The way the uplands of the UK are managed has been an ongoing discussion for decades but never before has the spotlight been so bright. Should the emphasis be on farming, forestry, renewable energy, carbon storage, flood protection, biodiversity, outdoor recreation/tourism or intensive sporting management (primarily driven grouse shooting)? Arguably, and without looking up any specific land-use data, the emphasis has so far been on sheep and driven grouse shooting, and in some areas forestry. Biodiversity has certainly come a long way down the list. Most of our uplands are within National Parks and I rarely visit them, yet I love seeing wildlife, but with the exception of the Cairngorms, they are amongst some of the last places I’d visit to watch nature. The image below at least partially explains why I don’t see much wildlife in many parts of the UK uplands.
The image encapsulates what is wrong about vast areas of our uplands. They are intensively managed so a few people can get a few hours of pleasure from killing large numbers of Red Grouse. So these few people can have a few hours fun, masses of predators are killed (legally and illegally). Toxic lead is deposited across the uplands and embedded into the human food chain. Vegetation is burnt leading to a monoculture of heather at the expense of a diverse mosaic of trees, shrubs and other vegetation communities. Carbon is released into the atmosphere and flood risk is exacerbated downstream. Oh, and medicated grit. You may be mistaken for thinking this is some dystopian vision of the future but it is the current reality for vast swathes of our uplands, and yes including in National Parks like the Peak District and North York Moors. Alongside this, today news has emerged that under the coronavirus lockdown whilst the prying eyes of the public have been kept away from the moors (and elsewhere), there has been a surge in the illegal killing of raptors. Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Buzzards, Red Kites, Goshawks and even a Barn Owl have been targeted. See the RSPB Investigations blog for more details of the 56 raptor crime incidents (not all in the uplands) since lockdown began. This is the vision (indeed reality) that the driven grouse shooting industry has for our uplands.
Despite what some would have you believe, there are other ways to manage the uplands of the UK.
An alternative vision for one driven grouse shooting estate is currently within the grasp of the local community of Langholm. The vision for this area of upland is captured in the following quote from a feasibility study that the community recently published…… “one of the most ambitious community plans of a generation. The people of Langholm will own nearly 10,500 acres and protect this landscape for generations to come. The land will be managed to generate community benefits through economic regeneration, ecological restoration, carbon capture and increased biodiversity.”
And here is more visionary thinking for Langholm that could be applied to most of our uplands….. “Imagine a place where Hen Harriers roam above the dramatic hills of a former grouse moor, sky dancing alongside the unmistakeable call of the curlew. Flowing through this moor might be a river with a hidden world beneath its surface, home to playful otters and bobbing dippers. Native woodlands thriving and creating a mosaic of wonderful habitats. Now consider the benefits if such a place could be protected and taken into community ownership by the people who live and work there. No need to stretch your imagination too far because Langholm Moor in the South of Scotland is such a place, and a unique opportunity has arisen for this precious land to be taken into the care and ownership of the local population through a community buyout” (quote taken from a guest blog by Kevin Cumming via the RPUK website).
To realise this vision for the uplands of Langholm, the community need to raise a further £3.4million (on top of a grant of £3million from the Scottish Land Fund). You can help support this exciting vision for one small part of our uplands by contributing to this crowdfunder.
Two contrasting visions, and no doubt there are others, but I know which of the above I’d like to become a reality.
Photo credit: Header image: Red Kite photo courtesy of Steve Nesbitt www.stevenesbitt.co.uk with inset image (top) via RSPB website and inset image (bottom) by Iolo Williams.
Intensively managed driven grouse moor by Dr Ruth Tingay.
Flower-rich meadow at Swindale, Haweswater (David Morris via Wild Haweswater website).