ssenredliW - what does it mean?

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"Of course we need to cull them. Get a grip"


"peatlands are more important than tropical rainforest"


“The Grasslands Trust has been able to secure Government funding to ensure ten years of wildlife management at Arcot”

in an unfavourable condition and requires management to improve its status


We are proud to have a sustainable conservation system up and running to safeguard the future of this unsurpassed southern wilderness and its wildlife” - -see the Addendum Nov


“the danger of re-wilding ideas, though, is that they are often based on rampant political naivety”

the land would become covered in scrub and gorse, and if left alone would become inaccessible to visitors

a membership-collecting factory

the hard work of the upland gamekeepers controlling crows and foxes to protect the grouse

Ministers are reneging on promises to safeguard vital wildlife areas around Britain's coasts

there are claims that reinstallation of these raptors has ignored the needs of farmers, whose complaints should no longer be ignored


very exciting project for the National Trust

Legal control of crows, foxes and stoats

a superb management strategy

foxes often chew transmitters

These animals disappeared for a reason, because they were competing with our own needs

learning the lessons of successful moorland management from its neighbours and concentrating on habitat management and predator control

The lack of woodland management has led to rapid declines in specialist woodland wildlife, like the rare and beautiful Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Grey wolves in the northern Rocky mountains are thriving and no longer need protection - see the Addendum August

The RSPB does not have any axe to grind against any sport unless it affects the conservation issues and then we would be very much against it


There's a deep cultural resistance to the idea of land no longer being farmed

grazing animals manage the land, keeping it cropped and tidy and attractive to visitors

Shoot a moose and you have saved the equivalent of two long-haul flights

Woodlands are managed in such a way now that they are the shadiest they have been for thousands of years

We must increase our efforts to restore and manage lowland heathland

Detested the barren hills of Scotland

Re-wilding, creating woodlands and heathlands

Naturally maintain one of Britain's most sensitive eco-systems

Now we should fear for the wild -see the Addendum March

A true British wilderness


This doesn't imply fencing humans out and allowing vast tracts of countryside to revert to wilderness

Dyfi Valley, Uluru and Yellowstone

Born to be wild
-see the Addendum Nov

Do away with farming and the countryside will be  nothing - back to wilderness in no time at all

The anthem of summer - more Romanticism

The modern version of the pre-Romantic wilderness

Managed grazing prevents most sites reverting to wild forest


But we cant call it wilderness in Scotland

Forgetting how people once felt about bears and packs of wolves

Without cattle the countryside becomes an empty wilderness

We must kill Bambi: why culling deer is a no-brainer, Sara Maitland Guardian 10 March 2013

Ostensibly, this is an opinion piece from Maitland that piggybacks with a furore that broke out over sensationalist reporting of a study of deer populations in the Brecklands, Norfolk, and which appeared to extrapolate these very localised findings to a national scale in justifying a call for a 50% cull of the national deer population, some 750,000 deer (1,2). Dolman, the scientist at the University of East Anglia, has previous form at flapping his jaw when journalists are around and, as I have lamented before, this ends up with being science by press release, and often with a bit of added speculation that doesn’t even figure in the published paper (3). It was Dolman who said of the Brecklands after another science by press release moment (4):
“We shouldn’t be scared of getting machinery in and making a right mess. Physical disturbance isn’t always bad in fact it is essential for many plants and insects”

I think in Dolman, we have someone who has got too used to the ego-stroking of the media. Since I can’t get into the paper in the March issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management where this study of Breckland deer is published, we will all have to suspend judgment on whether this is the “First in-depth deer census" as the press release from UEA says (5); if extrapolation from the Breckland study area can justify such an extermination across Britain, as the newspapers are saying (1,2) and whether national policy can be dictated by such hyperbole. Perhaps Dolman should have read a paper in the February issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management that casts considerable doubt on whether hunting is an effective tool to control overabundant deer (6).

Maitland barges into this furore with her usual presumption that we are all ignorant, whereas she knows that deer culling already takes place. Thus “the real reason why all the excitement is a bit ridiculous is that, frankly, it is a no-brainer”

Maitland lives in a world of personal certainties, uninformed by logic, and with an assumption that everyone else is wrong. Thus “deer destroy woodlands” is the prejudice she gives in justification of the cull, opining that “Too much of our ecological thinking is moral rather than scientific, sentimental rather than well-informed; but above all, it is species rather than habitat driven”. Strange then that in the description of that destruction, she lists the elimination of oxlip and bluebells (species) reduced cover for nightingales (species) encouragement of bracken and rough grass (species) and that the deer “prevent decent coppicing”. A facetious comment on the latter would be asking her what constituted indecent coppicing? Coppiced woodland is an artificial habitat that supports on a cyclical basis a non-natural maxima of species diversity, and which is also an artificially increased feeding opportunity for deer through browsing. Should the deer be blamed because the new growth of coppicing is highly attractive to them?. Isn’t it the height of hypocrisy to justify coppicing in attracting phytophagous (leaf-eating) invertebrates (moths etc) but vilify deer when they are also attracted? Aren’t deer woodland animals and will thus inevitably have an impact?

Having deprived deer of their natural existence, Maitland then gets to what is her greatest and oft-repeated shibboleth about woodland:
“Even the woodland of our dreams is unrealistic. We do not have any true wild wood in the UK – we have ancient woodland that is ecologically adapted to human interests, and has been for more than a thousand years. Our woodland flourishes under woodcutting, coppicing and light grazing”

Maitland has a particularly jaundiced view of people who value woodland that she doesn't. She revels in the cultural modification of our woodland, wanting to crush speculation that any woodland has been left unmanaged and, therefore in her logic, it should not be left unmanaged now. In fact, as her previous writings show, it is very important for Maitland’s world view that there never was a wildwood, that a human influence on woodland was always there, even as the ice receded after the last glaciation (7). However, she goes even further by asserting in a recent book and various Guardian articles that woodland was never the majority landscape cover in Britain, and singling out Scotland (7):
“There was more forest than there is now, but not as much as we like to think. Oliver Rackham, the leading academic of woodland history, believes that less than 7% of Scotland was ever ancient forest and that the great Caledonian Forest is as much a story as the Merlin who ran mad in it”

Maitland's book - Gossip from the Forest - is full of this sort of conjecture that is unsubstantiated by external sources, including any pointer to where Rackham may have proposed that analysis. The rejection of wildwood comes again in an article by Maitland on ash dieback, where she once more claimed a superiority of understanding, castigating the rest of us for our “wilful ignorance” about woodlands, which then elided in to a very offensive accusation by Maitland that “our commitment to a fallacious narrative of our forests probably puts them at risk at least as much as the diseases that afflict individual species” (8). Deer are blamed as destructors again. The Scottish assertion is thrown in again, it being a “pernicious myth” that forest covered the whole of Scotland, and while there is no attribution this time to Rackham, no other source is given (8):
“Modern tree historians put the actual coverage as low as 7% of Scotland”

Another traducing of Scottish woodland history came ironically in a Winter Holiday travelogue from Maitland, not travelling far from her Galloway base up to fragments of forest in NW Scotland (9). The percentage cover she asserts as natural is within similar bounds, but the attribution now rests within a tree specialism, although the source is still not given:
“The trees of northern Scotland are something of a fairytale themselves. According to the earliest records the great Caledonian Forest once covered the whole of Scotland in an endless and perilous blanket of dense trees……..Sadly, perhaps, contemporary dendrologists now say that this forest never existed – that much of the Highlands was too high, too cold, too wet, too peaty or too rocky for trees to flourish and that forest never covered even 10% of the Highlands”

James Fenton has been banging on for years that the empty, tree-less landscape of Scotland is natural because of long-term deterioration of soil conditions that progressively made woodland regeneration less likely (10). However, Fenton at least allowed that there was substantial woodland coverage after the last glacial period, as the generally mineral soils were highly suitable for tree regeneration that was independent of herbivore density. His hypothesis then of a natural decline in woodland was criticised as soon as it was published, for avoiding the issue of anthropogenic pressures on these landscapes for several millenia, the pressures recognized through archaeological and palaeoecological evidence (11):
“Attempting to exclude these pressures from the discussion can only lead to an incomplete and misleading account of a complex series of changes involving an interaction which includes natural vegetational and environmental processes, climatic changes and human pressures”

So who are these contemporary dendrologists cited by Maitland? What is their evidence? I think Maitland needs to tell us, or stop peddling her prejudices.

(1) Deer culling on massive scale backed by expert, Press Association, Guardian 7 March 2013

(2) Only mass deer cull can prevent destruction of British woodlands and wildife, say scientists, Steve Connor, Independent 7 March 2012

(3) Challenging the bias: a Wildland Research Institute for Britain, Self-willed land 29 July 2009

(4) Pioneering study reveals nationally important biodiversity hotspot, University of East Anglia Press Release 30 Nov 2010

(5) First in-depth deer census highlights need for increased culls, University of East Anglia Press Release 7 March 2013

(6) Simard, M.A. et al (2013) Is hunting an effective tool to control overabundant deer? A test using an experimental approach. The Journal of Wildlife Management 77: 254-269

(7) Maitland, S. (2012) Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Our Fairytales. Granta

(8) Care for your local ash tree, Sara Maitland, Guardian 31 October 2012

(9) Winter holidays: in search of northern Scotland's magic forests, Sara Maitland, Guardian 8 February 2013

(10) Fenton JH. 2008. A postulated natural origin for the open landscape of upland Scotland. Plant Ecology & Diversity 1:115–127

(11) Bennet, KD (2009) Woodland decline in upland Scotland. Plant Ecology & Diversity 2(1): 91-93

13 March 2013

Natural England drops peatland bog-burning inquiry, Christine Ottery, Guardian 14 March 2012

This is a news article about the conservation industry’s obsession with blanket bog, even though ironically bog vegetation communities in the UK are often regarded as botanically poor (1). It is also about the unholy alliance that the conservation industry has with grouse shooting estates as the means by which these bogs are maintained for the species they favour. In this story, the agents of that management did their job too well, or at least excessively according to the conservation industry, whose embarrassment would be palpable if it wasn't so used to ignoring inconvenient truths. There is of course no mention of the sordid reality that is exposed by that reliance.

I picked up on the article a day before I went to meet Mikhail Yablokov, and hear him talk about the Polistovsky State Nature Reserve, of which he is the Director. The contrast between this sorry story of an upland grouse moor in the South Pennines, and the natural wonders of a Russian wetland wilderness, could not be starker. Polistovsky is a zapovednik, a strict nature reserve in the Pskov Region of western Russia. Designated in 1994, it was one of the first wetland reserves in Russia, covering 635 sq. km of the western part of the Polistovo-Lovatskoye marsh system (2). Rdeisky, another zapovednik, covers a similar area of the eastern side of the marsh system (3). All zapovedniks are publicly owned in the Russian Federation, and completely withdrawn from economic use under the Federal law on protected areas from 1995 (4).

Peat bog covers 80% of the territory of Polistovsky, with 15% as woodland that is generally around the fringe of the bog, but also on the bog islands – small areas of mineral soil that poke up through the peat mass to a height of about 9m. The tree species distribute according to the relative wetness, black alders around the edges of water logged areas, along with bog pine, broadleaved woodland of oak and lime around the fringes, and spruce-fir and aspen on the bog islands. There are scattered pine trees of various sizes across parts of the bog, and with the damp-loving dwarf birch being the commonest tree throughout the bog. The remaining area is taken up by the rivers Polist and Lovat, as well as lakes and flood meadows.

The Polistovsky reserve has a core area that covers 60% and where there is a ban on human activity, including walking trails. The latter is not surprising since this predominantly waterlogged wetland landscape would be very difficult to traverse. It is due to the impassable nature of this enormous marsh system that the natural ecosystems were so amazingly well preserved, even late into the 20th century, and without a history of centuries of exploitation by humans and their farming. It exists without our intervention, and is thus home to a remarkably diverse plant and animal community that thrives in this remote and undisturbed location. The larger mammals include bear, lynx, wolf, elk, roe deer, and otter. Many bird species associate with the wetlands, including curlew, snipe, lapwing as well as black stork and black-throated loon, and there are the raptors in golden eagle, lesser spotted eagle, goshawk, sparrow hawk and buzzard. Add in 681 flowering plant and shrub species, and there is an inventory of wild nature that is characteristic of true wilderness (4). It is not surprising, therefore, that Polistovsky State Nature Reserve is a Wilderness Partner with PAN Parks (5).

Sloppy peat in Britain has become a touchstone for more than just the driven priorities of biodiversity, it now also has the perverse attachment of supposedly mitigating climate change, a nonsense of logic that cries out for challenge, especially when it gives scope for rubbish statements such as this in the article, from an expert in peat bogs from the University of Leeds:
“In the UK we have 13% of the world's blanket bogs. Globally, peatlands are more important than tropical rainforest in terms of taking carbon out of the atmosphere"

What does this mean? Are we seriously to equate the highly artificial landscape of an upland peat bog in Britain to a tropical rainforest? Isn’t it bad enough that there is this delusion in the conservation industry that the sloppy peat in our uplands is in anyway comparable to the ecology of places like Polistovsky State Nature Reserve? Should the planet be subjugated to the needs of one species in fixing carbon to mitigate the profligate human use of archaeological carbon sources? Must we cover the whole globe with sloppy peat? Wouldn’t it be better to stop using archaeological carbon and let the homeostatic mechanisms of the planet’s natural vegetation sort out this excess?

What you have to be clear about is that upland bog in England is artificial, a man-made habitat that is constantly managed (6) irrespective of the reality bending claims of the conservation industry that it could be natural (7). Secondly, the unholy alliance arises from the fact that three-quarters of the areas in the uplands that are designated as Special Protection Areas (SPA) for wading birds like the golden plover, curlew and twite are managed grouse moors, often on blanket bog. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust never misses an opportunity to link grouse moors with these birds. This from a press release back in 2004 (8):
“management of upland moor for grouse has not only helped to retain the upland heather habitat but it has provided the most important stronghold for upland waders in England……For example, the North Pennines SPA, which is almost entirely managed for grouse shooting, hosts 1,400 pairs of golden plover, 3,930 pairs of curlew, and 330 pairs of dunlin”

It is a numbers game. How those numbers are achieved is not just about creating a range of artificial habitat for maximising numbers of ground nesting birds – this from Natural England’s management guidance (9):
“Structural diversity of vegetation is important and thus sympathetic grazing and burning regimes are crucial. Areas of taller heather in places, such as on slopes or along watercourses, may provide suitable nest sites for Merlin, Hen Harrier, Shorteared Owl and Twite. Conversely, shorter vegetation (particularly on flatter, gently sloping land) provides nesting and feeding sites for birds such as Golden Plover and Curlew”

It is also through the wholesale slaughter of potential predators of grouse and of those other ground nesting birds, such as foxes, stoats, and the corvid family of crows, rooks, jackdaw, jay and magpies, again from Natural England’s management guidance (9):
“Grouse moor management also involves intensive predator control and in some locations this may result in increased numbers of certain species of ground nesting birds”

We should not be surprised that the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust are driven to prove that the predator control not only benefits the income from grouse, but also maximises numbers of the conservation industry’s choice of wading birds (10):
“Gamekeepers routinely reduce the number of predators on grouse moors and this is essential for boosting the red grouse population. Our work shows that this also benefits species like lapwing, golden plover and curlew as well”

It is, however, also about illegally persecuting raptors like the hen harrier, which despite being a protected species, is routinely poisoned by gamekeepers (11, 12). As usual, there is an illogic bomb at the centre of this. The hen harrier is persecuted because it feeds on grouse. However Merlin, a small falcon that is also a protected predator, has not suffered from persecution like the hen harrier, as it is too small to hunt grouse. Instead it feeds on smaller birds such as pipits and larks, taken in flight (13):
“The very large number of meadow pipits nesting on the bogs are a major food source for the merlin……Merlin prefer nest sites in the older leggy heather, bracken beds or small trees on the moorland edge and they feed on skylarks and meadow pipits”

It is the habitat management that is at the centre of this article. The Walshaw Moor Estate either owns, or leases, sporting rights over 6,475 hectares of Walshaw and Lancashire Moors in the South Pennines on the boundary between Pendle and Yorkshire. They are driven grouse moors, managed by burning areas of heather to provide patches with young shoots for red grouse to feed on, and by the constant presence of grazing sheep. The estate is said to have increased its production of grouse from 100 brace to 3,000 brace a season over the past 10 years. It is that burning that Natural England considers has been too aggressive, and which is at odds with the current elevated and fashionable status of blanket bog with the conservation industry.

The moors are part of the South Pennine Moors SSSI, the South Pennine Moors SAC and the South Pennine Moors SPA, all designations that lock into place an artificially created upland bog landscape that is shackled to a moorland breeding bird assemblage of golden plover, dunlin, curlew, twite, lapwing, red shank and snipe – plus of course the red grouse as well. Monitoring reports from March 2010 for the SSSI Units that cover the Estate, describe some as being in an unfavourable condition due to “unconsented actions” (probably the frequency of burning) and which enforcement action was being brought to restore the areas so damaged (see for instance Unit 49 (14). Others were in unfavourable but recovering condition (see Unit 46 (15)) because Natural England had served a notice of management scheme on the owner and a Notice of Modification of Consent for actions under section 28E(6) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It was considered recovering on the basis of their usual presumption that, as with the signing of an HLS agreement, the change in consents would be instantly inevitable, irrespective of any evidence of compliance or of monitoring to confirm that.

Natural England wanted to reduce the frequency of burning, even though the estate had been following the management prescriptions and consented operations that had been in force since 1995 (16). Natural England went even further in December 2011 when it served a notice under Section 23 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, seeking a total ban on all burning on the estate's blanket bog (17). This opened a second line of attack by Natural England, the first being on the basis of the SSSI designation, this latter one on the basis of the European designation of the SAC. Obviously, the Notice of Modification of Consent was not having the required bullying effect, and thus the serving of the notice under the Habitat Regulations must have been a desperate act.

The Walshaw Moor Estate resisted the notice of modification of consent, and had set out to appeal the notice through a public inquiry that opened in Leeds on 10 January 2012. The inquiry examined moorland ecology, grazing and burning of heather for grouse rearing in areas of blanket bog and heathland habitats, but also the Secretary of State’s powers and duties under the Habitats Directive and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (18). Despite earlier contrary statements, Natural England sought to ban all burning on blanket bog, whether previously burned or not. On 27th January, and while the inquiry was underway, the High Court ordered a full judicial review of the attempt by Natural England to ban heather burning on the blanket bog moorland (19). Mr Justice Singh, sitting at the High Court in Leeds, rejected Natural England’s attempts in using Section 23 of the Habitats Regulations to impose an immediate ban on heather burning, grazing and the use of vehicles on blanket bog on Walshaw Moor. Instead, he agreed with the Estate’s application that burning, grazing and vehicle use should be allowed pending the judicial review hearing. The estate offered to restrict burning to certain areas and operate in full compliance with Defra’s Burning Code. The judge ordered a full judicial review of the actions of Natural England and said there were serious and important issues involved in the case that were of wider public interest. The judge granted Walshaw Moor Estate permission to argue its case at an expedited judicial review hearing that was to be held in March.

The action by Natural England to impose a ban on burning on the Walshaw Moor Estate had major implications for grouse moor owners and land managers across England, and who reacted badly, such as the reliably ideological and self-serving Martin Gillibrand, secretary of the Moorland Association (20) and the Heather Trust (21). In a surprise move, however, Natural England then announced on 9 March that they were dropping their action against the Walshaw Moor Estate, and that they had “resolved their dispute regarding management activities at Walshaw Moor in the Pennines” (22). It was this surprising climb down that was reported in this Guardian news article, and which led to speculation in the comments thread to the article (and elsewhere (23, 24)) that Natural England had been leaned on by Government, with its likely sympathies for owners of grouse moors. Thus Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA, owns Glenmazeran Estate, a red deer and red grouse estate in Inverness-shire. The one thing Benyon can be accused of, even if he didn't bend the ear of Natural England, is filling his boots with EU farm subsidies (25). It is, however, something you can’t accuse Richard Bannister of doing, the wealthy owner of retail outlet Boundary Mills, and who also owns the Walshaw Moor Estate. I checked Natural England’s Nature on the Map website for agri-environment scheme funding, and the core area of the Estate that is at the centre of the dispute has no funding agreements in place.

It is often a rational decision for some land owners not to get sucked in by the lure of agri-environment funding, since the conditions of an HLS agreement lock-in the level of use and approach of management of the land on penalty of forfeiture of the funding. The land owners take the decision to forgo the funding as it restricts their ability to use their land progressively, as in Mr Bannister’s case of increasing the grouse numbers on his moor. We now get to the heart of why Natural England has been able to announce that it has come to an arrangement on the future management of the estate for the next 25 years (16). It was all about saving face for Natural England, from pushing what was increasingly becoming an unwinnable situation – and of course in reaching Mr Bannister’s price! It is as simple as that. The new conditions, while they may be more stringent than those they replace from 1995, still allow a management approach of burning, grazing and predator control (26). We await now to see how rich the HLS deal will be.

Natural England dug itself a hole here, expecting to change policy on the fly by forcing a replacement of the so-called “earlier, imprecise and unlimited consents” from 1995 (16) to fulfil a now fashionable fixation with sloppy peat; using bullying tactics that the judiciary considered inappropriate, and which for once they were faced by someone who did not back down. Lost in all this is the farce of putting on a pedestal a contrived landscape, tainted with evil by predator control and centuries of over-exploitation, and which can bear no comparison with the natural wildness of the unmanaged bog of Polistovsky. It is entirely symptomatic of the constant delusion of the conservation industry in thinking that Britain’s highly modified and managed secondary habitats have any international importance.

(1) South Pennine Moors SAC Site Details, JNCC

(2) Polistovsky State Nature Reserve, Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment

(3) Rdeisky Zapovednik, Wild Russia, Center for Russian Nature Conservation

(4) Natalia Danilina (2001) The Zapovedniks of Russia, The George Wright Forum 18:48-55

(5) Wilderness Partner, Partnerships for protected areas, PAN Parks

(6) Rare and precious – words devalued by the conservation industry, Self-willed land 26 May 2011

(7) Blanket Bog, UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat Descriptions 2008, JNCC

(8) Where have all the waders gone?... gone to grouse moors everyone, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust News 11 August 2004

(9) Views About Management - A statement of English Nature’s views about the management of South Pennine Moors Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

(10) Nine year study shows why scarce wading birds flourish on grouse moors, GWCT Press Release 11 March 2010

(11) New study links loss of waders and hen harriers to loss of gamekeepers and grouse, Game & Wildlife Conservancy Trust News 27 October 2008, Ssenredliw, Self-willed land 31 October 2008

(12) Persecution wiping out hen harriers on UK's grouse moors, report finds

(13) South Pennine Moors SSSI, Natural England

(14) South Pennine Moors - Unit 49, SSSI unit information, Natural England

(15) South Pennine Moors - Unit 46, SSSI unit information, Natural England

 (16) 25 year agreement on management operations at Walshaw and Lancashire Moors, Natural England News 23 March 2012

 (17) Law firm Gordons undertakes Walshaw Moor Estate Grouse Moor inquiry, Gordons LLP 31st January 2012

 (18) Walshaw Moor Estate Inquiry, Landmark Chambers Inquiries 10 January 2012

(19) High Court orders judicial review of bid to ban heather burning, Landmark Chambers News 2 February 2012

(20) Legal battle 'threatens England's grouse moors, Adam Lusher, Daily telegraph 05 Feb 2012

(21) England - Heather Burning Inquiry - Walshaw Moor Estate, The Heather Trust 5 February 2012

(22) Update on Walshaw Moor, Natural England News 9 March 2012

(23) Wuthering moors 2, Mark Avery 20 March 2012

(24) RSPB raises concerns over Natural England statement, 12 March 2012

(25) Wealthy minister earns £2m in EU farm subsidies which his department tried to cover up, Robert Verkaik, Daily Mail 27 February 2011

(26) Notice of Proposal to Carry Out Operations, Walshaw Moor Estate/Natural England 1 March 2012

31 March 2012