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Grouse moors and conservation bodies join forces to deliver long-term environmental benefits

9th August 2017

A pioneering initiative between grouse moors and conservation bodies is set to transform the health of the nation’s peatland – a prized environmental landscape.

Restoring and enhancing the UK’s deep peat is fundamental to the future of the UK’s environment as it plays a major role in carbon storage, flood alleviation and the provision of clean drinking water.

24,000 hectares of blanket bog have undergone restoration work including revegetation on grouse moors in England– an area larger than the combined cities of Manchester and Liverpool – and an increase of 50% on last year. English peatland experts who have carried out the work are world leaders in this field.

To help that restoration, grouse shooting estates are now developing new long-term management agreements in collaboration with Natural England to ensure the moorland vegetation is managed sympathetically for win-win goals. This new approach is considered to be a real step in the right direction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) UK Peatland Programme, who have welcomed a move away from rotational burning.

The 25-year plans address key issues including:

  • Clean drinking water supply
  • Carbon storage
  • Flood alleviation
  • Stabilising and increasing upland bird species
  • Enhancing vegetation and habitat
  • Creating a viable red grouse population for driven grouse shooting
  • Sustainable farming

Wemmergill grouse moor in County Durham was the first estate to have signed up to a new 25 year agreement with Natural England. Wemmergill is one of Britain’s most historic grouse moors, with shooting records dating back to 1872. Today the estate employs seven keepers and the plan ensures it is run in harmony with nature.

Dr Therese Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DEFRA, visited the estate and said:

“I was pleased to visit the Wemmergill Estate, not long after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, to see the work of the different stakeholders coming together to devise this innovative, conservation-friendly management plan.”

“The UK’s unique upland ecology must be safeguarded for future generations to enjoy. This approach is helping to achieve this by highlighting the various benefits that can be reaped from a variety of grouse moor management practices. I thank the Estate, the Moorland Association and Natural England for their achievement and commend this approach to others.”

(left to right) Richard Johnson, Director of Wemmergill Moor Ltd, Dr Therese Coffey MP and John Pinkney, head gamekeeper at Wemmergill Estate

(left to right) Richard Johnson, Director of Wemmergill Moor Ltd, Dr Therese Coffey MP and John Pinkney, head gamekeeper at Wemmergill Estate. Photo credit: Dave Mitchell/Natural England

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: “These partnership agreements are exciting and encouraging because they highlight the significant common ground between the objectives of conservationists and grouse moor managers. The plans map out extensive and innovative work to provide tangible environmental and conservation benefits alongside viable grouse shooting operations. Where blanket bog improvement is the aim, simple trials to compare techniques including restoration burning, cutting, bog plant inoculation and grazing along with simple monitoring are in place to ensure successful management decisions.”

Rob Stoneman, Co-Chair of IUCN UK Peatland Programme, said: “I must pay tribute to the team at Wemmergill for their commitment to restoring the habitats on their estate. The partnership between the Wemmergill staff, Natural England and the North Pennines AONB is a beacon of good practice for all upland Britain, and is inspiring to see.”

Richard Johnson, Director of Wemmergill Moor Ltd, said: “This ground-breaking management plan has allowed us to build a fantastic working relationship of mutual respect, trust and understanding with Natural England for a multiple of socio-economic and environmental objectives. Mr and Mrs Michael Cannon as Wemmergill’s owners are very keen to be at the forefront of forward thinking land management that protects all that is special in our corner of rural County Durham as well as handing it to the next generation in better shape to face future challenges.”

At the heart of measures being taken on Wemmergill Estate to safeguard the future of its treasured upland ecology, is extensive work to ensure a fully functioning blanket bog system. To date, the estate with expert help from the North Pennines AONB Partnership has successfully blocked 592km of grips on blanket bog resulting in the rewetting of thousands of hectares of peat and the restoration of active blanket bog. In the new management agreement a further 191km of grips will be allowed to fill naturally. In addition, 32 hectares of bare peat restoration will be undertaken to stop erosion and protect the carbon stored beneath.

This ‘Outcomes Approach’ at Wemmergill is an excellent example of the wider collaborative strategy that Moorland Association members across the North of England are committed to implementing. Techniques to manage and improve blanket bog vegetation are continually evolving and methodologies being used as well as the results are widely shared between stakeholders.

Wemmergill Estate’s 25-year management plan can be viewed here

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Did You Know?

75% of of the world’s remaining heather moorland is found in Britain – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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