Thursday, 29 November 2012

Stopping the destruction of blanket bog

Earlier on this year, I wrote a blog about blanket bog, flooding and climate change to raise awareness of the problems occurring in Walshaw Moor near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. Blanket bog is a rare, valuable habitat that supports biodiversity, and also has a very useful flood protection role (the Calder Valley including Hebden Bridge is very flood prone).

At that time environmental activists and local residents were concerned that damage to the blanket bog on Walshaw Moor might represent a breach of European environmental legislation that protects special habitats called the EU birds and habitats directive. I subsequently sent an official question to the European Commission (EU civil service)'s Environment department, which investigates possible non respect of EU environmental laws. I asked the Commission whether the inappropriate land management being undertaken on Walshaw Moor such as repeated burning of areas of blanket bog in order to provide a habitat for red grouse, and the construction of tracks to enable access for commercial grouse‑shooting, was breaching the legislation. 

This week I received a written answer to my question, which reads as follows:

"The Commission has very recently received a complaint regarding the management and protection of a part of the South Pennine Moors managed by the Walshaw Moor Estate Limited. The Commission is currently analysing this complaint and will ask the UK authorities to provide information in response to the alleged issues. Should it become apparent that the national authorities have not fulfilled their obligations in this respect, the Commission will take the necessary steps to ensure full compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives.

Given that the Commission has not yet had an opportunity to assess the complaint and the allegations made with regard to the situation at Walshaw Moor it is not at this stage possible to answer the first question."

The official complaint mentioned by the Commission is the one lodged by the RSPB for the third time in its history. The RSPB complaint claims that Natural England, the government agency responsible for enforcing the EU birds and habitats directive, is failing to do so in Walshaw Moor. 

Natural England was undertaking legal proceedings against the Estate for 43 breaches of an environmental stewardship agreement, proceedings which were dropped following the conclusion of a new agreement, which the RSPB say is flawed as it essentially permits and even financially funds the very same destructive activities.  The RSPB say that Natural England has failed to take the steps needed to ensure the landowner does not continue to damage the land at Walshaw Moor and that they restore the degraded areas of blanket bog. 

I am supporting the RSPB complaint in any way I can, as from what I have seen there is a great danger that the land at Walshaw Moor will be damaged permanently from this failure to respect environmental legislation.  
It is vital to act in such a situation to stop destruction of beautiful and special parts of the Yorkshire countryside and to make sure that other protected habitats are given the protection they need, protection which by law they should have.

If you are concerned about the Walshaw Moor situation and would like to know more or find out what you can do, please contact my office at - European Commission Environment Department

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