Posted by: southpenninescn | 08/12/2014

Pennine Perspectives on Rewilding

Those with an interest in conservation issues may have noticed that the concept of ‘rewilding’ has gained increasing prominence over the last few years.  Defined by George Monbiot, perhaps the UK’s best known advocate of rewilding, as ‘the mass restoration of ecosystems,’ it involves ‘reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back.’

In order to achieve this, Monbiot argues that the current system of agricultural subsidies should be overhauled, so that subsidies can only be claimed for up to 100 ha (250 acres), and that the requirement to keep land in ‘agricultural condition’ should be removed.  Perhaps more eye-catching is the suggestion that extinct animals such as wolves and lynx should be re-introduced in order to allow trophic cascades to occur, as seen most famously when wolves were re-introduced in Yellowstone National Park (Monbiot, G. (2013), Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding: Penguin).

So what might this mean for the South Pennines?  It seems unlikely that any top predators will be re-introduced here, as the habitat is almost certainly too fragmented, and the area as a whole too populated and urbanised.  Nevertheless, there is much that could be done.  There is already little farming on the uplands, as much of the moorland is water catchment.  The Moors for the Future project is an exciting partnership between water boards, local authorities and conservation bodies, which aims to restore areas of blanket bog and moorland damaged by 200 years of industrial pollution.  Much of the work involves blocking drainage ditches, planting trees, re-introducing missing plants and reducing grazing pressure – exactly the sort of things that advocates of rewilding are arguing for.

It’s worth remembering of course that moorland isn’t a natural landscape as such – the Pennines would have been largely tree-covered until humans started felling the wildwood.  Nevertheless, if the restored moorland is left largely to its own devices, a certain amount of tree cover would inevitably return, and I think it’s therefore fair to regard the Moors for the Future project as an exercise in rewilding.  We now need to see its practices adopted across the South Pennine moors.  In particular, we need to see an end to the damaging management practices of the grouse moors.  Perhaps we might then see some missing fauna return too – hen harriers for example.  This would be a truly inspiring objective for restoration projects and a real demonstration of their value as rewilding.

Web links for other rewilding projects elsewhere in Britain and Ireland:

Trees for Life – charity aiming to restore the ancient Caledonian pine forest to a large area of the Scottish Highlands, including their own 10000 acre Dundreggan Estate.

Wales Wild Land Foundation – aims to restore over 17000 acres of the ‘Cambrian Wildwood.’

Wild Ennerdale – partnership between the National Trust and Forestry Commission working to restore Ennerdale in the Lake District National Park to a wilder and more natural state.

Wild Nephin – the first designated wilderness area in Ireland.  The project involves the rewilding of 27000 acres of land over a 15 year period.  The area includes former commercial forests and parts of Ballycroy National Park.

John Muir Trust – charity dedicated to the protection of wild land.  Owns several iconic areas of the Scottish Highlands, including Ben Nevis, Sandwood Bay and parts of Knoydart, which are managed in accordance with the Trust’s ‘Wild Land Management Standards.’

Following the failure of the National Trust to support Hen Harrier Day, there has been a backlash against the organisation from certain quarters, with many people tweeting their intention to resign their membership.  This is an understandable, but ultimately misguided reaction.

As the largest conservation charity in the UK, and the owner of huge swathes of countryside, including many nature reserves and large parts of our National Parks, I believe that it is a moral duty for anybody with an interest in wildlife or the countryside to be a member of the Trust, both to fund the conservation work, and to facilitate the acquisition of further properties.  It is surely far better that an organisation like the Trust should own such places than a landed aristocrat, or billionaire oligarch.

In the context of the South Pennines, the Trust owns four properties: East Riddlesden Hall, Hardcastle Crags, Holcombe Moor and Marsden Moor.  Its management of these properties has in general been admirable, and certainly preferable to that of the water companies or grouse moors.  Furthermore, if sufficient Trust members were able to persuade it to support our call for a South Pennines National Park, the campaign would be boosted immeasurably.

Crucially, membership of the Trust conveys voting rights at the AGM.  This means that all members can vote for members of the governing Council, and on any motions that may be put before the AGM.  There was anger at the failure of a motion put to the last AGM, which called on the Trust to oppose badger culling and introduce vaccination, but this was due to over 2000 people appointing the Chair as proxy (the so-called ‘handbag vote‘), rather than casting a vote in person.  Any criticism should surely therefore be directed at those 2000, rather than at the Chair, who simply used the votes to support the Trust’s previously stated position, which was at least in part due to the financial cost of implementing badger vaccination across the Trust’s vast landholdings.

Those who oppose the Trust’s position on badger culling, or Hen Harrier Day, as I do, should be in no doubt that the vested interests who do not want this position to change well understand the power of Trust membership.  The Country Land and Business Association already has a representative on the Council, and the Countryside Alliance put a candidate forward at the last Council election, though thankfully this failed.  The message could not be clearer therefore; if you resign your membership, people who have no interest in wildlife or conservation (other than for ‘sporting’ purposes) will gain influence at your expense.

Posted by: southpenninescn | 18/06/2014

What future for grouse shooting in the South Pennines?

Anyone who follows us on Twitter will have noticed that we have had a great deal to say about grouse shooting recently, and may well be wondering what on earth this could have to do with a campaign to establish a National Park.  This post is therefore an attempt to answer some of those questions.

Firstly, it’s important to point out that we have always seen ourselves as part of a wider conservation movement.  This is because our wish to protect the South Pennines is driven by a desire to protect all of our beautiful landscapes, and in particular the wildlife, geology and heritage of these areas.  It’s for this reason that we support the campaigns of conservation organisations throughout Britain and Ireland, and not just those operating within the South Pennines.  Of course, there are extensive grouse moors within the South Pennines, and the current debate is therefore of particular relevance to the area.

There has recently been a significant re-appraisal of the role played by grouse moor management.  There are two main criticisms of grouse shooting estates, which are dealt with in turn below.

  1. Illegal killing of birds of prey is sadly still widespread on grouse moors.  It must be emphasised that the owners of the moors protest that this is nothing to do with them, but the all too frequent discovery of deliberately killed birds of prey on the moors has led many people to conclude otherwise.
  2. The management of grouse moors is highly intrusive and disruptive to the natural ecosystem.  In particular, it is increasingly felt that that heather burning, drainage, predator control and tree felling, all of which are routinely practised by shooting estates, are an unwarranted and damaging interference in the ecology of the uplands.  The construction of miles of vehicle tracks and wire fences also leaves highly visible visual scars on the landscape.

It’s important to state that our opposition to grouse shooting is based entirely on its negative implications for conservation, and has nothing to do with animal rights.  Some of our supporters may hold pro-animal rights views, which of course they are perfectly entitled to, but it is beyond the remit of an organisation like SPCN to take any stance on animal rights issues.

This post hasn’t gone into the arguments in any great detail, as to do so would simply repeat information already available elsewhere.  There are some excellent blog-posts by Mark Avery (formerly of the RSPB) on his website, which provide a very balanced and informative view of the subject.  These posts also provide links to the evidence, as well as to a petition that Mark has set up, which calls upon the UK Government to outlaw driven grouse shooting in England and Wales.  See in particular the following posts: http://markavery.info/2014/06/15/banning-driven-grouse-shooting-bit-summary-issues/

http://markavery.info/2014/06/05/ten-reasons-sign-epetition-ban-driven-grouse-shooting-england/

http://markavery.info/2014/06/03/wrong/

Chris Townsend of The Great Outdoors magazine has also recently written about grouse shooting, this time concentrating on the visual impacts on the landscape.

Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor is coalition of groups campaigning to end grouse shooting on the iconic Ilkley Moor, in the South Pennines.  They have launched an online petition calling upon Bradford MDC to end grouse shooting on the moor.

Ban the Burn is another South Pennines-based group, which campaigns to end heather burning and drainage ditches on blanket bogs.

Posted by: southpenninescn | 13/10/2013

The South Pennines: Regional or National Park?

A recent proposal from Pennine Prospects that the South Pennines should become a ‘self-declared’ Regional Park attracted quite a flurry of media attention in and around the region, appearing on the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire broadcast of BBC 1’s Inside Out TV programme.  On the face of it, the proposal seems to be an attractive one, but it does raise some important questions and concerns.

What is a Regional Park?   As a landscape designation, Regional Parks are not well-known in England, but are essentially larger versions of country parks, usually in urban fringe areas.  Crucially however, it is a non-statutory designation, and any proposed developments within Regional Parks are subject to exactly the same planning policies and procedures as other unprotected areas.

This raises an obvious concern in the case of the South Pennines, as the area is extremely vulnerable to proposals for unsuitable developments, of which undoubtedly the most worrying is the ever-increasing flood of applications for wind farms.  It is precisely because the South Pennines lacks any statutory landscape designation, and is an upland area close to major urban centres and transport and power transmission infrastructure, that it is so attractive to wind farm developers.  A Regional Park would be powerless to prevent such installations, and yet without question, they present the greatest short to medium-term threat to the area.

None of this should be taken to mean that we oppose the idea of establishing a Regional Park.  Indeed, we feel that the proposal has much to commend it and is greatly to be welcomed.  The proposal seems to have arisen from a desire on the part of Pennine Prospects to put the South Pennines on the ‘tourist map’.  Styling the area as a Regional Park will no doubt go some way to achieving this.  Any resultant increase in visitor numbers and public awareness would be a very positive outcome.  However, we also believe that it is very important to see the creation of a Regional Park as a ‘stepping-stone’ to National Park status, and not as an end-point in itself.  Only a National Park would have the ‘teeth’ to ensure that planning decisions do not adversely affect the area, and the resources to properly manage the volume of tourism that the area attracts.

Pam Warhurst, Chair of Pennine Prospects was recently quoted in Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus as saying “We don’t need a new National Park – this is the ‘people’s park’ ’’.  Whilst we have the greatest of respect for Pam Warhurst and the work that Pennine Prospects has carried out in recent years, we feel that such a view is mistaken.  Although Pam’s argument that a ‘grassroots’ initiative to ‘self-declare’ the South Pennines as a Regional Park is more in keeping with the area’s independent and non-conformist spirit is well thought out and very appealing, ultimately only the statutory protection that a National Park brings can safeguard the area’s long-term future.  It is for this reason that we will argue that the creation of a Regional Park, whilst a fantastic idea, should nevertheless be seen as a step on the road to the ultimate goal of National Park status, and not as an alternative.

Posted by: southpenninescn | 29/08/2011

Welcome to the SPCN

Hello and thank you for visiting our website.

The SPCN is a group set up to promote the South Pennines as a candidate for National Park status.  On this site, you can learn more about the group, the South Pennines area, and read our case for the creation of a new National Park.

To have any chance of success in our goal, we need lots of people to show their support.  Reading the website alone, whilst welcome, is not enough – agreeing with the aims will not be enough, either.  Everyone who feels that the South Pennines should be protected from further inappropriate developments, from loss of biodiversity, and from restrictions upon the public’s right to access this land, needs to talk about it, act upon it, and do so now.  Please email southpenninescn@gmail.com, whether for further information or to express your support, and sign up to receive emails whenever there is a new post. 

If time is limited but you would still like to help, then please sign the online petition by clicking here.  Thank you!

We want to hear from everyone who appreciates this area – whatever your skills or interests, we are sure to need you!

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