End this moorland pursuit, demand flooding victims

Flashback to last month in Hebden Bridge
Flashback to last month in Hebden Bridge
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ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners from across the country will meet in a flood-devastated West Yorkshire town tomorrow to demand an end to moorland bog-burning.

Residents of Hebden Bridge are taking part in a protest walk onto Walshaw Moor’s grouse-shooting estate to call for a ban on the burning and draining of blanket bogs.

They are angry that subsidies are being paid to moorland owners who carry out the burning.

The walk, which sets off at 9.30am from St George’s Square, is timed to coincide with start of the grouse shooting season, which begins on Monday as game cannot be shot on Sunday.

Environmentalists say that towns such as Hebden Bridge - devastated in the summer floods - become more vulnerable to such events because of the effect on drainage caused by burning which is carried out to create a habitat where grouse can feed and breed.

After the walk, the Ban the Burn national campaign will be launched at Hebden Bridge Trades Club.

Campaigners are demanding a ban on burning and drainage of blanket bogs, and an end to environmental stewardship subsidies to landowners who burn and drain the habitat, among them Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd which earlier this year was given a £2.5million stewardship contract with a special exemption to permit limited burning on blanket bog.

One of the campaigners, Dongria Knondh, said: “Here in Hebden Bridge we know the real hardship of flooding – shops and businesses in our town are still shut, and many of our friends and neighbours have suffered irreplaceable loss.

“In order to reduce our town’s vulnerability to flooding, we need the upland catchment to be managed to promote healthy blanket bog, with sphagnum moss to act as a sponge in heavy rainfall events.

“It seems grotesque that the taxpayer is paying for the exact opposite -£2.5 million is about five times as much as is in the Calder Valley flood recovery fund. If Walshaw Moor wants public subsidies, it must use them for the public good and completely restore the blanket bogs on its estate.”

In March, Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd, which owns much of the land, entered into an agreement with Natural England to safeguard the bog and carry out “controlled” burning.

The Estate had been facing 43 allegations of breaches of environmental management of a Site of Special Scientific Interest but the case was dropped by Natural England.

Natural England declined to comment yesterday, saying it had nothing to add to a statement issued in March.

That statement referred to its agreement with the Estate.

It said: “Firstly, the Estate has agreed to relinquish the earlier, imprecise and unlimited consents in favour of a new consent agreement that operates for a defined period of time (25 years) and that specifies agreed limits on the scale of management activities. Secondly, the agreed level of management provides greater opportunity for habitat conservation and recovery. Now, for the first time, burning activities on the Walshaw Estate will be subject to specific controls. Under the terms of the consent, burning will not be permitted in areas where heather amounts to less than 50 per cent of the vegetation cover and will not be permitted in most of the areas defined as sensitive by the Heather and Grass Burning Code 2007.

“In the areas where it has been agreed that burning can take place, limits have been set regarding the length of the burning rotation. The agreement sets restrictions on the maintenance and creation of infrastructure (such as roads/ tracks, car parks and grouse butts) and there is also agreement relating to weed treatment, stocking densities and vehicle usage.”

A programme of peat re-wetting has also been agreed so that blanket bog restoration can take place, the statement said.

It said the agreement brought to an end the legal actions that both parties had been pursuing.

“For the first time - and with the agreement of both parties - an agreed framework is now in place for managing this important site, bringing with it the potential to help move the site into more favourable condition over time.”

* The grouse shooting industry generates over £67m for England’s rural economy and supports over 1,500 full-time equivalent jobs, the Country Land and Business Association said yesterday.