A week or two ago I took my Explorer Scouts on a walk up Win Hill and Lose Hill. A great walk if you fancy it, taking in Mam Tor as well. The hills get their name from a battle which may be real or may be legend, between King Cynegils of Wessex and a Northumbrian force around 626CE with the Northumbrians camped on Win Hill and the Wessex camp on Lose Hill. No points if you can work out who won. As I say, there is no contemporary evidence of this battle so it is probably a bit of a myth, that said according to Bede Cyneglis did try to assassinate King Edwin of Northumbria in the same year, so you never know, it might be true.
From one great conflict to another; I have recently found myself trying to reconcile two competing factions in my head to do with the Moors.
As a conservationist I find it self evident that we must protect the Moorland of the UK and especially in the Peak district. In the UK we have 80% of the worlds Heather Moorland which just goes to show what a precious resource it is and how much of a duty we have to conserve it. As a habitat it is important in itself, but it also gives a home to a range of threatened species, including Ring Ozel along the Gritstone edges, Curlew, Lapwing and the Bilberry Bumblebee to name a few. Not only that, but as a Blanket Bog habitat, which means it can sit on Peat up to 4-6m deep, it is a vital method of carbon capture. UK Peat stores up to 3000 million tons of carbon adding 3 million tons to this figure yearly. Clearly, for the future of this planet and of mankind, our Moorland here in the Peak District is literally a lifeline.
So as I say, it’s important to conserve Moorland.
However, the Heather Moorland that we see around us in the Peak District, and in other places in the UK, is a man made environment. It may feel that you are in a remote wild place when you stray off the beaten track and enjoy the access land, however the land you are on has been shaped by thousands of years of mans input. This leads me to my dilemma. Mans input over the last few centuries, which has arguably found a use for Moorland and therefore has preserved it and stopped it becoming farmland or woodland which are neither as good at storing carbon nor provide habitats for Moorland species, is Grouse shooting and with Grouse shooting come Gamekeepers.
Scroll down on this link until you reach some tables complied by Sheffield Wildlife Trust and you will see how bleak a picture it is in the Peak District for Birds of Prey. Last year, there was not a single successful raptor breeding in the Dark Peak area, and the blame for this lays squarely at the feet of Gamekeepers. Indeed not long ago one such Gamekeeper was prosecuted for various wildlife crimes including persecuting Birds of Prey. It’s at such a state that I have seen first hand some of the immoral if not bordering on illegal practices on land owned by one of our leading conservation charities. It’s no secret that The National Trust has some real questions to answer.
That said would this land, so valuable to our planet and to conservation, even exist if it were not for the management of Heather Moorland for Grouse shooting?
How do you reconcile the two? How can a traditional countryside pursuit, which I don’t think should be stopped because too much of our tradition has been lost already, continue side by side with nature? And how can a conservationist who work in the Peak District (like me) balance their duty to nature and to the people who work and live in the area?
Answers on a post card. Or, y’know, comment below.