Walshaw Moor Estate Environmental Stewardship Agreement requires extensive grip blocking

Here’s an outline of the key points in the Walshaw Moor Estate (WME) Environmental Stewardship Agreement and the related March 2012 Natural England/WME Notice of Proposal and Consent  to Carry Out Operations on a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Information I have obtained from Environmental Information Regulations requests suggests that the Environmental Stewardship Agreement may be based on a flawed environmental impact assessment (technically called an Appropriate Assessment). If this is in fact the case, this raises the need for an investigation into the appropriateness and legality of the Environmental Stewardship Agreement. Ban the Burn campaigners are asking the European Commission to investigate this question.

Higher Level Stewardship Scheme: £380K to block grips across extensive areas of the moorland

Under the terms of the £2.5 million+  Walshaw Moor Estate Environmental Stewardship Agreement (ESA), which started on 1June 2012 and runs for ten years, Walshaw Moor Estate has to carry out “major preparatory work for heathland recreation”. This is mainly

aimed at blocking grips across extensive areas of the moorland. Initial work, the detail of which is yet to be agreed, will involve the survey and classification of grips. Subsequently, works will proceed to block grips in a manner to be agreed and in line with best practice.

The physical grip blocking works may be completed in phases.”

Capital funding allocated for “major preparatory work for heathland recreation” is £379,999.98 and the work must be completed by May 2015. Annual payments, each one third of the total, are scheduled. Part 5 of the ESA – the Capital works specifications – says that this funding is intended to pay for Phase 1 of a possible 3 phase programme and “ also includes outline funding for other as yet unquantified works to infrastructure in the area…”

Drains and grips constructed since 1997 won’t be blocked

This grip blocking programme sounds good. But through Environmental Information Regulations requests, I have found that:

  • grip blocking only applies to “historic” grips and drains – ie those constructed before the site was designated as a Special Protection Area (1997) and Special Area of Conservation (2005)
  • this means that grips that Walshaw Moor Estate excavated without consent will not be filled in
  • maintenance of the drainage within a 50 metre radius of grouse butts (for instance within 50 metres of  the long line of newish grouse butts on the very degraded, heavily drained blanket bog on Heather Hill) “ is deemed to fall under the terms of the Consent as maintenance of existing infrastructure and therefore does not need further permissions. In cases such as these it is considered that this drainage would have limited effect as its efficacy is limited by the wider grip blocking programme and therefore Natural England has confidence that it would not have a significant impact on the wider area of blanket bog or hinder its recovery.”

Other key elements of the WME Higher Level Stewardship Scheme

Non-capital options under the WME Higher Level Stewardship Scheme are:

  • Restoration of moorland (£106,289.50/year, 2012-2022)
  • Seasonal livestock exclusion supplement (£1,728.30/year, 2012-2022)
  • Shepherding supplement (£16,445/year, 2012-2022)

The Restoration of moorland option

This  “aims to restore moorland where not all habitat is in good condition…In addition, it may, in the right situation, provide an area of flood storage and some benefits to flood risk management.” The WME ESA says that this will be judged to be  successful if all Site of Special Scientific Interest land is in favourable or recovering condition.

The Restoration of moorland option applies to five parcels of land, each identified by the Rural Land Register field number, where there are Upland Heath and Blanket bog habitats. The option:

  • limits the numbers of livestock that can be grazed each month
  • limits supplementary livestock feeding
  • forbids any new drainage of modification/improvement to existing drainage systems
  • requires WME to follow a rotational heather, grass or gorse management programme
  • prohibits burning that damages moss, some other plants and exposes or breaks the peat surface

“There must be no signs of burning into the moss, lichen or liverwort layer, or exposure or breaking of the peat surface due to burning.”

 

Seasonal livestock exclusion and shepherding options

The seasonal livestock exclusion option applies to one of the RLR field numbers in the Restoration of moorland option. It forbids livestock grazing between 1 November and 1 April. The shepherding option applies to the same five RLR field numbers as the Restoration of Moorland option. It requires the shepherd to identify the most vulnerable areas within the grazing unit and manage livestock to make sure that different habitats are grazed appropriately. The aim is to stop livestock damaging the land by congregating round old feeding sites, moor gates and inbye access points.

Uplands Entry Level Stewardship

The other element of the WME ESA is the Uplands Entry Level Stewardship Scheme, which pays WME £88,004/year for 10 years to manage land according to specified environmental standards, in return for a set payment per hectare. The Uplands ELS scheme includes a range of options that farmers/landowners can sign up to. I don’t know what Uplands ELS options WME is carrying out, and life is too short to dig around and find out. But possible options in the Uplands ELS include:

  • maintaining and improving biodiversity
  • protecting natural resources such as soil and water
  • improving land management and maintaining traditional landscapes
  • protecting historic features of the uplands
  • conserving traditional livestock breeds
  • providing and protecting carbon storage in blanket bogs and improving overall water retention

Walshaw Moor Estate Notice and Consent

The ESA is subject to Natural England’s Notice of Proposal to carry out operations that are notified for a Site of Special Scientific Interest. For the WME these operations are:

  • grazing
  • burning
  • legal control of pest species
  • maintenance of existing infrastructure is permitted, except no maintenance of moorland drainage is permitted apart from next to surfaced roads/tracks, walls and within  a 50 metre radius around grouse butts
  • gritting (for grouse)
  • weed treatment
  • use of vehicles

The signed Notice of Proposal and Consent makes these activities legal. They mostly seem uncontentious to me, except the section which spells out what burning is permitted and which I’ve written another post about. And since the grouse butts on Heather Hill are  on a very degraded, heavily drained blanket bog, allowing the drainage there to continue (because maintenance of existing drains is permitted within a 50 metre radius of grouse butts) will surely stop the blanket bog from recovering?

Updated 7.1.2013 to include info obtained from EIR requests.

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