The moral corruptness of Higher Level Stewardship

Blackdown Common

Foxglove Covert

New Forest

Silchester Common

Blacka Moor

Longmoor Common

Allerthorpe Common

Sound Common

Baildon Moor

There is uncertainty about what form agri-environment subsidy will take in the next seven-year period of funding through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (2014-2020) but it is clear that the UK Government will channel an increased proportion of direct aid (Single Payment Scheme) from Pillar One into a new Rural Development Programme for England (Pillar Two) much to the despair of farmers who see that as a loss to their pockets of an automatic entitlement to subsidy with little effort required of them. Thus DEFRA Secretary Paterson has confirmed that 15% of direct aid will be modulated in the next funding period, compared to 9% at present (1). It is likely that Entry Level Stewardship will go, but leaving other schemes in place. Thus it is Paterson’s intention to target Pillar Two payments on the uplands, pointing out that many hill farmers have relied heavily on agri-environment scheme payments for income. In the twisted reality of subsidies, Paterson revealed that upland farming is not viable without subsidy (1):
“There are parts of the UK where farmers can’t survive on food production and Pillar Two payments are absolutely vital”

George Monbiot recently wrote a comprehensive critique of the influence and special pleading he sees rich landowners have over the UK Government’s recent negotiations for reform of the CAP, identifying the National Farmers' Union as “selfish, grasping and antisocial”, asking whether there was “any organisation, except the banks, that secures so much public money for its members while offering so little in return?”(2)

He is also clear about how distorting agri-environment payments are, in terms of holding our uplands in a depauperate state (2):
“In both Wales and the Lake District I've heard how keeping sheep in unsuitable places – slopes subject to high levels of erosion, where grazing is extremely damaging to water retention and wildlife – is sustained only as a result of the extra money the farmers there receive from Pillar 2 payments. Another splendid result for nature”

Of course the conservation industry, which takes no responsibility for food and farming policy, nor farm production for that matter, also exercised their special pleading during CAP negotiations, bemoaning what they see as a watering down of environmental requirements in CAP reform, and less obviously a reduction in agri-environment payment (3,4).

Its worth pointing out that farming is the only sector entirely funded from the EU budget (5) which means that EU spending pretty much replaces the need for any national spending on farming by the UK, as the CAP also replaces any national policy that the UK may have about its own farming industry. I do wonder at those voices calling for a withdrawal from the EU, since the loss of CAP funding would wipe out the income from farming. Turnover in 2012 (including subsidies) was £23,927 million, with an income after costs of £4,704 million (6). Since total subsidies from the CAP in 2012 were £4,433 million (7) then all of UK farming would appear to be teetering on the edge, and there is no guarantee that any UK Government, free of the EU, would subsidise agriculture to such an extent. Perhaps it would concentrate the mind on what we get for the money, especially since that farming ties up over 70% of land in the UK (8).

Green is just a colour

I see great scope for confusion in the detail of the agreement on the new direction for the CAP in terms of how both direct aid and rural development funding are to be used in the UK in what is essentially a purchase of environmental “public goods” from land owners and users. The reforms bring in a “greening” of 30% of the direct payments, dependent on farmers undertaking one of three key measures: crop diversification on arable farms; maintaining existing permanent grassland; and so-called “ecological focus areas” where 5%, and later 7% from 2018, of arable land will consist of fallow areas, terraces, landscape features, buffer strips, etc. (5). This greening is compulsory, and it is intended that there will be a financial penalty for farmers if the greening is not carried out. After a transition period, offenders will lose up to 125% of their greening payment (5). This will of course require a close monitoring of farm activity, something that has signally failed up to now with similar requirements for monitoring for Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition under cross compliance measures of the Single Payment, but where only 1% of farms in receipt of Single Payment are inspected each year (9) and the vast majority of transgressors in 2011 got away with a less than a 5% reduction in their Single Payment (10).

The greening element of direct aid is thus a departure, and when originally proposed last year, would have given confidence to farming organisations to argue before the agreement on CAP reform that there would be no need to modulate funding into environmental measures under rural development. Now, with the commitment by Paterson to modulate 15% into rural development measures like agri-environment schemes, the issue is that there could be a double funding for performing the same environmental action. I don’t get much assurance from the bland exhortation about this coming from the EC, reliant as it is on our agencies involved in handing out CAP funding to oversee it (5):
“To avoid "double funding" of such measures, the payments through RD programmes must take into account the basic greening requirements”

I wonder also whether the process for signing up to these options under the “greening” of direct aid will develop the same moral impoverishment, verging on corruption, as has that for the agri-environment schemes under rural development. I have written so often of how Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) has become the plaything of Natural England, how it is driving the agenda of this “arms length” body, how the conservation industry fill its boots with HLS as it is the core of their business model, how certainly for publicly owned land it takes away the ability of local people to decide for themselves, and puts it in the hands of an unaccountable Natural England, and of the painful irony that Freedom of Information is revealing why ordinary people are losing the freedoms of being able to experience nature in the absence of farming (11,12,13). Not for nothing did the Consultation response to the Triennial Review of Natural England from the conservation industry seek to continue its privileged, cosy relationship and influence with this Government Agency, especially at local level, and which is unsullied, or challenged in any way, by a democratic will expressed through our elected representatives (14):
“If the public are to feel confident that the natural environment is being conserved and enhanced for future generations, they need to know that there is an independent Agency that is free from political interference”

The evidence to be provided here suggests that HLS has replaced Government funding for nature. It is no longer solely an agri-environment scheme to mitigate the effects of farming, as a significant part of it is increasingly having nothing to do with agriculture, although it apes the pressures that farming applies. The fact that it is dispensed with fervour by Natural England in adherence to a dogma that is damaging to many species and habitats, shows the moral corruptness of HLS and the people who administer it.

Freedom of access would be lost

I get challenged on why the corruptness of Natural England’s disposition in its dispersal of HLS funding hasn't been picked up by the media, as though it is my fault that journalists are a lazy bunch of idiots who don't do their job, even when I hand them the information. Instead, my website has become the repository of examples of this corruptness, even to the extent that I find it being searched for evidence of whether I have yet written about a particular location. Thus a keyphrase used in a search engine that resulted in a hit on my website early in July was:
blackdown heathland grazing national trust mark fisher”

Since I knew nothing of this, I tracked it down and, as you would expect, this is yet another shockingly banal example of a disputed heathland restoration on a registered common, with large parts of the summit of Black Down, near Haslemere in West Sussex, having trees cleared after which grazing by cattle has been re-imposed by the National Trust to allegedly help control scrub (15,16). For restoration, read devastation (15):
“This has involved clearing areas of birch and pine, whilst the work is happening it can look a bit destructive, especially while the excavators are destumping and burning up the brash”

The justification is that when grazing ceased on the common (there are no commons rights registered) the “trees began to grow and the wildlife disappeared” (16). This loss of wildlife is a particularly one-eyed view, and which is a typical justification for heathland restoration by the heather farmers, especially when coupled next with “The heath is now being restored and grazed again and many species of wildlife are returning”. So, there was no wildlife associated with the trees? How much wildlife went or was destroyed by felling, destumping and burning? (See also the murder of reptiles at Allerthorpe Common later.)

It starts, as with all these heathland restorations on commons, with an application to enclose the commons with fencing. Commons were never fenced, and it is a matter of law that they should not be fenced now. However, while there is a lot of nostalgic admiration of the commons system, few are prepared to put in the effort of close-herding livestock that was often the means of use of these open, unenclosed spaces (and see later). Thus the application in 2007 to erect 6,340m of stock fencing around Blackdown Common has this (17):
“the only effective way to keep grazing animals safe and to prevent them from straying onto surrounding land or roads is with fencing”

The same oleaginous hyperbole, repeated ad nauseam with each retelling in heathland fencing applications is that “grazing is the essential tool for management of the commons and will help protect against scrub and tree encroachment which would be detrimental to wildlife and would stop people being able to enjoy easy access across the open areas of the commons”

At least an application to fence a commons is a public process, and in which local people have a right to object. Not so the stitched up agreements for HLS. Thus there were objections to the fencing at Blackdown Common on the basis that freedom of access would be lost; that the introduction of cattle would create tensions with dog walkers; and also for those taking young families onto the common. The familiar disdainful treatment of local people by the applicant (the National Trust) was confirmed when further objections were that the details of the proposals were not made easily available, and that the details themselves were incomplete as to the number and type of cattle. More damaging was the charge that the fencing would not achieve the proposed objectives as cattle at other National Trust sites had had little effect on the scrub (and see later). Though I am getting ahead of myself, I should point out that one heathland fencing and grazing application begets the next, and so the faux observations of success of just the first summer of grazing at Blackdown Common were used by the National Trust as justification for an application for fencing the National Trust’s nearby Marley Common (18) the application decision coming after the Blackdown Common application (19).

Needless to say, the fencing application at Blackdown Common was successful. However, how would the National Trust pay for the fencing, but also the two drinking troughs; 10 vehicle gates (what are these for?); 13 bridle gates; and 10 pedestrian gates? Does anyone else feel uncomfortable about the £332,889 the National Trust will trouser from the HLS that is funding this heathland restoration (AG00268560 (20)) and the endless Woodland Grant Scheme funding they have received for the common since 2002, and including a current Woodland Improvement Grant that started in August 2010 (23)?

Interestingly, one objector to the fencing application for Blackdown Common had concluded that the area of the grazing in the proposals would effectively become an extension to the National Trust’s farm at Valewood, to the immediate west of the common. Unsurprisingly, the National Trust secured an HLS agreement of £89,798 for Valewood Farm on exactly the same day as the agreement on Blackdown Common (AG AG00268599 (20)). And to complete the picture, the Trust secured an HLS agreement of £53,438 for Marley Common, also on exactly the same day (AG00272072 (20)).

Blackdown Common has been in the ownership of the National Trust since 1948. If the heathland on the common is that important, why did the Trust do nothing about it for over 50 years? Could it be that it took the contemporary mania for the dogma of heathland restoration amongst the conservation industry, coupled with the considerable financial inducement represented by HLS funding that provides the wherewithal for the conservation industry to consummate its mania?

A unique arrangement involving a bespoke Environment Stewardship Scheme

As HLS funding goes, these examples of the enrichment of the National Trust are pretty much indicative of how the conservation industry fills its boots on a subsidy that is allegedly for farmed environments. However, I chanced upon an unusually different HLS through the small area of heathland restoration that had taken place on a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) in North Yorkshire. Foxglove Covert LNR is located on 38ha of Ministry of Defence land on the Catterick Training Area (21). The HLS agreement was secured in March 2010 for a whacking total of £584,110, an incredibly high amount if you factor it on the basis of an annual payment per hectare over the 10 years of the HLS agreement (AG00299506 (20)). At over £1,500, it is far higher than any of the management options available under the HLS scheme (22). What is also surprising is that £307,334 was paid over after the first year of the agreement (20) and £487,273 has been paid by this year (23). Payments on an area basis would have meant a more even rate of payment over the lifetime of the agreement, so that in the circumstances of this HLS, it suggested a large capital outlay at the beginning, perhaps for a building. I searched the LNR website only to find that its education centre was built in 2002 (24) and that construction of this “modern visitor centre” had been funded through Wildspace!, a grant scheme for LNR from the Big Lottery Fund that was administered by English Nature (25).

Fortunately, I was able to find out what was going on with this HLS agreement by reading the LNR newsletters, rather than what I usually have to do - put in yet another Freedom of Information request to get what is essentially public information. Thus Tony Crease, Treasurer for the Management Group of the LNR wrote just prior to the start of the HLS agreement that “it will provide serious funding for tangible and much-needed capital projects, and it will ensure our educational aspirations are developed in line with current technological advances”(26).

Among the new capital works projects, he tells us, will be “an interactive, fully-supported website, a third hide with a 35m access bridge, an outdoor classroom, better signage and information facilities across the site, a reference library, new information technology and presentation gadgetry in the field centre including microscopes, the virtual complete renewal - and In some cases re-alignment - of much of the footpath network, the replacement of the walkway and dipping platforms in the scrape, and the provision of an information shelter complete with site map and notice board at the stone pile car park. All of this work will be achieved IN YEAR ONE!!”

Major Crease (rtd.) aptly sums up the conclusions I reached on seeing the size of the capital outlay, and reading the shopping list attached to it:
“Make no mistake, this is a unique arrangement involving a bespoke Environment Stewardship Scheme for which we, as a team, are hugely grateful to Natural England and their representatives with whom the contract has been drawn up”

We are told that Poul Christensen, Chair of Natural England, was a visitor to the LNR in April 2010, just after the start of the HLS agreement, bringing with him the Regional Director, and other members of the local Natural England team who had been involved in drawing up the HLS agreement (27). Thus while it could have been a cosy deal cooked up by Rebecca Clarkson, the local Natural England representative, instead this “unique” HLS had sanction at the highest level in Natural England. We thus have here an agri-environment subsidy essentially funding the infrastructure, interpretation and equipment for an educational visitor experience, albeit that it is located on a tightly managed nature reserve.

Overgrazing on the New Forest

Another keyphrase search that hit my website was:
cattle grazing birch control

This threw up the website of Dr Jonty Denton, a freelance ecological consultant living in Hampshire, and who had written a follow-up to his article in the June issue of British Wildlife in which he had questioned the logic of conservation grazing of heathland (28). The article included a case study from the New Forest, where observations on the effect on invertebrates of different grazing regimes between two Inclosures and the open forest showed that nationally scarce species were at risk from overgrazing. His contention was not that grazing was necessarily always wrong, but that it was being carried out by idiots who had no real understanding of what they were doing, and creating harm in the process. Thus it was his observation that summer cattle grazing on dry heath was less than useless, as the cattle ignore birches, their control often given as the reason for cattle grazing. Instead the cattle strip the less common willows, white poplar and aspen, the latter important for supporting threatened insect species. Moreover, he bemoaned the lack of baseline surveys before grazing took place, nor were there any plans that showed what was expected to happen to species other than for the often glib choices given (28):
“It is worrying that, 20 or more years after the grazing revolution, there is no proper scientific study available which looks at the impacts that all of these grazing projects have on invertebrates”

Denton alighted on the relish with which the theories of Frans Vera had been taken up by the conservation industry, pointing out that despite remaining only an hypothesis, the mantra for reintroducing grazing on many heathlands has all too often been: “Well, the New Forest is great so why bother doing research?” However, he said that the consensus was that much of the Forest’s native invertebrate fauna was in decline due to the closely grazed lawns, and the lack herbaceous flowers away from the lawns, and that even flowering shrubs were now too scarce in support of the internationally important saproxylic fauna. A major reason why the New Forest was no longer a prolific site for such as butterflies was also over-grazing.

He laid the blame on the simplistic thinking that justifies conservation grazing from an extrapolation from past land use,  when the evidence does not support that extrapolation (and see Longmoor Common later):
"Furthermore, extrapolation of past land use to current conservation practice is a dangerous game, especially as the historical evidence from many of the heathlands in Berkshire, north Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex, now fenced and grazed by cattle (not ponies), is that they were shepherded, and never grazed with free-ranging livestock"

Denton fears that the blanket use of similarly styled grazing schemes will create greater habitat homogeneity, whereas ecological reasoning indicates that habitat heterogeneity corresponds positively with increasing biodiversity. He gave data collected before reinstatement of grazing on heathland sites in north Hampshire and Surrey that showed they supported a much larger invertebrate fauna than the New Forest. Moreover, he cites the monolithic nature of the SSSI system, and its condition assessment driven primarily by the plant communities and bird interests, for its inability to accommodate the reality of invertebrate communities being dynamic in both space and time:
citations will continue to be millstones which stifle appropriate management and, indeed, in many cases encourage a net loss of native biodiversity in pursuit of goals outlined on the basis of nothing more than the opinions of the experts (and their prevailing causes célebres) available at the time"

Thus Denton believes that management plans with botany-driven goals are often at odds with the needs of the key invertebrate assemblages so that time and again, he has seen “key sensitive areas trashed and trampled” by cattle:
“Pushing everyone into wholesale grazing, using stock and techniques that in many instances are very different from those used in the past, without even the most basic monitoring of the effects on the vast majority of species dependent on these heaths, is surely a dangerous game”

In many cases, the broad goals of grazing were at complete odds with Natural England-supported projects for UK BAP species. Thus Denton observes that grazing is not appropriate for maintaining the kinds of structures favoured by the rarest reptiles, citing a recent report that concluded that “if reptile conservation is the primary objective then livestock grazing is clearly totally inappropriate and should be avoided at all costs” (29). Denton says that it is no coincidence that manually managed reptile micro-habitats are also hotspots for invertebrates. His conclusion comes in a withering rebuke:
“Natural England’s reason for supporting summer grazing on heaths without any monitoring of the impacts on the fauna seems to be based on little more than a panglossian view that this is what happened at some point in the distant past, so that, if something similar is carried out, all will be well”

Denton has also identified, as I have done (11) the disingenuous sleight of hand that goes on in condition monitoring for SSSIs as soon as an HLS agreement is in place (and see Sound Common later):
“If your heathland site is in ‘unfavourable’ condition and you start a grazing regime, it is often automatically reassessed as ‘unfavourable recovering’ condition. But where is the evidence that invertebrates and other fauna are actually recovering?”

In the further comment on his website on the heathland conservation grazing debate, Denton identified more examples of damage done by grazing, including the loss of Harvest Mice and Water Vole from around a pond and other moor grass dominated wet areas, and a delicate well-structured bog community with abundant Sundews had been seriously degraded – “locally reduced to black churned peat” - after grazing was introduced at Woolmer Forest; loss of moss rafts essential for water beetles destroyed by wallowing cattle at Churt Flashes in Surrey; sphagnum and bog pool habitats damaged by over grazing at Folly Bog, Surrey, despite repeated warnings that the cattle should be removed before they had a negative impact; and the loss of caddis fly from Whitmoor Common, Surrey, due to overgrazing of their key breeding areas of moorgrass litter in small pools, sheltered by tussocks (30). He reiterated the threat to several rare butterfly species at heathland sites due to grazing livestock’s preference for willow, poplar and aspen species, and added the devastation of isolated Alder Buckthorn and Broom stands that had already been highlighted locally as important in commissioned invertebrate surveys.

Denton has heard all the excuses given for why grazing has been introduced without some clear and educated view on what the conservation industry expected to bring back, and what might be lost (30):
"In many heated discussions about the need for such a shopping list, the best defence I have heard is ‘well our botanist says it looks nice’. Ecology is a nebulous subject, but this is hardly a scientific approach”

One such excuse used to be that the conservation industry had to rely on farmers to provide stock, and that they didn’t do what they were told. However, several wildlife trusts now have their own herds and herdsman, such as Surrey Wildlife Trust, but Denton says that little has changed:
“….the sickening sight of bald, flowerless trampled ground which was the year before blossom rich and humming with invertebrates (and crawling with herptiles) is all too familiar. Indeed in many cases grazing schemes are so out of control that the claim is all too often that the desired results (whatever they maybe) can be achieved simply through how the sites look to the individual grazing officers!”

Dr Chris Reading, one of the authors of the recent report cited by Denton on the effect of conservation grazing on reptile populations, left a comment on Denton’s website (31). He noted the lack of any scientific testing of the effects of grazing on wild plants and animals, which he felt were urgently needed but fearing it unlikely to happen as “NE , for whatever reason, seem to be wed to the dogma that grazing is a good and beneficial heath land management tool. Indeed, after the publication of our two reports last year local NE staff became extremely abusive towards me!”

His report had had some uncompromising conclusions about conservation grazing, that it “appears to be governed by a ‘one size fits all’ mentality in which the specific habitat requirements of different animal groups are ignored resulting in habitat mismanagement and the conservation of nothing in particular, other than dogma” and that the management of lowland heathlands in the UK, through the use of “conservation grazing”, amounts to “little more than large scale ‘habitat gardening’ in which the primary objective appears to be the achievement of an aesthetically pleasing landscape, driven by low financial cost and the welfare of the grazing livestock, rather than concerns about habitat and wildlife conservation”(29)

Reading, in his comment, took aim at who he thought was at fault (31):
“Unfortunately, the majority of NE staff appear to fall into the category of ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’ resulting in the use of untargeted grazing. The use of grazing in this way manages for nothing in particular”

You will not be surprised to learn that all the locations where Denton identifies harm from grazing are covered by HLS. Thus Surrey Wildlife Trust is pocketing £1,026,782 for Folly Bog (AG00268447 (20)) and £466,901 for Whitmoor Common (AG00286838 (20)); Waverly Borough Council will receive £572,190 for Churt Flashes (AG00297826 (20)) and the Herpetological Conservation Trust will get £351,664 for the half of Woolmer Forest that they manage (AG00251625 (20)). The New Forest is a much larger area than the foregoing, but even so the HLS of £15,940,595 that the Verderers of the New Forest will receive (AG00300016 (20)) is an astonishing amount. Also astonishing is that the HLS was only agreed by Natural England on the basis that it would be a partnership between the Verderers, the Forestry Commission (FC) and the New Forest National Park Authority, all three organisations carving up the funding between them (32).

That word “unique” is used again in relation to the New Forest HLS (32) and it is certainly so since the FC is a non-ministerial government department that is barred from receiving agri-environment subsidy, as is Natural England. Thus £750,000 is channelled each year via the Verderers to the FC to continue a program of wetland restoration initiated under a LIFE-Nature project of the EU (33,34). The Verderers control a budget of £800,000 per year that is to be spent on the Verderers Grazing Scheme, a subsidy for the commons of the New Forest to be grazed, but which also had elements of capital expenditure that were identified on the fly, such as the proposal to buy and run an incinerator in a Disposal Scheme for Unwanted Ponies (35). Finally, the balance each year is for use at the discretion of the HLS Partners Board in other projects that contribute to HLS objectives (32). In an unusual move for HLS funding, the Board opened up that balance “for all within the Forest to bid upon”, including Parish Councils and other smaller community groups, and which raised an expectation that it then had to manage (36-39).

Quite how Denton would react to the knowledge that from 1st March 2013, the funding for grazing on the New Forest will have gone up a further £35ha because an additional HLS option - HR1 Cattle Grazing Supplement - will be added to the agreement, and will bring in a further £650,000 a year (40). How that will be spent is beyond me, because it is meant to be about dangling money to get more and more cattle grazing in the New Forest, when there are SSSI units that are already overgrazed and damaged from cattle trampling, and with cattle having to be withdrawn (40).

More cattle trampling, more damage

There are other examples of where grazing is resulting in harm, and which is funded by agri-environment schemes. I came across a review of management on Silchester Common in N. Hants where, unusually, monitoring had taken place annually after the common was fenced in the winter of 1994/95 and grazing introduced, funded by the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, a forerunner to HLS (41). A number of exclosures were erected in different plant communities across the common and paired surveys of the flora inside and outside of six of them were carried out. The resultant reports noted that the preferred grazing areas of the cattle were the wet mire areas where the reduction in tussocks of moorgrass led to a loss of important hibernation sites for reptiles and invertebrates. In addition, there was a loss of bog wildflowers, while at the same time increasing the ability of tree saplings to germinate in the newly created open ground, thus defeating a main aim of the grazing:
“The cattle do eat some of the seedlings but there are so many that it is impossible for the problem to be kept under control by the present stock numbers. Increasing the numbers of livestock alone is not a viable option as trampling damage is already adversely affecting the Sphagnum in the mires and overgrazing is also a problem for some species. The most notable example of this is Bog asphodel, which has had a marked decline”

Silchester Common is now covered by an HLS that will bring in £171,329 for Silchester Parish Council (AG00307479 (20)).

Trampled bog asphodel has occurred under cattle grazing that started on the back of another Countryside Stewardship Scheme, this one at Blacka Moor near Sheffield, the scheme agreed in 2000, the fencing put in place in early 2005 (42) and grazing commencing in early 2007, all against the backdrop of objection from the local community (43). It has taken some time, but there is now authoritative support for the views of local people about how damaging the grazing has been. Thus Prof. Ian Rotherham, Sheffield Hallam University, recently observed (44):
“On Blackamoor, an upland local nature reserve owned by Sheffield City Council but managed by Sheffield Wildlife Trust, the site has been damaged by grazing with cattle at inappropriate times of the year. One locally rare grassland plant, in part a reason the site was established as a reserve originally, has been virtually eradicated by summer grazing and the associated neutral grassland including several orchid species has been very badly degraded. The rare peat-bog flora, again a major reason for designation as a SSSI, has also been damaged and driven to localized extinction. Interestingly, the problematic areas of bramble and bracken- dominated encroachment appear in some areas to have worsened; again to the detriment of target conservation communities. These changes are again due to recent management guidance from National Government”

Sheffield Wildlife Trust entered into an HLS on Blacka Moor in March this year for £184,321 (AG00394943 (23)) and thus pre-empting yet again any local discussion about management of this publicly owned moor (45).

I have written before of the objections to an application from the National Trust in 2007 to enfence Longmoor Common in the Lake District and re-impose cattle grazing (46). Local people there, including Ennerdale & Kinniside Parish Council, foretold that the cattle grazing would lead to poaching and damage to the wet and marshy areas of this heathland common, so that the natural habitat would deteriorate. It was also pointed out in the objections that no independent habitat or species survey of the common had been carried out, and which would be a pre-requisite to establish a baseline for the “experiment” intended to improve the common for butterflies. The correspondence I had from one local person at the time told me much about why fencing commons was just an easy convenience for the conservation industry. Thus the middle to the eastern end of the common “is where the last tethered/hand held grazing used to take place by the previous owners of Long Moor Head farm (Mr & Mrs J Brough). I knew Phyllis Brough quite well because her daughter and mine are the same age and went to Ennerdale school together. She would stand for hours on that part of the common with some cows – the things a woman will do for her man eh? – though this would be 20 - 30 years ago. My dad who is 89 next month also reckons that Mrs Roper who lived at Long Moor farm did the same thing 50 odd years ago”

Unfortunately for those local people, their fears were realised very shortly after grazing commenced in July 2011. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made to Natural England revealed that there had been damage from overgrazing (47):
"The vegetation structure of Longmoor was significantly impacted by the grazing pressure, particularly over the summer period when the marsh fritillary requires robust plants of Devil’s bit scabious for egg laying and subsequent larval growth. The overgrazing on this site has been recognised as a major contributory factor to population reduction on Longmoor”

Thus the “experiment” to reintroduce marsh fritillary butterfly through depositing larvae had consequently been unsuccessful once the grazing had started, with the count of butterfly webs dropping dramatically in 2011-12 (48). A local informant tells me that eight or nine cattle were released on a regular basis into the now enfenced commons area, seemingly regardless of ground conditions. The wetter areas of the common over 2012 deteriorated into a “shocking state”, and the drier areas including along the edge of the road were rapidly being reduced to “a featureless prairie by paddling cattle”. Where Natural England referred to reduced Devil’s-bit Scabious (the host plant for the butterfly) and other flora, the reality was that there was almost no Scabious, no orchids, no Ragged Robin and no cottongrass.

An HLS agreement has covered the common from 2009, paid to the Taylors of Longmoor Head farm, who have the grazing rights on the common by virtue of the rights being attached to the farm property. A sizeable element of the HLS was capital expenditure, as revealed by one of the FOI requests (AG00287528 – be aware that the HLS breakdown supplied by Natural England only shows expenditure related to the common, whereas the HLS agreement also covers fields on Longmoor Head farm (49)). Little fencing was needed to complete the enclosure of the common, because it is mostly backed onto by farms, the custom being on commons that these farms have to maintain their own boundaries with the common (50). However, two very expensive highway cattle grids were installed at either end of the road that crosses through the middle of the common. Cattle grids were also specified for the entrances to the various farms that gain their access across the common, so that the total cost of these cattle grids came to £62,000, or two-thirds of the original £93,184 at which this HLS was first reported (AG00287528 (20)). You might think this is an awful lot of money for trashing a common, and failing to get some butterflies established. Perhaps Natural England were also embarrassed about this, because they terminated that HLS agreement after just 3.25 years (nine months after the grazing commenced) and started a new agreement for the remainder of the usual 10 year period, which of course now does not show that massive capital expenditure (AG00417451 (23)). You might also want to ask why the Taylors were paid for grazing the common for just over 2 years when they weren’t actually putting cattle on the common - by my calculation some £6,000? Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Adders are definitely known to have been killed

Grazing is not the only cause of HLS-induced damage on heathland restoration sites. I was alerted to a serious incident that took place on Allerthorpe Common, near Pocklington, East Yorkshire, in March 2012, by the discussion forum Reptiles & Amphibians of the UK (RAUK). Chris Dawson asked whether anyone else had witnessed the devastating land clearance that had been carried out in what he considered was important reptile habitat (51):
“Heavy machinery, diggers etc has been brought in and vast areas have been cleared down to soil level leaving bare earth compacted down with tyre marks! A few very small islands have been left within these bare areas but they are very few. Notices have been posted stating that the work does look drastic but heather will grow back and it has been done with the full backing of Natural England. How can they justify this destruction of habitat?”

The responses to his post confirmed similar heavy handed management at heathland restoration sites in East Devon, Dorset and Suffolk, and a general mistrust of the conservation industry when it came to protection of the more common reptiles on heathland sits (as I have written about before (52)). Dawson wrote a “strong letter of complaint to the idiots at Natural England demanding answers”, and contacted his local newspaper. He took photographs of the destruction the following day, which he posted on the forum, and identified the entirely scalped area where he had seen 30 to 40 common lizards the year before (53). Many forum responders said that they could have posted identical photographs of destruction from elsewhere, and there was dismay that there appeared to have been no supervision of the work at Allerthorpe by anyone with experience of reptile habitat.

I traced the local newspaper report that had been prompted by the contact from Dawson, and it documents the disgust of a number of people who regularly walk at Allerthorpe (54) an open access Forestry Commission site that is a small pine wood plantation in the Vale of York (55). The newspaper article revealed that Natural England had sanctioned several acres of scrubland to be cleared by Perry Forestry using a tractor and rotavator, and funded by HLS (54). If you are in doubt about the devastating crudeness of this clearance, then look at the equipment that this contractor uses for heathland restoration (56). The newspaper article also gave me a first glimpse of the damage limitation that would be sought by Simon Christian, the Lead Conservation and Land Management Adviser for the Yorkshire East region of Natural England (54):
“In the long term, areas will be improved for adders. The works in the long term will hopefully improve adders”

This piece of waffle got short shrift in a comment on the RAUK forum from Gemma Fairchild, Essex County Recorder Reptiles & Amphibians (57):
“What utter rubbish considering the next step is to introduce grazing cattle. The area was already ideal for adders, destroying it is never going to be good in the short, long or any term. I get so frustrated at this utter nonsense they spout. I've seen so many adder populations crash after these large scale clearance schemes it makes me weep”

I also found a Forestry Commission news release about Allerthorpe from 2006, which stated that 25,000 conifers had been felled in the preceding eight years, with the intention of creating 50 acres of new heathland (58). Adders would be “just some of the creatures benefiting from this Forestry Commission plan”. It seems that Allerthorpe had been included a couple of years before in the Vale of York Heathland Project, a Heritage Lottery Funded national program of English Nature (Natural England as was) called Tomorrow’s Heathland Heritage (59). The news release was about the grazing that was being introduced to the felled areas, in the shape of 13 Longhorn cattle owned by local farmer Richard Parish (58):
“They are on a mission to munch through unwanted vegetation and re-growth, allowing heather, grass and plants to flourish, which in turn will help snakes, lizards, birds and insects”

Well, where have we heard that before? If these cattle were so effective, why was this destructive clearance taking place through HLS funding only six years after grazing was first instituted? Paul Edgar, Senior Environmental Specialist (Amphibians & Reptiles) with Natural England, jumped in to the discussion on the RAUK forum, saying that he was fuming that this was yet another example of inappropriate management destroying reptile habitat (60):
“I’ve spoken to one of the local staff members who has been involved and who, now he has visited the site, frankly admits that this was a disastrous mistake, pure and simple, and that he’s absolutely mortified”

He explained that as the damaged area had only been scrubbed up with 6-10 year old birch, it would obviously have still provided good habitat for reptiles. Thus he concluded that the Natural England brief for the works had not been as detailed as it should have been:
“As is plain to see from the photos, heavy machinery was used, which was the completely wrong method for an area like this (clearly heavy machinery should only be used where there is no reptile habitat whatsoever remaining), and at the worst possible time of year to boot. As soon as Natural England staff became aware of what was happening the work was stopped and less damaging methods were advised (I’m told that our local staff are currently following up whether this advice was followed)”

What he wrote next was very disturbing, as it indicated that adders had in fact been killed during the clearance that had started around 6,7 March 2012:
“A large percentage of the core reptile habitat has apparently been destroyed, and adders are definitely known to have been killed, so there’s little doubt that damage has been done to the conservation status of reptiles on Allerthorpe Common. There’s no point blaming the agreement holder, the contractor or anyone giving prior advice about the reptile interest – it was Natural England’s responsibility to oversee the work”

In a subsequent post, Edgar wrote that the local Natural England staff involved in overseeing the HLS agreement had admitted that a serious mistake was made in ensuring the right people had the right guidance (61). However, it was two months after that post before evidence was given on the forum about the killing of adders. Andrew Hayfield had heard about the work being undertaken at Allerthorpe, and had gone to watch the contractors (62):
“Afterwards I went to check the status of the adders. To my absolute horror I found countless dead adders, the vast majority being adult females”

Hayfield collected these along with witness statements, photographs of the dead snakes, and reported it to the police. He also sent the police Wildlife Liaison Officer all the correspondence he had had between himself and Natural England, and the Amphibian and Reptile Group. The police eventually told him that no action would be taken, even though, as Hayfield pointed out, if he was caught killing an adder he would probably be locked up. Hayfield estimated from the number of dead snakes that he found, that it was likely that around 50-100 adders were killed altogether, but there would also have been common lizards and slow worms killed as well. He had got the “brush off” from Natural England, which made him rail at its hypocrisy and double standards:
“they can preach to conserve wildlife but when it comes down to it they've made it a hell of a lot worse for these adders”

Last November, I put in an FOI request to Natural England for the HLS application and agreement that covered these works on Allerthorpe Common (AG00341735 (63)). The HLS agreement is dated 1 November 2010, but the name of the recipient of the funding was redacted because this person is a Sole Trader (64). This is also why the start date and value of the HLS is undisclosed in public information (23). The recipient could be Richard Parish because of his involvement before at Allerthorpe in grazing with longhorn cattle (see above) and because his longhorn cattle graze Skipwith Common, another heathland restoration site that is covered by an HLS (AG00236237 (23,65,66)) and the applicant for the HLS is described in the Farm Overview and Opportunities Form of the Farm Environment Plan for Allerthorpe as having “a total of 35 pedigree longhorn cattle, 15 of these graze on Allerthorpe Common” (67). I checked with the Forestry Commission through an FOI, and the area on Allerthopre Common that is covered by the HLS is not subject to a lease, and thus it must be on the basis of a tenancy or licence to graze from the Forestry Commission (68). The name of the local Natural England officer involved in drawing up and supervising the HLS agreement is also redacted in the various information returned to me, but not that of Simon Christian (there are many repeats of his complacent assurances about the clearance work) or other senior Natural England staff, such as Sarah Woolven, Natural England’s Yorkshire East Land Management Team Leader (69). It was Woolven who was contacted by PC Julie Turvill, the Wildlife Liaison Officer, and who had a meeting on site with her and Simon Christian, which as we know eventually came to nothing.

The names of the people who sent in letters and emails of complaint are also redacted. Thus an email to Natural England on the 11 March was headed Damage of Habitat at Allerthorpe (69):
“I know that there was a problem with encroaching birch trees on the open heath areas but to devastate such an important habitat/ecosystem to solve the problem beggars belief….. Whoever sanctioned the work obviously lacked knowledge in this matter, failed to consider all the wildlife concerned or did not consult the relevant experts. I am disgusted with the lack of regard”

Under the heading of Environmental Vandalism at Allerthorpe Common, a complaint by email of the 12 March 2012 opened with (69):
“On visiting Allerthorpe Common today, I was utterly appalled at the environmental destruction caused at the common undertaken purportedly in the name of conservation. This is the latest of many misguided conservation measures on lowland heath sites that has resulted in unfavourable outcomes to reptiles in particular, including overgrazing at Allerthorpe which has denuded vegetation at hibernaculi and egg laying sites for grass snakes”

The damage caused by the overgrazing of prior years would come up again. A letter dated 15 March 2012 opened with “It is with a mixture of emotion that I write – incandescent rage, sorrow, regret and, most of all puzzlement” (69). This complainant was a frequent visitor to Allerthope, and had witnessed over the last five years an increase in the numbers of Garden Warbler on the common. There was one area in particular that was favoured by at least 3 pairs, but the scrub in which they had nested had been cleared away. Other birds had thrived in the scrubby habitat that had developed on Allerthorpe since the felling of conifers, such as Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Cuckoo and other migrants such as Blackcap and Chiffchaff. However “At one fell swoop, in the interests of ecological correctness, their breeding territory has been razed to the ground……... I am appalled by the wantonness and speed of the operation and consider your action to be both reckless and irresponsible”

Hayfield emailed on the 19 March about his visit the day before, when he had collected up the mangled corpses of dead adders. He attached photographs of these, and they are included with the FOI response (70). He described what he had found (69):
“After 5 minutes of walking over the soil I found what I thought was shed but upon closer inspection realised was a deceased female adder or part of one, a little to the left its head. I was very angry at this stage as it was clear it had been killed by the diggers. I decided to search the soil a see if there were anymore deceased snakes. After only 100 yards I found another dead female but this time it was more intact and could clearly be seen to have been ripped in half”

A complaint in another email on the 19 March pointed out that the earlier felling of the conifers and the subsequent regeneration of birch had created the ideal habitat for adders, drawing them to this space, which was subsequently degraded by overgrazing. You might conclude that it would thus be reckless beyond belief to then use such destructive grinding and mulching to clear those spaces, when “the extent of the work has probably wiped out approximately 75% of the reptile population on the Allerthorpe Common area” (69). The works and the “untold destruction of a wide variety of wildlife” had left this complainant “utterly sickened”

The FOI response also provided me with all the “back chatter” around the complaints between various Natural England officers (69). It in no way reflects the seriousness with which the complainants and, exceptionally, Paul Edgar of Natural England, appear to have viewed the destruction, other than Robert Burnett, Natural England Yorkshire East Area Manager, who in reply to one complainant grudgingly allowed that it had “not been the finest hour for the environment” (69).

Much of the financial information of the HLS on Allerthorpe is also redacted, but between the application and the agreement, it is possible to work out the payments that will be made for the various HLS menu options and capital payments (64). Thus area-based payment for restoration of forestry areas to lowland heathland (that requires that grazing occurs after clearance); supplement for native breeds at risk (the long horn cattle); and a bracken control supplement would come to a total of £84,438. Various area payments for pond and scrape creation, pond restoration, and chemical bracken control come to £2,529. But it is one large capital item that stands out in what is probably an overall total for the HLS of around £142,000, and that is the £44,525 for “major preparatory work for heathland recreation or restoration”. This would have been used to fund the destruction of the adders and other reptiles on Allerthorpe Common, and their habitat.

We are managing for the habitat, not individual species

I have an example of a nationally scarce liverwort that has been put at risk by tree felling on an HLS-driven heathland restoration site. The liverwort, Minute Pouncewort (Cololejeunea minutissima) (71)) was found during a survey last year of the bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) on Sound Common (72). The survey was commissioned by Sound & District Parish Council to highlight one of the threats to this small, registered common near Nantwich in Cheshire, and which has no registered owner or commons rights. This is an archetypal case study of the driven expectation of the heather farmers and the agri-environment subsidy harvesters over reality. They latched on to this common because the whole of it had been lazily designated a heathland SSSI site back in 1963, based on spurious evidence of aerial photographs from limited time slots and small scale historical maps, and despite having a complex hydrology that would suggest otherwise. The common appears to have a perched water table, with a likely semi-permeable layer overlying the deep sands of the area. The deep sand with normal drainage would give rise to dry heathland when under intensive exploitation. However, the higher water table over the common makes it more likely that its ecology would be that of a wet woodland composite in which small areas of wet heathland may exist where the drainage is less impeded. The SSSI notification, while dismissing the woodland cover as secondary in origin because it has developed over the last 40 years (so what!) does note the presence of a number of mature trees, especially oak, suggesting a longer history of trees on the site (73).

The Parish Council have consistently resisted the notion that the common is a degraded heathland site, preparing its own management plan in the mid-90s that was in contradiction to that of Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council, the latter securing a Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement on the common, but subsequently not implementing the heathland restoration entailed in that (74). Cheshire East Council (CEC) became the successor authority after reorganization, and in 2011 produced a five year work plan for heathland restoration on the common in conjunction with Natural England, and which involved tree removal, turf stripping and heather seeding. These work plans were produced without the involvement of any representative of the Parish Council, and so it responded to CEC, asking what data substantiated the assertion by CEC and Natural England that the main value of the common resided in the extent of its heathland characteristics that it was alleged “continue to be degraded” (75). The Parish Council also noted that the work plans made no reference to non-heathland species that would be adversely affected within the areas of work, and that they appeared to have been produced without any survey work and in the absence of justifying data, and as such they had ignored standard guidelines and were unscientific. A Parish Councillor also wrote twice to Dr Tim Hill, Director Evidence & Chief Scientist of Natural England, also asking what scientific evidence there was for the designation as heathland, and pointed out that there had been no surveys carried out prior to production of the works plan, nor had there been any effective Parish input (74, 76).

CEC were obviously unmoved by this (as it would seem also the Chief Scientist of Natural England) and the council went on to secure an HLS for £13,525 (AG00426104) the agreement starting on 1 November 2012. It would not surprise you to know that on 20 December 2012, the Assessment Description for the Condition of Unit 1 of Sound Heath SSSI was changed by Rob Arden from "Unfavourable - No change" to “Unfavourable - recovering” with the following Condition assessment comment (77):
“A programme of heathland restoration at Sound Heath commenced in the autumn of 2012, moving the site towards favourable condition”

Because of the disagreement between the conservation industry and local people about what was the authentic ecology of the common, I put in an FOI request last March for the HLS application and its accompanying Farm Environment Plan (FEP), as well as the agreement itself and any correspondence there had been for the last three years about the agreement, particularly with Sound and District Parish Council (78). Asking for correspondence would get me the back chatter, but what I was really interested to see were the likely disparities between what local people knew about Sound Common, and what was asserted in the FEP. The FEP identifies and assesses the condition of features of wildlife interest, and on which is based the choices from the menu of management options available through HLS. My FOI request was mentioned at a meeting of the liaison group in early April, an un-minuted, invitation-only group belatedly set up by CEC just two weeks before the HLS agreement started (79). Apparently Natural England staff at this meeting made some uncomplimentary comments about me.

The HLS agreement shows that it will fund the tree felling, turf stripping and heather seeding of the works plan, which is essentially about ripping a big whole in woodland on the common (80). No wonder the turf will have to be stripped since it is unlikely that heather will grow in soils that have been cleared of deciduous woodland. The stripping may also conveniently take away the evidence that this is not a heathland site. It is this combination of highly invasive work, started last October, that puts the liverwort at risk, more of which later. What came back in the FOI request for the FEP was just one page with just four lines, two for each of the units of the SSSI. All we are given are the areas of each unit, their condition assessment of “Unfavourable – No Change”, the area within each unit that is heathland (one quarter of Unit 1, less than a sixth of Unit 2) as well as some notes that describe the heathland as degraded - “invaded” by or “succeeded” to oak and birch, the heather mature/degenerate in Unit 1, and a small amount of pioneer heather in Unit 2. Both units have “Restoration required” against them.

This is a stunningly perfunctory amount of information to justify the amount of destruction that has been and will be wrought on Sound Common. It was unlike any other FEP I had seen, and so I requested an internal review of Natural England's handling of my FOI request, in particular why there was very limited detail in Part 2 FEP Environmental Features Data Sheet, and that there was no copy of Part 3 FEP farm overview and opportunities. It was then that I learnt that the application for HLS for Sound Common had gone through the Fast Track process, which is where Natural England itself carries out the FEP, rather than it being produced by a third party, and this was given as explanation for “why there is the limited amount of data in Part 2 of the FEP and Part 3 Farm Overview” (81). (I didn’t get Part 3 in the first place, but what’s the point of going back to Natural England again!) In the guidance for the Fast Track FEP, it says that the mandatory information required must be able to be collected by only a single visit by one Natural England officer (82). The more cynical amongst you might think this very convenient for the local Natural England officer, who thus doesn’t have to justify why it was considered to be heathland, and I suspect that one visit never, ever really took place. It also seems an unusual situation where, in the Fast Track process, it is not the applicant that decides which options from the HLS management menu to pursue, based on a third party FEP, but what that Natural England officer decides! We have confirmation of this within the agreement/application document returned under the FOI request, in which there is a page entitled Sound Heath HLS application notes. The notes open with (see page 7 of (80):
"I’ve completed the FEP map and forms so you don’t need to worry about them"

The notes then go on to list the HLS option - H02 (Restoration of lowland heathland ) - that the Natural England officer has chosen, and then covers the Capital works - "this is the tricky bit to work out how to fund" - and which includes the potential for funding a hydrological survey, along with funding for tree removal, scrub control and management, and scraping through (turf stripping). All these appear in Part 4 Capital works plan and payments of the HLS agreement, in particular a sum of £2,500 for the hydrological survey is included under the code WPS, but the survey does not have to be completed until September 2015 (see pages 17 and 28 in (80)). Considering the situation at Sound Common, you might have expected such a survey to have been carried out before the HLS application (see above).

The back chatter tells us how disingenuous the heathland obsessives can be. Richard Doran, Countryside Service Development Manager at CEC, sought advice from Natural England in early October 2012, after a Parish Councillor had sent him the bryophyte survey of Sound Common (83). He was concerned that the felling and clearing work that was shortly to start on the common in mid-October would impact the mosses and liverworts:
“I’d appreciate advice as to the appropriate way forward so as not to antagonize the situation”

Perhaps he should have taken more notice of the fact that Newton, in his bryophyte report, was not able to comment on the potential impact of the woodland clearance, because at the time of her survey, the precise details of the woodland bashing on the common were not available to her. Newton, however, hoped that her survey would ensure their protection (72):
"Without detailed knowledge of the woodland managment envisaged, I am not in a position to comment, but I trust that the bryophyte survey of woodland areas will be helpful in coming to a decision"

You might feel that Doran left it a bit late anyway to seek advice from Arden about the woodland bryophytes, considering the destruction on the common was only days away. Rob Arden, the Natural England officer responsible for Sound Heath SSSI (77) forwarded the survey to Mike Sutcliffe, Natural England non-vascular plant specialist. Arden also copied in Isabel Alonso, Natural England’s Senior Environmental Specialist – Heathlands, a figure well known to objectors to heathland restoration. Here is a piece of Alonso's nonsense, her assumption being that objectors to heathland restoration are just uninformed (84):
"When heathland restoration has trouble from people who don’t like felling trees or grazing livestock, it’s not because they don’t value the place, it’s because they don’t understand its natural and social history"

Arden set the tone of the interchange at the outset by scapegoating an individual Parish Councillor for the 20 years of dispute over the designation of the common. What Arden sought from Sutcliffe was advice on whether the results of the bryophyte survey might be justification for adapting the heathland restoration programme, because it was important that any decisions they made "stood up to scrutiny". Sutcliffe replied:
“As far as adapting the restoration programme all that I would suggest is to consider not felling the trees with Orthotrichum lyellii (since it is a very recent discovery in Cheshire) and maybe also Cololejeunea minutissima and one or two trees nearby to provide humidity”

The latter point is important, the retaining of trees to afford the humid conditions that are needed for the epiphytic growth of these and other mosses and liverworts. Arden pointed out that Orthotrichum lyellii (a moss) on the common was not found in an area that would be subject to heathland restoration, but that Cololejeunea minutissima was found on willows where the restoration plan involved clearing the trees.

Alonso, as ever quick to add some gloss to heathland, asked Arden whether there were any surveys from the time of designation “perhaps showing some rarer species which may be not doing well as a result of the neglect? Could it be that more heathland-specific species being replaced by more common ones?” Arden forwarded Sutcliffe a list of bryophytes recorded at the common up to 1995, but which did not specify their location on the common. While Sutcliffe noted a few that were missing from the list from 2012 and were associated with open or heathy sites, none of these were scarce, and he drew no conclusion as to whether that supported Alonso’s thesis, unlike Arden and Alonso!

The advice from Sutcliffe not to fell the willows that had Cololejeunea minutissima must have been frustrating for Arden, as it seems he phoned Sutcliffe, and afterwards was then able tell Alonso that Sutcliffe had changed his mind, and that the trees with the Coloejeunea minutisssima on it could be felled, but that the felled material would be moved to one of the areas of woodland to be retained:
“The good news is that Mike agreed that the willow(s) with that particular liverwort growing on it could come down, as it was bang in the middle of the area to be restored”

Arden then informed Doran, who presumably was poised with chainsaw in one hand and an identification key for liverworts in the other (85):
“Our specialist agreed that it was appropriate to fell this tree in the context of overall objectives of the site and the fact we are managing for the habitat, not individual species, but it would be a good idea to keep the trunk of the tree with the liverwort on within the site – perhaps prop it up against a willow in an area which is not to be felled”

So, destroying woodland and all the species associated with it, both above ground and in the soil, for the sake of heather is not managing for an individual species?

Not doing something that they were already not doing

Closer to home is the HLS-driven heather restoration on my local moor, and which is putting at risk Adder’s-Tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum) an unusual and uncommon fern, as well as other wild nature. Baildon Moor is a publicly owned, semi-upland urban common on the northern side of the Aire Valley in West Yorkshire. The moor used to be run with a thousand sheep, but they were slaughtered in July 2001 after being identified as potentially having had "dangerous contact" with a foot and mouth infected area (86). Since then, none of the commoners have actively grazed the moor, and a remarkable transformation is taking place with rowan springing up in the bracken, the seeds pooped out by birds, and young oaks appearing, the acorns distributed by jays and black birds. It had been a proposal of mine at a rural workshop in 2004 to re-wood the bracken areas on the moor (87). My disappointment at the lack of support for the proposal has been amply compensated by the wonder at watching this ecological restoration of the moor from my back window, now that the grazing pressure has been taken off.

As a Parish Councillor for the North Ward of Baildon, much of the moor was in my ward, and thus I responded to concerns from local people about misuses of it (tipping, unsanctioned works etc.). One complaint was about bracken rolling on the moor in June 2009, works that Bradford District Council itself commissioned. Apart from anything, the timing and the way it was being done was entirely ineffective, as had been similar rolling the year before. More importantly, it was putting at risk the young rowan saplings appearing in the bracken through natural regeneration. I wrote a brief for the Parish Council (88) and successfully sought a resolution to ask Bradford District Council to cease bracken control on Baildon Moor, as it constituted a waste of money (89).

Danny Jackson, Countryside and Rights of Way Manager of Bradford Council, responded to the letter (90) and was invited to brief the Parish Council meeting in October 2009. Separately, Jackson apologised to me for the unsolicited email I received from a jobsworth on his staff, the content and tone of which was entirely inappropriate. I described this as a "rancorous missive" in a briefing I wrote for the Parish Council in advance of the meeting (91). I reported that I had précised the content of the inappropriate email, and of the proposal to seek funding for management of the moor in Jackson's response, to the Head of Conservation of a Wildlife Trust in the Midlands. This was his reply (91):
Your difficult time over the bracken on your local moor just shows how we need to get people thinking, instead of blindly following the dogma in all the manuals. I call it the bone-headed approach. If the manual said 'jump over the cliff', would you do it? If the moor can't be grazed there seems little point in trying to control the bracken anyway - it'll keep coming back, along with the trees. Furthermore, unless there are good populations of open ground species remaining, all they will get is a few acid grassland plants, as on a site near where I live"

I noted the reactionary and inconsistent approach that Bradford Council took to issues on the moor, and gave a survey of the contention that had arisen from many recent examples of management of publicly-owned commons. If only to eradicate the off-the-cuff action that was taking place, I recommended to the Parish Council that we ensured that the best practice guidelines for agreeing management on commons be adhered to in the discussion about management of the moor.

At the Parish Council meeting on 12 October 2009, Jackson explained that the Countryside Service wanted popular support for their activity on the moor, and that he was seeking HLS funding for the bracken management. He said that the discussions about the scheme were at an early stage, but that he would return to the Parish Council at a later meeting to update on progress (92). Jackson came back to the Parish Council in May 2010 to report that the HLS agreement had been approved but that the detail needed to be agreed. He said the Countryside Service wished to enlist the support of the Parish Council in working out that detail ((93) but see later). In spite of subsequent requests by the Parish Council clerk, nothing further was heard from the Countryside Service on the progress of the HLS application. In 2011, during correspondence about fly tipping on the moor, I was alerted to the completion of the HLS agreement. Thus in the absence of any communication from the Countryside Service, I made Freedom of Information requests to Natural England and Bradford Council for copies of the HLS application and agreement, and any correspondence or documentation that they held about the agreement (AG00295822 (94,95)).

So much for all the guidance commissioned by Natural England on consultation to agree management on common land, and which Bradford Council as owner of the common had ignored (96,97,98). This was particularly galling when it transpired that the application for HLS, and which contained the proposed options and works, had been received by Natural England on 12 October 2009, the very day that Jackson had said to the Parish Council that discussions about the scheme were at an early stage ((99,100) and see above) and then at the subsequent Parish Council meeting on 10 May 2010, again knowing that the application had already gone in, saying that the detail still needed to be worked out (see above). Moreover, Jackson was making a name for himself by giving talks on how councils could fill their boots with HLS money, asserting in one of his talks that a "possible future HLS Agreement" on Baildon Moor was a "Tool for community input" from Baildon Parish Council (101,102).

The most disturbing element of what came back from the FOI request was about bracken management on the moor. Baildon Moor Graziers Association, formed from amongst the commoners, was the recipient of the HLS funding, but Bradford Council, as owner of the moor, would get £26,474 over the 10 years of the agreement for bracken control on 80ha out of the 288ha of the moor (103). It would also get £4,780 for specific bracken management under the Capital Works Plan, split between chemical and mechanical control. There were some exacting standards as Indicators of Success for this management: by year 7, cover of bracken should be reduced to between 0% and 5%, and that there should be no more than 5% re-growth of fronds that were treated with herbicide in the previous year. It was the intention of herbicide application, the use of a helicopter for its delivery, and the near impossible hope of achieving such targets, that rang alarm bells. Especially so when I heard that Bradford Council had been stockpiling the then soon-to-be-banned, fern-specific herbicide Asulam (asulox) and that a helicopter had been provisionally booked for August 2012. What made this a dangerous nonsense was that the FEP that accompanied the HLS application (104) made no mention of the most important fern on the moor – Adders tongue. There are only 10 locations of this fern known in the Bradford District (105) with the threat that the population on Baildon Moor would be at risk from the gross use of this herbicide.

There was also no mention in any of the documents of the roe deer on the moor. Peak times of activity for the roe deer are at dawn and dusk, because of the frequent disturbance from people using the moor during the day. Thus long periods are spent lying up during the day, which is where deer create scrapes in secluded places and lay down to ruminate between feeding. They make more use of the open spaces during the hours of darkness. The bracken cover during summer to autumn on Baildon Moor gives them ample cover for this lying up. It is highly likely that roe deer also make use of the cover of bracken on the moor to safely shelter their young during mid to late summer. There is often a heavy mortality at and shortly after birth and during the first winter, and so refuge for roe young is very important. It was Jackson who once confessed that his strategy for deer control in the District relied on poachers. Perhaps he is trying another strategy for deer control, in this destruction of bracken on the moor.

In addition to these, there were many other errors and omissions that reduced confidence in this HLS, and which brought into question the competencies of all those involved in drawing up the application and agreement, let alone in its subsequent implementation by the jobsworth (see above). Thus the FEP said there was little evidence of oak seeding (see earlier); overstated the importance of open landscape avifauna and a non-native mammal on the moor; and it had no mention of a number of wild plants on the moor in addition to Adder's tongue, such as sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica). A map reference in the Bracken Management Plan, probably drafted by the same person who compiled the FEP (whose name was redacted) located part of Baildon Moor just below Huddersfield, which is 16 miles south (106). The area and spatial location of the HLS agreement shown on the Natural England Nature on the Map website were wrong, particularly in including an area of ancient woodland on the western edge of the moor, and not showing that the moor to the south of Bingley Road was part of the HLS agreement area. (Nature on the Map has been replaced by a revamped MAGIC, the southern part of the moor is now shown to be in HLS, but the ancient woodland is still being shown (23).) This could all have been avoided if there had been some collaboration with the wider knowledge available within the Parish Council and Baildon. Instead, while the commoners appeared to have known what was going on, this unsupported HLS took away the ability of local people to decide for themselves about Baildon Moor, and put it in the hands of Natural England.

Bracken management is not independently funded by HLS, so there had to be an HLS management option on the moor that included a grazing scheme. Thus out of the £210,000 in the 10-year agreement, £99,840 was to be divided amongst the six registered commoners of the moor and Bradford Council, as payment for “Restoration of Moorland” on about 260ha of the moor. The choice of this option is driven by the priorities of the conservation industry for heather. You may be interested to know that less than a fifth of that area is actually heath, and less than a tenth is likely to be easily restored to heath. Only one commoner notionally exercises any rights to graze the moor, through leaving a field gate open between the farm and the moor (the sheep rarely venture out on to the moor in any numbers) and will continue to do so under the HLS agreement (107). You may wonder why Bradford Council and the five non-grazing commoners are each to receive a total of £14,263.20 for not doing something that they were already not doing (their contributions to the grazing under the HLS agreement are set to zero - see (107)). Although these payments to the commoners are redacted, the amount of £14,263.20 is shown for Bradford Council over the 10-year period of the agreement, and if you multiply that by seven you get the £99,840 for Restoration of Moorland (see above). Perhaps it has something to do with what one commoner wrote about the HLS agreement, saying that it is “very difficult to put a value on the loss of revenue to our farm and the others too, of not being able to graze the moor”. Since the decision not to graze the moor had been taken years before by these commoners, why should they be compensated now? More evidence that commons rights are a modern day nonsense. Rights without any responsibilities.

A total of £67,437 of the Capital Works Plan was to be spent on the stone walls around the moor, but only those abutting farmland and not residential properties, and on putting in 20 new field gates in these sections of the walls (108). As I observed earlier, the boundaries of commons are usually the responsibility of land owners backing on to the commons (50) but it seems the farmers around Baildon Moor are to be treated differently under this HLS agreement.

I was not alone in disgust at the prospect of a helicopter spraying herbicide on a well-used public space – did I mention that a golf course straddles part of the moor?! Thus I took a brief to the Environment and Regeneration Committee of the Parish Council, in which I raised my concerns about the lack of consultation, and specifically about the proposals for ariel herbicide spraying in the Bracken Management Plan. That Committee tasked me raise these issues at a full meeting of the Parish Council in April 2012, my brief identifying that it was likely that the Executive Cabinet of Bradford Council, particularly the Environment portfolio holder, were probably unaware off the contentious nature of using a banned herbicide and with a delivery method that was also banned (109). The Parish Council approved a proposal that the Executive and the Environment portfolio holder be contacted with those concerns (110). Subsequently, the use of the helicopter was scrapped, but instead the stockpile of asulox was used up in one go by the Countryside Service off-roading with Land Rovers on the moor, spraying the herbicide from pressure washers, and with no forewarning of this activity. How many regulations and guidelines were breached by this made-up, cavalier approach (109)?

As it is, the HLS agreement on Baildon Moor appears only to have lasted one year before it was scrapped and a new agreement drawn up (AG00404564 (23)) and to which another £80,000 has been added. I could make an FOI request for the details of this new agreement, but do I really want more evidence of how morally corrupt agri-environment subsidy schemes have become?

Mark Fisher 5 August, 11 August 2013

(1) Paterson wants CAP partnership - and 15 per cent modulation. Alistair Driver, Farmers Guardian 19 July 2013

(2) The National Farmers' Union secures so much public cash yet gives nothing back, George Monbiot Guardian 8 July 2013

(3) Greening our pleasant land, Martin Harper, RSPB 17 May 2013

(4) Environment in danger because of EU agriculture deal, WWF European Policy Office 26 June 2013

(5) CAP Reform – an explanation of the main elements, European Commissio. MEMO/13/621 26 June 2013

(6) Total Income from Farming 2012 – 1st estimate, United Kingdom. DEFRA & National Statistics April 2013

(7) Martin Horwood, Common Agricultural Policy, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Written Answers to Questions, House of Commons 12 July 2013

(8) Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2012. National Statistics. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

(9) Inspection Process, Single Payment Scheme, Rural Payments Agency

(10) 2011 Inspection Statistics, Cross Compliance, Single Payment Scheme, Rural Payments Agency

(11) Rare and precious – words devalued by the conservation industry, Self-willed-land June 2011

(12) The neoliberalisation of nature conservation, Self-willed-land February 2013

(13) Contemplation of natural scenes, Self-willed-land January 2012

(14) Consultation response to the Triennial Review of Natural England and the Environment Agency, Wildlife and Countryside Link February 2013

(15) Black Down Pine and Heathland restoration, Dave Elliot, National Trust 21 December 2010

(16) Your guide to the summer night sky. Black Down, West Sussex. National Trust

(17) National Trust Act 1971: Section 23- Proposed works on Blackdown Common, Lurgashall, West Sussex, DPMO 22 June 2007

(18) Fencing of Marley Common for Management Purposes (including feedback from previous fencing project at Black Down). David Elliott - National Trust October 2008

(19) Application Decision - Marley Common, West Sussex. Application Ref: COM 61. The Planning Inspectorate 2 June 2009

(20) HLS Agreements Live April 2011 - Natural England

(21) Constitution, Foxglove Covert LNR

(22) Section 3 Management options and supplements Higher Level Stewardship: Environmental Stewardship handbook

(23) HLS agreements after 2011 can be identified using MAGIC

(24) Field Centre & Facilities

(25) Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve Activity and Education Centre

(26) Undergrowth. The Newsletter of Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve Issue No 22 Winter 2009/2010

(27) Undergrowth. The Newsletter of Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve Issue No 23 Spring 2010

(28) Denton, J. (2013) Comment: Conservation grazing of heathland — where is the logic? British Wildlife Volume 24 Number 5 June 2013 pp. 339-348

(29) Jofré, G.M.  & Reading, C.J. 2012. An assessment of the impact of grazing on reptile populations. ARC Research report, 12/01.

(30) More on the Heathland Conservation Grazing Debate, Dr Jonty Denton, Albion Ecology 29 June 2013

(31) Dr Chris Reading, Albion Ecology 4 July 2013

(32) Background, New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme

(33) New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006 – 2016, Forestry Commission LIFE02/NAT/UK8544 April 2006

(34) Wetland restoration, New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme

(35) Advisory Group, The Verderers’ Grazing Scheme, New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme 31 January 2011

(36) Working Group 2 - Biodiversity, Landscape, Landscape Mgt & Resource Protection New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme 17 March 2011

(37) Working Group 2 - Biodiversity, Landscape, Landscape Mgt & Resource Protection New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme 30th June 2011

(38) Record of Decisions of the New Forest HLS Scheme Board 17 January 2011

(39) Record of Decisions of the New Forest HLS Scheme Board 12 April 2011

(40) Record of Decisions of the New Forest HLS Scheme Board 5 December 2012

(41) Silchester Common: Historical Background and Conservation Management

(42) Blacka Management Plan FINAL, Annabelle Kennedy (Nature Reserves Manager) Sheffield Wildlife Trust

(43) Four strands of barbed wire - a Blacka Moor update, Self-willed land March 2007

(44) Rotherham, I.D. (2013) Summary & Conclusions. In Ian D. Rotherham (Ed.) Trees, Forested Landscapes and Grazing Animals: A European Perspective on Woodlands and Grazed Treescapes. Routledge ISBN-13: 978-0415626118 ppg. 389-406

(45) Management Plan, Blacka Moor 31 July 2013

(46) The craze for conservation grazing, Self-willed land May 2009

(47) Access to Information Request - Partial Release - RFI 1771 and RFI 1772, Natural England December 2012

(48) Access to Information Request - release of caterpillar and  Marsh fritillary web count on Longmoor Common, Kinniside, Cumbria, Natural England November 2012

(49) Access to Information Request - breakdown of agri-environment schemes on Longmoor Common , Kinniside, Cumbria, Natural England November 2012

(50) Fencing and other works on common land, Commons Toolkit Fact Sheet 11, Natural England 2010

(51) Chris Dawson, Allerthorpe. Reptiles & Amphibians of the UK 11 March 2012

(52) Cutting down trees to restore open habitats – only now a policy emerges. Self-willed land March 2009

(53) Chris Dawson, Allerthorpe. Reptiles & Amphibians of the UK 12 March 2012

(54) Common work angers walkers, Pocklington Post 15 March 2012

(55) Allerthorpe Wood, Forestry Commission

(56) Heathland restoration, Perry Forestry

(57) Gemma Fairchild, Allerthorpe. Reptiles & Amphibians of the UK 16 March 2012

(58) Hors d'hoof at Allerthorpe Common! Forestry Commission News release No: 11061 2 December 2008

(59) Memo No 25/04, Director England’s Report, Agenda Item 13 Commissioners’ Meeting, Forestry Commission 10th June 2004'SREPORT.pdf/$FILE/JUNEMEMONo25-04DIRECTORENGLAND'SREPORT.pdf

(60) Paul Edgar, Allerthorpe, Reptiles & Amphibians of the UK 20 March 2012

(61) Paul Edgar, Allerthorpe, Reptiles & Amphibians of the UK 21 March 2012

(62) Andrew Hayfield, Allerthorpe, Reptiles & Amphibians of the UK 23 May 2012

(63) Allerthorpe Wood Higher Level Stewardship. Freedom of Information request to Natural England 8 November 2012


(65) Skipwith Common - Nature, Wildlife and Conservation, Escrick Park Estate

(66) Organic Heathland Longhorn Beef, A taste of Escrick

(67) See COMBINED FEP.pdf in the zipped folder

(68) Leases on Allerthorpe Wood, N. Yorks, Freedom of Information request to Forestry Commission 8 November 2012

(69) See Complaints COMBINED.pdf in the zipped folder

(70) See DSCF0454.jpg; DSCF0453.jpg; DSCF0457.jpg; DSCF0452.jpg; DSCF0431.jpg in the zipped folder

(71) Cololejeunea minutissima (Sm.) Schiffn. - Minute Pouncewort. UK Species, natural History Museum

(72) Newton, M.E. (2012) SOUND COMMON, BRYOPHYTE SURVEY, DATE OF SURVEY 31 August 2012

(73) Sound Heath SSSI, Natural England

(74) Email to Tim Hill 28 August 2012

(75) Sound Common proposed Work Plans, Sound & District Parish Council 6 February 2012

(76) Email to Tim Hill 17 October 2012

(77) Condition of SSSI units, Sound Heath. Natural England

(78) HLS Agreement on Sound Common. Freedom of Information request to Natural England 14 March 2013

(79) Sound Common Liaison Group, Cheshire East Council (large file 11Mb)

(80) AG00426104 Application & Agreement (Large file 24Mb)

(81) Internal Review – response - RFI#1913. HLS Agreement on Sound Common. Freedom of Information request to Natural England. 29 July 2013

(82) Holdings Complexity Criteria: Processing HLS Applications under the 3-tier system. Natural England January 2012

(83) Emails between Doran, Arden, Sutcliff, Alonso. October 2012

(84) Heathland rescue, Paul Evans, Geographical magazine November 2011

(85) Email Arden to Doran 12 October 2012

(86) Baildon Moor sheep to be culled, telegraph & Argus 14 JULY 2001

(87) Fisher, M. A view of Bradford District’s rural landscape and its public goods and services. Workshop at the Rural Conference, 21 October 2004

(88) Bracken Control on Baildon Moor, Dr Mark Fisher, Baildon Parish Council 6 July 2009

(89) Baildon Parish Council. Minutes of Meeting held at Baildon Link on Monday 13th July 2009

(90) Bracken: Baildon Moor. Letter to Baildon Parish Council from Danny Jackson 4 August 2009

(91) Management of Baildon Moor, Mark Fisher, 5 October 2009

(92) Baildon Parish Council. Minutes of Meeting held at Baildon Link on Monday 12th October 2009

(93) Baildon Parish Council. Minutes of Meeting held at Baildon Link on Monday 10th May 2010

(94) Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding. Freedom of Information request to Natural England 24 November 2011

(95) Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding. Freedom of Information request to Bradford City Council 24 November 2011

(96) A Common Purpose: A guide to agreeing management on common land, Short et al (2005) sponsored by English Nature, RDS Defra, Open Spaces Society, The Countryside Agency and the National Trust

(97) Finding common ground. Integrating local and national interests on commons: guidance for assessing the community value of common land, Open Spaces Society March 2010

(98) Commons Toolkit, Natural England NE285, 2010

(99) AG00295822 Baildon Moor application. Agreement documents, Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding RFI1344 Response

(100) AG00295822 letter receipt of application. Correspondence, Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding RFI1344 Response

(101) Environmental Stewardship on Council Land, Danny Jackson Countryside and Rights of Way Manager CBMDC. Presentation at Maximising Rural Regeneration through RDPE: Environmental Support, The Studio, Birmingham 8 July 2010

(102) Environmental Stewardship on Council Land, Danny Jackson Countryside and Rights of Way Manager CBMDC. Presentation at Making the Most of Land and the Environment Seminar, York St John University, York 11th April 2011

(103) Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding RFI1344 Response

(104) FEP, Agreement documents, Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding RFI1344 Response

(105) Lavin, J.C. & Geoffrey T. D. Wilmore, G.T.D. (1994) The West Yorkshire Plant Atlas. City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council

(106) Baildon Moor Bracken management Plan Draft –V3 (Large file 12Mb)

(107) Schedule 1 in AG00295822 signatory doc_redacted.pdf, Correspondence, Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding RFI1344 Response

(108) PART 4 Capital works plan and payments, Agreement documents, Baildon Moor Higher Level Stewardship Funding RFI1344 Response

(109) Bracken Management under the Higher Level Stewardship Agreement on Baildon Moor – Baildon Parish Council, 16 April 2012

(110) Baildon Parish Council. Minutes of Meeting held at Baildon Link on Monday 16 April 2012