It is widely accepted that mismanagement of the Walshaw Moor blanket bogs for intensive grouse rearing has contributed to three severe floods in Hebden Bridge over the last four years, and downstream in the Calder Valley.
Some households and businesses have still not recovered from the terrible Boxing Day flood last year, when the town centre was under up to five feet of filthy water.
Protesters are calling for Richard Bannister, the owner of Walshaw Moor Estate, to urgently take ecological conservation and restoration measures that will significantly reduce peak flow in Hebden Water.
Although as an EU Natura 2000 site Walshaw Moor has the highest possible level of environmental protection, the landowner’s agreement with Natural England permits so-called “cool burning of heather, as well as extensive track building and draining within 50 metres of the many grouse shooting butts gouged out of the peat.
Supported by £2.5m of taxpayer subsidies via Environmental Stewardship payments for “restoring” the moors, the owner of Walshaw Moor, Richard Bannister leaves vast swathes of precious peatland scarred with vehicle tracks and drained and burnt dry – although the permitted “cool burning’ is supposed not to damage the sphagnum moss that grows on moorland peat and is vital for the survival of the blanket bog.
This is all so that unnaturally large populations of red grouse can be nurtured as live targets for ‘guns’.
Leeds University research, led by Dr Lee Brown and published in 2014, confirms Ban the Burn campaigners’ criticisms of the Walshaw Moor Estate burning.
In all areas that the Leeds University researchers looked at over a period of five years, permitted cool burning destroyed the sphagnum moss and left bare peat.
It also lowered the water table so the peat dried out, oxidised and became a source of net carbon loss – rather than a net carbon uptake through taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and sinking it into the peat. This worsens climate change.
Dr Joseph Holden’s 2015 update to this research confirmed that the destruction of the sphagnum by permitted burning on blanket bog also increases the amount and speed of water runoff during the worst 20% of storms, so worsening the risk of flooding in areas below the moors.
In response to a complaint from local residents’ group Ban the Burn, the European Commission has started a legal process against the UK government for:
- the failure to carry out appropriate assessments on the Walshaw Moor Estate in the South Pennines Natura 2000 site, and other Natura 2000 sites, as required under the EU Habitats Directive in relation to a number of management agreements
- allowing burning of blanket bogs within the Natura 2000 sites
- the failure to avoid deterioration of blanket bog habitats within those sites in England
The UK government had two months to respond to the EU Commission letter, which was sent on 29th April 2016. This is the first step in a legal process. But with the UK vote to leave the EU, Yorkshire and Humberside MEP Linda McAvan has said it is unclear whether the European Commission is following up the process.
Hebden Bridge residents are determined to keep up the pressure to protect and restore the rare and valuable blanket bog and in doing so, to reduce the flood risk to the town and the downstream Calder Valley.
PHOTOS are attached.
1. Heather burning on Walshaw Moor Estate
2. Stink pits for trapped animal corpses on Walshaw Moor Estate (please credit to Animal Aid)
3. Grouse butts and burnt moorland on Walshaw Moor Estate
NOTES TO EDITORS
The studies referred to in the press release are:
1. Brown, L. E, Holden, J. and Palmer, S. M. (2014) Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins. Key findings from the EMBER project. University of Leeds.
Dr Brown’s comprehensive five year research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council with additional support from Yorkshire Water.
A two page Executive Summary and full report of key findings are both downloadable (pdf files).
2. Impact of prescribed burning on blanket peat hydrology
Authors: Joseph Holden, Sheila M Palmer, Kerrylyn Johnston, Catherine Wearing, Brian Irvine, Lee. E Brown
First published: 21 August 2015
Published in Water Resources Research
The study is online here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014WR016782/full