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30th January, 2012
The High Court today ordered a full judicial review of an attempt by Natural England to ban heather burning on blanket bog moorland. The unprecedented action by Natural England to impose a ban on Walshaw Moor Estate in the South Pennines has major implications for grouse moor owners and land managers across England.
Mr Justice Singh, sitting at the High Court in Leeds, rejected Natural England’s attempts using Regulation 23 under the Habitats Directive to impose an immediate ban on heather burning, grazing and the use of vehicles on blanket bog on Walshaw Moor.
Instead, he agreed with the estate’s application that burning, grazing and vehicle use should be allowed pending the judicial review hearing. The estate offered to restrict burning to certain areas and operate in full compliance with Defra’s Burning Code ahead of the hearing.
The judge ordered a full judicial review of the actions of Natural England and said there were serious and important issues involved in the case which are of wider public interest. The judge granted Walshaw Moor Estate permission to argue its case at a judicial review hearing to be held in February.
Following Friday's (27th January) hearing, lawyers representing the estate said their case was that Natural England was acting “unlawfully, unfairly, irrationally and in a discriminatory manner” in what is being regarded as an important test case that could put rural jobs, tourism and sustainable land management at risk.
“We are very pleased that the High Court has agreed that we have a case to argue at judicial review in a case that could have very serious consequences for the ownership and management of grouse moors”, said Matthew Howarth, solicitor for the estate. “Natural England has supported heather burning for many years and now seems to be doing a very worrying and inexplicable U-turn.
“Walshaw Moor Estate is wholly committed to responsible land management practices and is looking for fairness from Natural England. So far, fairness has been sadly absent in their actions and we look forward to challenging them through the judicial review process.”
In addition to the judicial review a public inquiry is currently being held in Leeds in which the estate is appealing against a decision by Natural England to restrict heather burning, which had been granted to the estate in 1995.
A spokesman for Walshaw Moor Estates said: “What Natural England is proposing to do poses a real threat to the long-term existence of our grouse moor which makes a significant contribution to employment, tourism and conservation in our area. More importantly, if Natural England’s actions are not challenged they could put the grouse moor industry across England at risk.”
Further information: Ramsay Smith, Media House 0207 710 0020/07788414856 email:firstname.lastname@example.org