Grouse moor owners, supported by millions of pounds of taxpayer subsidies, brutally kill and maim a huge number of wild animals and leave vast swathes of precious peatland drained burnt dry and scarred with vehicle tracks. This is all so that unnaturally large populations of red grouse can be nurtured as live targets for ‘guns’. Here are some Animal Aid videos about the intensively-managed grouse moor on Walshaw Moor Estate above Hebden Bridge, ahead of the Inglorious 12th August.
Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd (WME) is to receive a publicly-funded subsidy payment of £2,504,668.08, over the 10 year period of its Environmental Stewardship Agreement with Natural England. Starting from June 2012, the Agreement -Number AG00410821 – covers 3,486.1 hectares and commits WME to carrying out a range of environmental management measures.
Why is Natural England allowing WME to burn blanket bog, when the Burning Code strongly advocates a ban on burning this habitat?
The Agreement allows “controlled” blanket bog burning – despite the already degraded state of the blanket bogs. This goes against Natural England’s original intention of banning blanket bog burning on Walshaw Moor Estate. It tried to enforce the ban in 2011, by modifying the previous Consent and starting prosecuting Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd for criminal damage to protected habitats and wildlife last – before dropping the case to widespread public consternation and the delight of grouse moor owners.
Because the WME land is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it can only carry out activities if Natural England consents to them. In the 2012 Consent, Natural England appears to sidestep the Heather and Grass Burning Code. The Code strongly advocates a ban on burning sensitive areas (which include blanket bog), unless there are special circumstances where the advantages of burning outweigh the disadvantages. But the 2012 Consent permits burning on both active and degraded blanket bog – types of habitat that the Heather and Grass Burning Code categorise as ‘sensitive areas’.
This seems to make a mockery of the fact that Natural England’s Notice of Proposal and Consent also says:
“Sensitive areas: no burning”
The Notice of Proposal and Consent also has another apparent let-out clause:
“WME will use reasonable endeavours to comply with the Heather and Grass Burning Code 2007…save where this is not compatible with the terms of this proposal and consent”
Which presumably relates to the exception to the Code.
Natural England’s explanation for sidestepping the Burning Code
I find this very strange and asked Natural England to explain. This is their emailed answer:
“The Heather and Grass burning code is a voluntary code that outlines best practice. The code itself is not law. It recognises that burning plans agreed with Natural England may vary from the code and where they do these plans take precedence. This reflects that the code is by its nature generic, whereas individual agreements and burning plans will be specific and tailored to local circumstances
The section of the code on sensitive areas relating to peat bog and wet heathland states that these areas should not be burned ‘other than in line with a management plan agreed with Natural England’. The consent defines the agreed management operations (grazing, burning and use of vehicles) and so burning of these areas defined in this context does not contradict the code.
Overall the consent establishes agreed limits to the scale of management activity in the place of earlier imprecise consents. Burning activities on the Walshaw Estate will now be subject to specific controls – burning will not be permitted in areas where heather amounts to less than 50% of the vegetation and limits have been set regarding the length of rotations.”
- the Heather & Grass Burning Code says, “there should be a strong presumption against burning sensitive areas. Doing so may permanently damage the environmental interest of the land and may be unlawful. In special circumstances, the advantages of burning on sensitive areas may outweigh the disadvantages.” So I suppose the next question is, what are the special circumstances on WME?
The map shows the WME area in Environmental Stewardship Agreement Number AG00410821
Updated 11 Sept 2012 with Natural England’s answer to my question.
Updated 24 Nov 2012
Went for a walk to Heather Hill on Widdop Moor/Walshaw Moor to find out what blanket bog looks like, since I’ve been hearing quite a lot about it recently.
We couldn’t find very much, because most of it was very degraded. And what there we did find was very species poor. But this is a small patch we came across.
On August 12th (the “Glorious Twelfth”, that marks the official start of the grouse-shooting season) there will be a “BAN THE BURN” Walk to Walshaw Estate, leaving from Hebden Bridge at 9.30 am.
Plans for the walk include offer of accommodation and a meal at the Trades Club
This will be a very mellow, family friendly event. The walk will stick to public footpaths, and there will be a shorter route accessible by public transport.
Walkers can stay at Blake Dean hostel for Saturday and Sunday nights, and space is also available in the Hebden Hostel. It should be a really fun weekend.
The walk will be followed by a Campaign Launch and meal in the Trades Club from 5pm. PLEASE, PLEASE COME IF YOU CAN! BRING YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS! LET PEOPLE KNOW!
The walk’s demand: a total ban on blanket bog burning
Walshaw Moor is owned by a local businessman, Richard Bannister, who bought it in 2002 and acquired the adjoining 4,000-acre Lancashire Moor in 2005. The Daily Telegraph has reported that
“Under his stewardship the estate has gone from producing 100 brace of grouse a season to 3,000… …Around 70 per cent of his estate is covered by blanket bog and keepers operate system of ‘cool burning’, following the flames and spraying water to prevent damaging peat and moss”
The walk is campaigning for a total ban on burning on blanket bogs, for these reasons:
- To minimize flood risks to Hebden Bridge, the tops need to be managed to promote healthy blanket bog – not burnt to keep heather at the right height for breeding and rearing red grouse.
- 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.”
- A Public Inquiry into Walshaw Moor burning was brought to a halt before the scientific evidence could be presented.
- The grouse-shooting Minister for Wildlife Protection has a huge potential conflict of interest .