter to visit us up on the moors to see the fantastic conservation work we are doing, and the wildlife that has benefitted, for himself.
    George Winn-Darley,
    Aldby Park,

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