‘Time to focus on moorland’s future’ as controversial management deal comes to an end

Campaigners from Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor take part in a protest ramble on Ilkley Moor, to oppose the last grouse shooting season permitted under Bradford Council's controversial license., in August 2017.'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Campaigners from Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor take part in a protest ramble on Ilkley Moor, to oppose the last grouse shooting season permitted under Bradford Council's controversial license., in August 2017.'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
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FOR ITS advocates, it was a way of funding crucial moorland management and protecting some of Yorkshire’s finest heather habitat.

But its critics felt differently, and after years of controversy, Bradford Council succumbed to the campaign to end grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor earlier this year, and this week, the ten-year deed that awarded shooting rights - but also brought with it countryside stewardship - came to an end.

Now campaigners are urging the Council to ensure the Moor, the last municipal moorland in the UK where the practice was permitted, recovers from “terrible legacy” of grouse shooting and is used to promote wildlife biodiversity, education, leisure and the local economy.

Bradford’s ruling Labour group voted against renewing the existing rights that allowed Bingley Moor Partnership (BMP) to hold shoots on eight days a year for the last decade in January. Before that, shooting had taken place on Ilkley Moor for more than 100 years, except for a break between 1997 and 2007. The Council said its focus was now on implementing its management plan for the Moor, which sets out the intention to seek funding from a new agri-environment scheme.

It is still yet to be approved by Natural England, but the 75-page document includes a “vision for Ilkley Moor” that “conserves and enhances it unique habitats”; maintains and restores its active blanket bog; manages flood risk; and provides a home for protected species “such as the upland moorland birds which thrive there and help to give the moor its identity”.

The plan also sets out how the Moor can provide artistic inspiration; a place for leisure and education; and serve as an “economic asset” to the District - both as a tourist destination and in providing employment and supporting local agricultural endeavour.

Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor has lobbied Bradford Council to end grouse shooting on the moor since its formation in May 2014. Spokesperson Luke Steele said: “A package of robust measures - including restoration of peatland to assist species such as golden plover and dunlin, sparse tree-planting on the steepest slopes to decrease flood risk and erosion, and the adoption of low-intensity heather management to ensure habitat necessary for merlin and short-eared owl - will provide stepping stones necessary to ensuring Ilkley Moor is preserved in a way beneficial to wildlife, education, its users and the local economy.”

A spokesperson for Bradford Council said: “Our focus is now on implementing the objectives of our Ilkley Moor Management Plan to manage the heathland, increase tree coverage in appropriate areas, restore peat and blanket bog, and reduce flood risk for the surrounding areas.

“The plan is still being considered by Natural England and we are hoping to get approval soon. As part of the plan we will be seeking additional sources of funding to help our stewardship of the moor.”

The campaign to end grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor had won the support of cross-party councillors, MPs and conservationists, including the Friends of Ilkley Moor group.

Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor claimed that over half of protected breeding bird species had declined or become locally extinct on Ilkley Moor since the deed was in place. It now wants efforts to be focused on reversing the wildlife crash, which has negatively impacted on the moor’s population of specialist species, including Merlin, Dunlin and Short Eared Owl, and restoring peatland habitat.

Mr Steele said the decision to end grouse shooting “reflects the urgent need to reverse wildlife decline, habitat degradation and public dismay which has overshadowed this treasured moorland since grouse shooting was introduced in 2008”.