For immediate release – 10th January 2013
Rebecca Taylor MEP and “Ban the Burn” campaign press the European Commission to act on moorland burning. Rebecca Taylor, Lib Dem Euro-MP for Yorkshire, has joined forces with a West Yorkshire based pressure group to stop a grouse shooting estate burning protected moorland above the Calder Valley.
On Thursday, Rebecca met Hebden Bridge resident Dongria Kondh in Brussels, to present a dossier to Jean-François Brakeland, Head of environmental law compliance at the European Commission. On behalf of the Ban the Burn campaign, Dongria presented evidence questioning the legality of the decision by Natural England, the UK Government’s nature watchdog, to abandon a prosecution against Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd. and its subsequent Environmental Stewardship Agreement with the estate, allowing for widespread burning on blanket bog.
The legal basis for the campaigners’ challenge is that European funding for nature protection should not be used to subsidise activities likely to degrade an extremely sensitive and valuable habitat which is legally protected through the EU Birds Directive and EU Habitats Directive, and that the agreement between Natural England and Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd. fails to recognise the downstream effects of the land management regime.
Hebden Bridge was very badly hit by flooding in June and July 2012, and in August the Ban the Burn campaign was set up by concerned local residents in order to demand that the uplands be managed in the best way to minimise flood risks to the town.
Campaigners say that the large areas of degraded blanket bog on Walshaw Moor Estate must be restored to a healthy state, with a good cover of sphagnum moss to act as a buffer slowing the run-off during heavy rainfall. Sphagnum Moss is a particularly fragile species, which is covered by the EU Habitats Directive.
Dr. Aidan Foley BA, Msc., Phd, FGS, an environmental scientist who has helped the group to compile data for the complaint added: “Sphagnum is particularly vulnerable to fire, so continued burning is widely recognised as detrimental. Such damage to the structure of the soil will prevent this degraded moorland being restored to a healthy state.”
In a fortnight’s time, the Commission will be meeting representatives of the UK Government to discuss complaints made against them. Commenting after the meeting Rebecca Taylor said,“There are real concerns about the impact burning the bog is having, and it is particularly worrying with regards to the amount of flooding the Calder Valley has been experiencing recently. I fully support Ban the Burn campaigners in presenting their complaint to the European Commission Natural England need to properly enforce EU Environmental law, and that means overturning their agreement with Walshaw Moor, and preventing further irresponsible burning.”
Dongria Kondh commented “It was kind of the Under Secretary of State for Wildlife, Richard Benyon, to visit Hebden Bridge after the floods last year but it would be even better if the government would stop subsidising activities which are likely to increase the flood risk to the town. The sum involved is not negligible; Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd. will be receiving £1,000 of public money every working day for the next 10 years; with no obvious public benefit”