But seriously

On Monday I suggested that twitching should be one of the competitive sports which gets its two hours a week in English primary schools, but today I’ll try to be a bit more serious about the subject.

I tend to steer clear of education as a topic as there is a tendency for all of us to think that we are experts on the basis that we all went to school!

Education is training – training for life.  I guess the point of the educational system should be to make us all happier.  It benefits the recipients of the education but it also benefits Society as a whole.  We can’t all be doctors or wildlife writers but it is generally a better world if a few of us are.  That’s why we invest huge amounts of our shared money in the education system.

Some of education is about learning useful stuff – like reading and writing and ‘rithmetic – but some is about learning how to approach life.  I would like the education system to produce young adults who can think and question why the world is how it is.

I’m glad that David Cameron has a temporary enthusiasm for sport but I wish he’d develop a stronger enthusiasm for science.  I wish we had more decision-makers, from MPs to civil servants, who properly understand the natural world from radiation to food chains.  We have to live our lives according to the laws – the laws of physics, chemistry and biology.  All that other stuff – literature, sport, economics, history, politics etc – fascinating though it is, and important though it may be, is really just the human froth we have imposed on the natural world around us.  And the trouble is, and it is a trouble, we spend so much of our time thinking about the froth and not about climate change, drought, biodiversity loss. overfishing, non-native species etc

I don’t want education to turn out more professional scientists (we probably have plenty) but I would love there to be many more scientifically literate voters and decision-makers. So let’s hope that two hours compulsory sport doesn’t allow us to win gold in the stadium whilst losing goldfinches, goldcrests and golden eagles in the world around us.




Wuthering Moors 26

Ban The Burn campaigners launched a national campaign on Sunday evening, August 12th, in Hebden Bridge. The Ban the Burn! campaign aims are:

  • a ban on burning and draining blanket bog
  • an end to loopholes in the Heather & Grass Burning Code and other regulations

Photo: www.energyroyd.org.uk

Environmental scientist Dr Aidan Foley had an upbeat message for the campaigners;

I think one of the most important things for people to realise is not only that they can do something about this problem to improve the management of the catchment, the solution to the problem is very simple. It involves filling in the drains on the moors and allowing them to re-vegetate. Filling them in lifts the water table, which means that there’s greater storage much higher up the catchment. That changes the vegetation again to what it should be, that is sphagnum moss-based. And that’s simple and straightforward.

Well over 50 local residents and people from across the UK met up at the Trades Club after walking together to Walshaw Moor grouse-shooting estate, where they saw for themselves how burning and draining have damaged the blanket bogs and wet heathland.

Photo: www.energyroyd.org.uk

Hebden Bridge resident Caroline Elbridge explains;

We’re concerned that the land around the town isn’t being managed for all of the people in the town – it’s just being managed for some of the people, for their sport, and it’s not about what’s best for everyone.” 

During the walk and the campaign launch, Aidan was on hand to explain how damage to the moor’s blanket bogs leads to: 

  • increased flood risk in Hebden Water
  • very significant carbon emissions
  • adverse impacts on water quality
  • the destruction of a globally significant habitat type

Calderdale Councillor Janet Battye, who joined the walk instead of digging her garden, said;

I’m here because the big issue that I’m interested in is that our moors are as healthy as they can be, so they can absorb as much water as possible and help prevent flooding. We need to do all that we can to keep water out of the valley and it’s my belief that one of the ways of doing this is to make sure the moorland’s working properly.


This campaign has attracted national attention and deserves to receive great support.  

Links to media coverage:

Guardian newspaper, Morningstaronline, BBC news.

Links to other commentary:

Hebden Bridge website, Heather Trust.


Going for gold – twitching to become part of the national curriculum

As a  nation bids a fond farewell to the Olympic Games we turn our minds to legacy.  Rather than pretend that suddenly it has become the birthright of all Britons to excel at coxless fours, dressage and wiff waff the coalition government (including the Liberal Democrats who have won golds for irrelevance for many months now) have decided that all children should face two hours compulsory twitching each week.

David Cameron, who is thought to have been moved by the sight of a badger on the Queen’s arm (is that right? Ed), said ‘I’m just an ordinary guy, and when I was at Eton we used to go twitching at Staines Reservoir.  It never did me any harm – in fact a bit of competition is good for young naturalists.  Those days taught me all I know about the environment’.

A government spokesperson said: ‘ We really don’t know how the PM came up with this idea, you know what he’s like. He probably was flicking through the TV channels and came across an old Attenborough programme.  He has as much strategic direction as tumbleweed. Don’t quote me on that, obviously. It’s a great idea and every child should know what it’s like to dip on a Pallas’s or spend fruitless hours staring at a bush on Fair Isle.  It’ll see an end to the ‘everyone joins the UK400 club’ culture.  A bit of failure never did anyone any harm and there is nothing as competitive and truly meaningful as running round in circles with binoculars faster than the next guy.  It’s character building. ‘.

Boris Johnson said ‘I’m just an ordinary guy, and when I was at Eton we used to call it bird baffing – at least I think that was it. My Dad wrote the Habitats Directive you know, so I’m really green and want to destroy the Thames estuary with an airport.’.

A teacher said ‘It makes as much sense as most new Government education initiatives. Two hours less maths or English won’t do anyone any harm and all teachers have been saying for a long time that our aim is to get everyone’s lists up.’.

A Mr Bolt said ‘There was a lesser black-back over the stadium but that’s all I got in 9.63 s’.




Guest Blogs

I’m always interested in offers of Guest Blogs for this site.  If you have a burning issue that you would like to get off your chest, and you can write in an interesting way, then get in touch, please.

And thank you to all those who have already contributed – you have stimulated some very interesting comments and debates.

Here is a list of published Guest Blogs (oldest first):


Dr Mark Avery, supporter of vulnerable creatures in the sporting field – ‘Mr White’ (April 2012)

The NGO world – Peter Marren (October 2011)

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust – Ian Coghill (November 2011)

The NT on nature – David Bullock (January 2012)

The Deer initiative – Peter Watson (January 2012)

Feeling for nature – Mark Infield (February 2012)

NT responds to events in the Peak District – Simon Pryor (February 2012)

Maerl – Matthew Chatfield (February 2012)

Gary Burgess, a pigeon fancier – Gary Burgess (February 2012)

Every little helps? – Matt Williams (March 2012)

Save wildlife. Stop birdwatching! – Andrew Lucas (March 2012)

Where are all the women? – Sue Walker (March 2012)

Renewable energy and its impact on nature – Leo Fisher (March 2012)

A service-based environment? – Jonathan Baker (March 2012)

National Trust Natural Childhood report – Stephen Moss (March 2012)

Blogging for victory – Alison Fure  (April 2012)

It isn’t easy being a wildlife friendly farmer – David Fursdon (April 2012)

Bird race – Jonny Rankin (May 2012)

Don’t shoot! – Giles Bradshaw (May 2012)

Save our verges – Sarah Pettegree (June 2012)

Are neonicitinoid pesticides responsible for the demise of bees and other wildlife? – Rosemary Mason and Derek Thomas (July 2012)


Wuthering Moors 25

An amazing local reaction – I wish I could be there



On Sunday August 12th, flood-hit residents of Hebden Bridge and
campaigners from across the country will set out from the town centre on a
BAN THE BURN protest walk to the Walshaw Moor grouse-shooting estate.
Following the walk, the BAN THE BURN national campaign launch will take
place at Hebden Bridge Trades Club (6pm).

The walkers and campaigners are demanding a ban on burning and drainage
of blanket bogs, and an end to environmental stewardship subsidies to
landowners who burn and drain this legally-protected habitat – Walshaw
Moor Estate has recently been given a £2.5million stewardship contract
with a special exemption to permit burning on blanket bog.

Anyone who would like to take part is welcome to contact the organisers,
by emailing treesponsibility@yahoo.co.uk or ringing 07847 815 926.

Timed to coincide with “The Glorious Twelfth” (the opening of the
grouse-shooting season), the day of action  will highlight the damaging
effects of burning and draining blanket bogs:-

– increased flood risk downstream
– very significant carbon emissions
– adverse impacts on water quality
– the destruction of a globally significant habitat type

Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd. own a significant part of the moorland catchment
above Hebden Water. The company came to public attention when Natural
England initiated a prosecution for 43 environmental breaches in the
Estate’s management of land in a Site of Special Scientific Interest
(SSSI). Natural England abruptly dropped the case in March this year, and
have subsequently entered an Environmental Stewardship agreement with the
Walshaw Estate. This agreement will pay the Estate over £2.5 million in
public subsidies over the next ten years. It will permit “controlled”
burning activities on blanket bog, under an exemption from the Heather and
Grass Burning Code’s rule that burning must not take place on sensitive
areas such as peat bog and wet heathland.

Dongria Kondh, one of the walkers says, “Here in Hebden Bridge we know the
real hardship of flooding – shops and businesses in our town are still
shut, and many of our friends and neighbours have suffered irreplaceable
loss.  In order to reduce our town’s vulnerability to flooding, we need
the upland catchment to be managed to promote healthy blanket bog, with
sphagnum moss to act as a sponge in heavy rainfall events.

“It seems grotesque that the taxpayer is paying for the exact opposite –
£2.5 million is about five times as much as is in the Calder Valley flood
recovery fund! If Walshaw Moor wants public subsidies, it must use them
for the public good and completely restore the blanket bogs on its

A further press release will be issued on Sunday night, giving links to
photos and video footage of the event.

1. Natural England advocates restoration of peat bogs in order to reduce
the risk of flooding. It says,

“By increasing the natural capacity of the countryside to absorb and hold
excess water, the risk of flooding could be dramatically decreased.

“Investing more money in traditional flood defences by constructing
concrete and earth embankments may no longer be adequate or sustainable in
the long-term. We must look to more sustainable solutions including those
involving land-use change,” said Andrew Wood, Natural England’s Executive
Director for Evidence & Policy, at the committee inquiry today.
“The capacity of the countryside to absorb water must be increased. To do
this we must start by reversing changes made to landscapes. Restoration of
peat bogs in northern uplands would slow water reaching the streams and
lowland rivers, reducing the threat to towns such as Ripon, Hull and
Sheffield – all of which have experienced severe flooding”

2. Landowners like Walshaw Estate drain and burn blanket bog in order to
create a habitat where grouse can breed and feed. Draining blanket bog
dries the peat, so that heather can replace the peatland bog vegetation,
such as sphagnum moss and cotton grass – heather is a plant that doesn’t
like to get its feet too wet.

Once heather is established, burning is carried out  to limit the height
of the heather, because grouse can’t survive in long heather -they need
short heather to nest in and raise their young.

3.Blanket bogs are protected under the European Union Habitats Directive
and the UK Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 , updated
by the The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 , which
consolidate all the various amendments made to the 1994 Regulations in
respect of England and Wales. More information about this legislation is
available at http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1374

According to Natural England

“Blanket bog is one of the rarest wildlife habitats in the world.  Its
importance is recognised in Europe by its inclusion in the EU Habitats
Directive as a priority habitat.

In addition to its importance as a wildlife habitat, the role of blanket
bog in the provision of a number of ecosystem services is significant.
This includes the ability to capture and store large amounts of carbon,
its role in securing high water quality and its ability to reduce flood
risk downstream through slowing hydrological pathways. Blanket bogs also
fulfil an important function as repositories of archaeological and
palaeoecological material, with some blanket peat over 9,000 years old.”

Apparently side-stepping regulations to protect this rare habitat, Natural
England has signed a Notice of Proposal and Consent for the Walshaw Moor
Estate that suspends the Heather and Grass Burning Code’s rule that
burning must not take place on sensitive areas such as peat bog and wet

4.Despite laws and regulations to protect peat bogs, the government isn’t
protecting the country’s peatland carbon sinks. Walshaw is not an isolated
case – the latest data on the condition of Blanket Bog within Sites of
Special Scientific Interest in England found that only 11% by area are in
favourable condition, although 83% is in recovering condition mainly on
the basis of management agreements and other measures in place. Primary
reasons cited for unfavourable (no change or declining) condition are
overgrazing, inappropriate “moor burning” and drainage.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK Committee’s
Peatland Programme reports estimates that 10 million tonnes of carbon
dioxide are being lost each year from the UK’s damaged peatlands.  This
has serious implications for worsening climate change. A recent Commission
of Inquiry on Peatlands reports that:-
“A loss of only 5% of UK peat carbon would equate to the total annual UK
human green house gas emissions.”

In the process of draining and burning blanket bog, the sphagnum moss is
destroyed and a carbon sink is turned into a carbon source. Damaged UK
peatlands currently release almost 3.7 million tonnes of CO2e a year –
more than all the households in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds (Source – The
Commission of Enquiry into UK Peatlands).

5.(For more background information, type Wuthering Moors into the search
engine of https://markavery.info/blog/)

6. For more information about the event email treesponsibility@yahoo.co.uk
or ring 07847 815 926