Tuesday 3rd April deadline for comments on Walshaw Moor Estate’s planning application for 5km stone track across protected moor

Here is the link to the planning application 8/00237/FUL| Formation of new stone and timber access tracks to connect to existing stone tracks, including passing places and turning circle | Land At Coordinates 396528 435776 Widdop Road Heptonstall Hebden Bridge Calderdale, on the Calderdale Council Planning Portal.

Since the track also goes into the Pendle Council area, the planning application is also being considered by Pendle Council, you can comment here – the planning application number is 18/0143/FUL.

You’ll need to log in to each planning portal to comment.

Summary of key points for objections to the planning application

  • Walshaw Moor Estate is a highly protected site, so consent or permission for any management activity on the site can only be given if 
It will not have a likely significant effect on a European site or 
It will have no adverse effect on the integrity of a European site.
  • This is because the site has regionally, nationally and internationally important wildlife and habitats. Any risk to the blanket bog would risk Calderdale Council’s commitment to climate change reduction and increase the risk of flooding in Hebden Bridge.
  • The track in regular use would disturb the golden plover, one of the internationally important breeding species protected on the site.
  • The proposed stone track would damage the protected Blanket Bog, Dry and Wet Heath habitats.
  • The amount of blanket bog that would be affected is under dispute, with the applicant saying it is around 680m of the track and an independent measurement (and the  “indicative” habitat map (Figure 24 on page 39 of the Catchment Restoration Plan) which both show that the whole 5km track would cross blanket bog.
  • The Council should therefore carry out its own Appropriate Assessment of the impacts of the proposed track on the Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area, in consultation with the RSPB.
  • There is reliable evidence that stone tracks compress and compact blanket bog, reducing its ability to hold water and reduce run off. This would increase flood risk in Hebden Bridge.
  • Walshaw Moor Estate’s justification for the track as a route for fire engines to tackle wildfires is highly dubious – it gives no evidence of wildfires on the moor and there is none going back 20 years. In addition, it is reducing areas of molinia grass which are the biggest fuel for wildfires, by revegetating them to restore them to fully functioning blanket bog – which is WET.
  • There are some additional considerations, see 3f, below “Other things to consider”.

More detail

1. Walshaw Moor Estate is a highly designated site.

It is a Special Protection Area (SPA,) which protects habitats, a Special Conservation Area, which protects wildlife, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and and a Natura 2000 site – the highest level of protection for an area’s habitats and wildlife. 
Consent or permission for any management activity on the site can only be given if 
It will not have a likely significant effect on a European site or 
It will have no adverse effect on the integrity of a European site.

2. Reasons for the high level of wildlife and habitats protection

The moor has nationally and regionally important moorland  breeding birds, nationally important curlew breeding population, internationally  important breeding populations of merlin, golden plover and twite; and nationally and internationally important habitats such as blanket bog, wet and dry heath, species-rich acid flushes and mires and acid grasslands.

Given blanket bog’s vital importance in storing carbon dioxide, any damage to it would risk Calderdale Council’s commitment to climate change reduction.

Protection of blanket bog is also important in the light of its importance in reducing flood risk in Upper Calder Valley, which has been brought to light by recent scientific studies.  Degradation of blanket bog would therefore increase flood risk to Hebden Bridge.

3. What the planning committee should take into account

The planning committee should therefore into account the likely significant effects of the proposed track on the site,  the likely adverse effect on the integrity of a European site and the likely increased flood risk to Hebden Bridge. It should also take into account the applicant’s dubious justification for the track.

a) Effects on protected wildlife

Natural England’s Habitat Regulations Assessment for the Walshaw Moor estate Catchment restoration Plan 2017-2042  admits that habitat management of Blanket Bog,Wet and Dry heath may impact on availability of prey and breeding habitat for Short Eared Owls and other S.P A birds such as Golden Plover. This latter species is particularly prone to human disturbance, so a 5 km track in regular use would have a negative impact on this breeding wader.

b) Effects on protected habitats

Natural England’s own assessment in the Habitat Regulations Assessment states that the road would (negatively) impact on 1.49 hectares of protected Blanket Bog, Dry and Wet Heath.
The R.S.P.B have calculated it would negatively impact on 1.89 hectares of Blanket Bog, Dry and Wet Heath. 
Whichever figure is correct this is still a substantial amount and goes well beyond limited damage.

c) The nature of the habitat that the proposed track would run across is disputed.

The Walshaw Moor Estate Catchment Management Plan 2017- 42 says that there is  only a 680m long section of deep peat (ie blanket bog), that the track would cross.

However  independent measurements of peat depth by Bob Berzins show that there is deep peat all along the length of the proposed track. This accords with the “indicative” habitat map (Figure 24 on page 39 of the Catchment Restoration Plan) which shows this whole area as blanket bog.

The Council should therefore carry out its own Appropriate Assessment of the impacts of the proposed track on the Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area, drawing in particular on detailed hydrological and vegetation studies.  This should include a proper understanding of the deep peat soils in the area surrounding the proposed route. The RSPB has said that it would like to be consulted on the scope, evidence base and content of a new appropriate assessment to be carried out by the Council. This would be a very good idea.

d) Effect of the proposed track on flood risk to Hebden Bridge

Hebden Bridge has flooded seriously 7 times since 1946 and 5 of these floods have occurred since 2006. In the light of increasing knowledge of the negative effects of Grouse moor management highlighted in the EMBER report (2014) and the importance of slowing the flow in major flood risk areas, it is not a good idea to construct a 5 km stone track through deep peat. This is because stone tracks have been reliably shown to  damage deep peat by compressing and compacting it, which impedes the way the peat holds water. And there is some evidence from a study of 15 year old stone tracks over blanket bog that this worsens over time.

e) Walshaw Moor Estate’s justification for the planning application is highly dubious.

Walshaw Moor Estate say they need this road to cut  the risk of wildfires.  But a  supporting document from S.Gibson provides no evidence  to quantify or qualify the statements that there is a significant risk of wildfire, and that this puts  estate values and assets at serious risk from wildfire events.

Over the past 20 years there do not seem to have been any major fires on Walshaw Moor, only fires lit by estate workers that are supposedly controlled. Walshaw Moor Estate along with many other landowners has always successfully managed fire risks by creating fire breaks.

The Walshaw Moor Estate Catchment Management Plan 2017- 42 will significantly reduce fire risk. The Estate are reducing areas of molinia grass – the chief fire hazard on the moor – by restoring them to a heather, cotton grass and sphagnum moss habitat. The Catchment Management Plan says this will not only “reduce the wildfire fuel load”, but promote the restoration of blanket bog to the point that it becomes fully functioning.

Since this habitat is WET,  it is extremely unlikely to fuel wildfires.

Calderdale Fire Brigade agree with  this track but  they will only be looking at it as a single issue, a track they can drive fire engines along – not as something that could CONTRIBUTE to further wildfire risk by damaging and degrading blanket bog which is the moor’s best protection against wildfire.

f) Other things to consider

If the Council’s carried out it own appropriate assessment that found that  deep peat exists along all or most of the length of the proposed track, and if – and only if – it were also shown that there is no scientific doubt that the track would have a likely significant effect on the site or adversely affect the integrity of the site, (since this is a condition of the Appropriate Assessment that is required when activities are proposed that are not necessary for the conservation of a Natura 2000 site), then the track  should  be constructed as a floating wooden rail road for its entire length, using the technique currently proposed for the 680m section that the application acknowledges as deep peat.

A current short term PhD study shows that the floating wooden rail road technique has little or no effect on blanket bog vegetation or hydrological function (ie water retention and flow), – although the report admits that the long term effects are still unknown.

Set against this is an earlier Natural England-funded study of a plastic mesh/matting track, of the kind used in floating wooden rail road technique. It showed that within 12 months  the track at Midhope/Mickleden Beck in the Peak District had completely shredded and disintegrated on wet sections within 12 months.

Approval for any floating wooden rail road along the entire 5km length of the proposed track (if it the above conditions were met) should include these further conditions:

  • The landowner to agree to change of management practices from heather burning to mowing
  • Any drainage along or below the track is accompanied by floodwater attenuation, in line with relevant parts of the Calderdale flood action plan:
    Action 101:-  Work with landowners/occupiers to progressively review the three existing burning consents and agreements as part of the consideration for the long-term managements requirements for the restoration of blanket bog
    and
    Action 84 in the current plan: Investigate how heather cutting as a preferred management technique could be introduced into future land management agreements. Produce clear guidance for partners on basis of best practice.

4 thoughts on “Tuesday 3rd April deadline for comments on Walshaw Moor Estate’s planning application for 5km stone track across protected moor

  1. Thanks for bringing this to wider local attention, and for the informed and helpful pointers to help oppose the application. I’ve just managed to object on both council sites in time. Thanks again.

  2. Why are you even looking at alternative forms of track?? No track is needed because there is minimal risk of fire as you have already pointed out. This man wants a track purely for business purposes and he continually flouts the law. Why are you helping him with your “useful” tips on building tracks!

    • I included that on the basis of information from some environmental action groups in the area who see it as a strong negotiating position for getting a ban on burning the moor and for other improvements of flood reduction measures in Walshaw Moor Estate land management.

      I understand and share your view that the track is not needed, but I thought that since groups whose work I respect are discussing a proposal for a floating timber track for the whole 5km, conditional on a ban on burning and other improvements to flood reduction measures in Walshaw Moor Estate land management, I should include it in the blog post. When I did, I also I hope made clear that this proposal should also be heavily conditional on other counts too.

  3. The reason for creating this track are unbelievable as there have been no unchecked fires in this area for 20 years. For the Council to agree to this would go against both the designated protection of the site and the Councils stated aim of reducing the known (and experienced at great cost ) danger of flooding in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding area.
    The amount of despoilation of other areas in order to create the enormous amount of gravel necessary is another factor.
    I state again…the Council is responsible for the protection of this area. And will be held accountable for their decision by the electorate.