To burn or not to burn that is the question!

Following an article in the Daily telegraph on 9th February a Red Grouse shooting estate in Yorkshire was asked by Natural England not to burn its heather on blanket bog due to the damage it could cause to the peat itself. The shoot had recently increased the number of Red Grouse shot from 100 to 3000 brace. No money is charged for the guns and 6 game keepers are employed.

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A five-week public inquiry in Leeds is due to finish on Friday with £1 million being spent by the estate owner who is attempting to overthrow Natural England’s attempts to stop the burning. One of the statements used by the estate to show good management came from the former boss of Natural England, Mrs Helen Phillips who recently praised the work undertaken by estate gamekeepers for maintaining the biodiversity of our countryside.

A problem of drainage on this same moor has raised its ugly head! This is the same type of drainage which has caused serious flooding in low ground like York and Carlisle. The floods at Carlisle itself caused £ ½ billion of damage with many Red Grouse moors being drained to help improve heather growth to increase numbers of Red Grouse to be shot.

The burning does reduce peat growth which also helps to act as a sponge to hold water and to allow rivers and reservoirs to have water even in the hardest of summer droughts. Here at Geltsdale in Cumbria heather is cut rather than burnt. Bales of heather are then used to block the drains to hold back water to keep the peat wet. This wet also restricts the growth of the heather and allows a wider mosaic of plants to grow benefiting species like breeding Golden Plover and the plover’s mate, the Dunlin.

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Like the removal of predators, the modern Red Grouse moor all too often is managing these uplands as they think best for themselves. With £billions pumped into the High level Stewardship payments [Tax payer’s money!] many moors have extended the amount of heather in England with the moorland association claiming an area the size of Birmingham [50 sq miles] has been reclaimed for heather using these payments.

Red Grouse shooting also restricts the ‘wilderness’ with the North Pennines once claimed by Professor David Bellamy as ‘England’s last wilderness’. Roads are cut through the landscape even when the areas have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interests (SSSi), Special Protected Areas (SPS)  and Areas of outstanding Natural Beauty. Natural England far too often have been guilty of not prosecuting any of these estates with always coming out with ‘public relations’ as the reason not to!!

The figures put out for income from Red Grouse shooting go no way near to the cost of damage caused to the landscape and the wildlife it is supposed to protect. So if the ‘money boys’ win in court what will the future be for these uplands as a loss will mean a loss to you and me as court costs will be extreme. Not to mention that Natural England will be reluctant to go to court again to protect our countryside on behalf of our nation!

Yorkshire law firm Gordons is acting on behalf of Walshaw Moor Estate in a public inquiry into an appeal which seeks to restrict management activities that have taken place on its grouse moor, including prescribed burning of heather and grazing. Read more here.

Related Story:

Boundary Mill Owner Richard Bannister challenges Natural England

John Miles

5 comments to To burn or not to burn that is the question!

  • harrier man

    Same old story of grouse shooting dominating the uplands of England and creating a moon scape. Over the ten years that i had been involved monitoring the pennines one important thing struck me on my daily visits across many areas and estates was the lack of any real diverse structure i.e. the heather was the same height over huge areas, massive long deep grip scars, gullies burnt leaving large bare areas many covered with bracken, heather loss, huge run off, illegal- and un-controlled burning especially close to hen harrier nests and tracks / roads seen for miles. Is this true wilderness far from it many AONB’s, SPA’s, SSSi’s and stewardship funded areas have failed and are failing misreably. A shocking situation that millions of pounds public money is thrown at these estates to create a grouse bin.

  • paul williams

    This is ripping the heart and beauty out of our moorlands, or as Dr Helen Phillips would say…Sterling work by gamekeepers

  • Tim Sarney

    You can read more by following the link below:

    A boycott of Boundary Mill Stores should be undertaken.

  • harrier man

    Burning agreements allowing the burning of heather up until mid to late april is absolutely ludicrous, the only reason is so the grouse moor owners can create the ideal conditions for grouse. Burning regimes across grouse moors benifits few species and as expressed below the mosiac is on every moor i have visited is of a intensive as possible resulting in very poor conditions. As for the rural way of life and heritage of the moors re the article wuthering heights what heritage are we talking about here 150 years of law breaking and ripping the heart out of the pennines for a single species for a rich man’s playground.

  • Graham

    No raptors, no crows, no rooks, no weasels, no stoats, no badgers, no foxes, no biodiversity, just grouse and selfish sub-humans.

    Editor’s comment, surely Graham you must be wrong! Dr Helen Phillips the former Chief Executive of Natural England praised estate gamekeepers for maintaining the healthy biodiversity of our countryside. This statement was also supported by the Minister for the Environment and Fisheries Mr Richard Benyon, these important people would not tell any lies would they?