Thank you for contacting me about driven grouse shooting and the management of moorland in Calder Valley.
I do not accept the analysis of these issues that is is often given.
Many people will be aware of the opinion circulating around the Calder Valley that one of the big factors that contributed to the horrendous flooding in the valley was the grouse moor on the Walshaw estate above Hebden Bridge. As a townie, I thought I needed to go and visit the estate to see how justified the petition is, and to consider what influence the management of the estate has upon the mitigation of flood risk. I quickly realised that the petition and much of the information peddled around the Calder valley about the estate are, in many cases, simply untrue and based more on ideology than on fact and reason. The nonsense that people are led to believe could not be further from the truth, and it is time to put some of those things straight.
It is true that our peatland moors are in a poor state, but that is not because of grouse shooting. Rather, it is a consequence of a number of different factors, not least decades of abuse from coal burning, the over-intensification of farming—to name just two. So why am I horrified about the amount of misinformation, which is quite frankly breathtaking, relating to the Walshaw estate? Does the estate slash and burn, as is suggested by many? No, it does not. It does, however, use what is called cool burning. The estate works in partnership with Natural England, Yorkshire Water and many other agencies. Everything it does is done under licence and is strictly controlled and plotted by GPS, and mapped, so that no area is burnt out of cycle, which, for active peat, is over 25 years, and, for other areas, is over 20 and 15 years.
Does this contribute to the increased peak flows? Common sense would probably say that it does; as does a study completed by Durham University and commissioned by Treesponsibility in the Calder Valley. Although the study shows that burning does indeed have an impact on flows—I say “flows”, and not “flooding”—its methodology is so inherently flawed by a number of omissions and inaccurate assumptions that it is of very limited value. For example, the author of the study does not take into consideration any other burning outside the Walshaw estate. The author assumes that all channels on the moorland are unimpeded and allow the free flow of water; grips, ditches and drains are ignored; bankside areas are all assumed to be unimpeded and free flowing; and, finally, it is assumed that our six local reservoirs are storage neutral and allow for the unimpeded passage of water. As such, before drawing any conclusions from the study, we have to be aware of the significant weaknesses in its methodology.
We know that water does not have an unimpeded flow. There are thousands of acres around the Calder valley that are up hill and down dale and that have thousands of natural traps and bungs. On top of that, our reservoirs are not always storage neutral. Indeed, managing the level of reservoirs can have a significant impact upon mitigating the risk of flooding. Owing to the significant proportion of water on the moorlands that runs through the six reservoirs on and around the estate, if the levels of the reservoirs had been proactively managed last winter, the scale of the destruction caused to the communities in the valley bottom may have been reduced. Ironically, going into this winter, many of our reservoirs are kept low or empty.
As a result of a variety of factors, including the use of cool burning, mechanical cutting and spraying, and the planting of mixtures of new seeds of heather and cotton grass replacement, we have seen a huge influx of bird species back on to the moor many of which have not been seen on the Walshaw estate for decades. This evidence is contrary to the petition, which states that grouse shooting exterminates wildlife. The careful custodianship of our moorlands is actually supporting and encouraging wildlife in a way that we have not previously seen.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP