Legal Challenge to UK’s ‘Nature Watchdog’

This is a Ban The Burn update.

Campaigners are asking the European Commission to investigate a potential misuse of European funding by Natural England (NE), the UK’s nature watchdog.

A representative of the Ban The Burn campaign, based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, will travel to Brussels on 10 January to meet officials from the Commission’s Environmental Compliance Unit.

Legal reviews are being requested due to:

  • Natural England’s decision to drop its prosecution of Walshaw Moor Estate (WME). In March this year, Natural England took WME to court because of 43 environmental infringements on its 4000 hectare grouse moor estate above Hebden Bridge. The case was dropped abruptly for reasons that have not been made public.
  • The subsequent £2.5 million “Higher Level Stewardship” agreement between NE and WME. This amounts to £1,000 of public money every working day for the next 10 years, while allowing the continued burning of blanket bog – a European priority habitat. Activities which were previously considered prosecutable are now being subsidised by the tax-payer and European funding.

The legal basis for the campaigners’ challenge is that European funding for nature protection should not be used to subsidise activities likely to degrade an extremely sensitive and valuable habitat.

The EU Birds Directive and EU Habitats Directive are both designed to protect environments such as that at Walshaw Moor. Hebden Bridge was very badly hit by flooding in the summer of 2012 and the agreement between NE and WME fails to recognise the downstream effects of current management practices. In order to minimise flood risk in the town, the upland catchment needs to be managed so that large areas of degraded blanket bog are restored to a healthy state, with a good cover of sphagnum moss to act as a buffer slowing the run-off during heavy rainfall.

Local campaigner Dongria Kondh explained that “On Walshaw Moor, we have seen erosion from unconsented tracks, very extensive drainage and aggressive burning on blanket bog. The increased scale of this activity over the past few years may well have been a contributory factor to the severity of flooding in our town. Instead of being banned, these activities are now being subsidised.”

Dr. Aidan Foley BA, Msc., Phd, FGS, an environmental scientist who has helped the group to compile data for the complaint, added “Sphagnum is particularly vulnerable to fire, so continued burning is widely recognised as detrimental. Such damage to the structure of the soil will prevent this degraded moorland being restored to a healthy state.”

Although Ban The Burn is a locally based campaign, it is not just a local issue. Degraded peatlands turn from being carbon sinks to becoming carbon sources; according to the Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands, damaged UK peatlands currently release almost 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 a year – more than all the households in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds combined.

 

Please share this story widely.

For more information, contact bantheburn2012@gmail.com, or ring Dongria Kondh on 07847 815 926 (if there is no reply, leave a text message and you will  be called back).

A Press Release and photographs will be issued on 10 January following the meeting between Ban The Burn campaigner Dongria Kondh and Jean-François Brakeland, head of Environment Compliance for the European Commission.

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