Monday, 28 October 2013

Compromise can provide positive outcomes for all

Chloe Palmer shares her experience of inter-professional working in a unique moorland landscape

As a farm environmental advice consultant, I often work with people from other land-based professions. Recently  I was lucky enough to be commissioned to prepare the Higher Level Scheme (HLS) application and Farm Environmental Plan for Tinker Hill by the agent responsible for the management of the moor and I was reminded how enjoyable and positive such inter-professional working can be.
Tinker Hill, near Carlecotes on the boundary of South and West Yorkshire is a unique moorland site. Rising to 410 metres (1345 feet) and extending to just 236 hectares (583 acres), it is small compared to most moors. It is surrounded on all sides by a public road and residences, and farms are dotted around its boundary, yet it feels wild and remote. Ten years ago it was restored from a purple moor grass (Molinea caerulea) monoculture to a diverse mosaic of species rich dwarf shrub vegetation by moorland restoration expert, Geoff Eyre. That makes it a particularly special place.  It’s also one of the most important sites for breeding waders in the north of the Peak District. Detailed survey data produced by expert ornithologist, David Pearce together with information from the Peak District Wader Recovery Project Officer, Tara Challoner, have shown that the site is of regional importance for curlew, golden plover and snipe and has the potential for re-colonisation by twite.
But, important as the wildlife are, drawing up the application was a careful balancing act that had to take a whole range of factors into consideration.  That’s where inter-professional working comes into its own. Tinker Hill is managed as a grouse moor, albeit not intensively, and careful rotational burning takes place on the drier areas and in the vicinity of the grouse butts. The tenant grazes the local breed of white-faced woodland sheep on the moor.  He is also the gamekeeper and his careful control of vermin has benefitted the wader populations. Much of the moor drains towards a Yorkshire Water reservoir.
On areas of blanket bog, under the terms of HLS, Natural England’s preference is for no burning or, if it has been burnt historically, they stipulate this should be done a rotation of at least twenty years.  But this long burning rotation is at odds with the needs of some of the breeding waders on Tinker Hill, which need a variety of ages of heath species to feed and breed successfully. On lower, south-facing moors such as Carlecotes, where heather grows faster than on moors at higher altitudes, long burning rotations can increase the potential for wild fires. The ease with which the site can be accessed on all sides places it at greater risk of an accidental blaze. And of course this ‘leggy’ heather is not favoured by grouse moor managers because it provides insufficient food for grouse chicks.
Compromise was needed.  By referring to photographs, survey records and evidence provided by experts including Geoff Eyre, Tara Challoner and David Pearce, we were able to build up a picture of how the past management of the site had contributed to its special status. With the valuable input of the agent and the tenant, supported by my own survey results, we identified areas of heather on peat which could be burnt more frequently.  There were also those parts of the moor which were wet blanket bog dominated by cotton-grass which could be left un-burnt without prejudicing the survival of the breeding waders or creating an unacceptable fire risk.
This is an exceptional example of a diverse moor with some of the greatest variety of heath vegetation I have seen in the Peak District. To ignore the successes of the historic management regime and restoration work and the investment of effort by all parties to create a unique site would seem at best naïve and at worst, neglectful. Moors provide many positive environmental and socio-economic outcomes in addition to carbon sequestration.
By working together, we have been able to achieve a result which benefits all parties.  As well as ensuring a favourable environment for wildlife, the ten year HLS agreement will provide much needed income so that the excellent work at Carlecotes can continue.

Chloe Palmer, Farm & Environment Consultancy Ltd,

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