Given some of the stuff I have read in my life, I should not be surprised any more by anything anyone writes about land management or fieldsports.
But just occasionally along comes something which raises my delicate blood pressure. This latest piece of misinformation came courtesy of the BBC News website. Nothing new there then, I hear many of you cry, yet the person responsible for the latest gaffe was none other than Roger Harrabin, who carries the title of BBC environment analyst.
Well, one thing he did not analyse on this occasion was what was stated in the report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). What this report did not say was that ?Britain?s rich landowners are fuelling climate change by clearing peat bogs for grouse shooting?; nor did it say ?landowners burn off the peat to encourage the growth of heather?.
If any moorland keeper thinks that he has nothing to worry about then he should consider just how many people read or listen to this rubbish and believe it ? for if enough of them did so there is no doubt that the practice of heather burning would be stopped tomorrow.
The reality is that the vast majority of people do not know that much about what is done to manage the uplands. I am painfully aware of that as a result of many of the questions I am asked about what I do in my work as a grouse keeper ? some of those questions have even been asked by shooting people. So, grouse keepers, just because you know your cycle of work, do not assume that everyone else does, including BBC environmental analysts.
What I do not know is whether Mr Harrabin is ignorant of what we do, or if it is simply part of some big anti-fieldsports bias. Is he aware, for example, that the majority of grouse moors have now blocked their upland drainage systems to stop the erosion of peat and slow water run-off? The one I manage, Raby Estate in Co Durham, was more or less completed around 20 years ago and many of our black scars (open moorland drains put in for agricultural purposes) are now invisible.
Following the ?new? burning code, some six years ago the National Gamekeepers? Organisation (NGO) ran a series of courses, and are still running them in conjunction with the Government?s Rural Development Initiative (RDI), to ensure that everyone who burns vegetation knows the code and works within best practice. The whole point of that code is to make sure that the peat is not exposed, never mind burned. Since heather seedlings grow in peat it is rather pointless for those who wish to grow heather to burn off the very material upon which the plant they are trying to grow relies.
I would at this point simply give up, were it not for the fact that I really want others to understand our management practices. By the way, I was asked at The CLA Game Fair if I had finished burning yet? We are, by law, not allowed to burn between 15 April and the end of September, for obvious reasons ? the main one being that all the birds are nesting then.
As far as the first howler is concerned ? ?clearing peat bogs? ? I am rather at a loss as to what that means in practice. Managing moorland for grouse shooting is not an exercise in producing peat for growbags or compost.
From my experience, the best grouse-producing ground is not solid heather but a mixture, a mosaic, of plants, which the grouse utilise at various times during the season.
This season, the wet ground with its crop of cotton grass is a case in point. This is the type of ground, with the legal requirement to have ?burning plans?, that is often excluded completely from any burning whatsoever. There is never a problem with its becoming too long ? at a couple of thousand feet, it never does, and yet year-upon-year it produces grouse, sometimes a heck of a lot of grouse, and this year may just be one of them.
Work done by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) into heather cover has backed up the previous statement in that as soon as around 70 per cent of heather cover is reached there seems to be no more benefit for grouse-stocking densities.
So drains blocked, water retained, exposed peat growing over with vegetation, mosses spreading like there is no tomorrow, sound burning regimes in place to ensure that the risk of serious summer fire is reduced, and practitioners trained in ?safe burning practices?. What more can you reasonably want from our moorlands, Mr Harrabin?