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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Warm words on burning

Natural England has issued a position statement on burning of blanket bogs – the position is basically ‘Don’t!’.

We understand that the serial blanket bog burners in the uplands are less than chuffed by actually being told what they can and can’t do. We can’t see any comment from the Moorland Association on this subject – not even along the lines of ‘If we ease off burning protected blanket bogs just for conservation reasons it will cost us a few grouse in the shooting season’.

The position statement makes it clear, almost for the first time (unless you read this blog regularly), that these changes to previous damaging practices, which have been allowed and tolerated by Defra and Natural England for ages, are being imposed because of pressure from the European Commission. The UK is trying to avoid heavy infraction proceedings from Europe by cobbling together some voluntary agreements with individual landowners. One of the first of these was shown to be unlawful by a legal challenge by myself and then NE had to repeat aspects of their ecological assessment of the plan and reversed their previous position.

Isn’t it odd that the European Commission, a private individual (me), a group of local campaigners in Hebden Bridge, other individuals like the wonderful Bob Berzins and some wildlife NGOS (the RSPB kicked off the complaint to the EU in October 2012! and FoE’s Guy Shrubsole is playing a major part these days) are gradually forcing the statutory nature conservation agency in England, and the government department whose job it is to protect the environment, to pull out their digits and do their jobs? Odd, but not unprecedented. And Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and I hope that Wild Justice will be playing a part in this type of issue in future.

But, back to the position statement. It’s not bad.

It could do with a bit of editing though:

‘Natural England has been feeble in stopping is working with landowners and land managers damaging protected blanket bogs to secure voluntary approaches to the restoration of upland blanket bog, a priority habitat under the EU Habitats Directive, partly through but now we’ve been rumbled we’re moving slowly to stopping rotational burning. Our paymasters at Defra have lots of mates in grouse shooting and they haven’t been very keen to upset them. Natural England recognises the importantce of the contribution of landowners and land managers to causing this problem – in fact it’s almost all down to you guys – but it’s got to stop now.restoration of blanket bog and welcomes the progress made in entering new Long Term Management Plans,
The UK government is responding very slowly to infraction proceedings from the EU requiring measures to halt deterioration of blanket bog condition as a result of regular burning for the so-called sport of driven grouse shooting (which has a whole bunch of other undesirable and damaging issues associated with it). While Burning on blanket bogs damages them – that’s the problem. However, as a sop to the mates of our paymasters in Defra in exceptional circumstances it may be appropriate we’re going to allow occasional to carry out a one-off burns to continue just to try to keep the moorland owners a bit quieter than they would be otherwise. for the purposes of restoration.
Natural England here sets out the position it will take where a request is made to carry out a burn on blanket bog: We will continue to work with landowners and land managers to agree Long Term Management Plans, or equivalent, that contain broader management activities to achieve restoration or other outcomes across the land holding. in light of the infraction, burning for so-called restoration will only be considered on an exceptional basis. We know this will be unpopular with some of our noisiest, least public-spirited, richest and aggressive stakeholders but we would like to welcome them to the twenty-first century.’

Or something along those lines. Of course, a no-deal Brexit in a few weeks time will remove all leverage of infraction proceedings and then we will have to rely on the guts of Natural England (when does Tony Juniper arrive?) and the conservation zeal of Defra (we can rely on Therese Coffey) to protect blanket bogs. The ecological need will be just the same, but the levers of power will be very different. Still, everybody’s getting bored with Brexit so never mind.

Back again to this position statement. Given the political position we should thank NE for putting this out now – it will make it more difficult to backtrack on blanket bog protection but it could have been worded much more strongly so that NE amd Defra’s intentions were made clearer as being based on the science not just because the straight-banana men in the EU were forcing us to do this.

There are still some issues. Foremost is that there is no evidence at all to my mind that so-called restoration burning is ever necessary for blanket bogs. However did this habitat scrape by for thousands of years before men in tweed with matches came on the scene about 150 years ago? And nobody had heard of restoration burning a few years ago, it is a complete myth and it shows the power of double-speak – it’s straight out of Orwell. You can almost hear the conversation between a few moorland owners, one of them will have said this, ‘Burning blanket bogs damages them but we want to carry on doing it, so let’s call it restoration burning then it sounds nice. If we use this phrase for long enough and with our patrician tones and air of confidence, and we instruct our ‘keepers to use the phrase too, then those oiks in Natural England will start using the phrase as well – certainly our friends in NE. We’ll get a few ministers to mention it now and again and we’ll be made. Even though it isn’t a reality, it will seem like reality. That’s what we’ll do.‘. And that’s what has happened.

So, however much the moorland managers squeal, the fact is that any single concession to allowing burning of blanket bogs is unjustifiable. That’s my position statement.

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