This morning the European Commission has taken the first steps in legal infraction against the UK Government in relation to the burning of blanket bog in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in northern England.
The legal action follows separate complaints by the RSPB and Ban the Burn (from Hebden Bridge) in 2012. These complaints related to decisions made by Natural England over the management and protection of part of the South Pennine Moors SAC and Special Protection Area owned and managed by the Walshaw Moor Estate Limited for grouse shooting.
Since then the RSPB has discovered that Natural England consent to burn protected blanket bog is confined to and almost routine on grouse moors in 5 SACs in Northern England. This is part of the intensification of management of these special areas witnessed in recent years to produce increasing numbers of red grouse for driven grouse shooting. (See details of RSPB’s complaint here). These consents from Natural England are estimated to affect around 73,000 ha of deep peat soils that should be conserved as healthy blanket bog. The burning undermines the ability to restore these internationally important habitats, and protect their wildlife and associated ecosystem services.
This map shows the areas of concern: white areas show blanket bog in Special Areas of Conservation where Natural England has consented to burning; brown areas denote deep peat. The large circle denotes Walshaw Moor. Map source: RSPB (here).
While the details of the European Commission’s legal action is not yet known, it appears the Commission shares the concerns of the RSPB and Ban the Burn over bad application of the Habitats Directive and presumably the EC is not satisfied that the UK’s proposed actions would be sufficient to safeguard and restore the protected blanket bog habitats of European and global conservation importance.
The European Commission’s action is a significant step in reforming the way our hills are managed and securing the long-term conservation of these important areas. The RSPB and Ban the Burn both deserve credit and appreciation for pushing this forward and it’ll be fascinating to see how the grouse shooting industry and their friends in UK Government respond.
Martin Harper, RSPB’s Conservation Director has blogged about this news today (see here). But it’s a blog of two halves. The first half demonstrates that the RSPB has got plenty of backbone and isn’t afraid to act, undoubtedly against the wishes of DEFRA and Natural England, when it sees fit to do so. That’s brilliant.
But in contrast, the second half of the blog is utterly bewildering. Here Martin reiterates the RSPB’s softly softly approach to dealing with the illegal persecution of hen harriers on driven grouse moors. He maintains that DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan ‘offers a real chance of progress’. We fundamentally disagree, particularly on the subject of brood meddling, which essentially is just legalised persecution.
What we really struggle to understand is how anyone, especially a senior RSPB employee, who has seen that video of an armed man, on a grouse moor, with a decoy hen harrier, can still think that the grouse shooting industry is capable of compromise and reform. It so clearly isn’t.
E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE