This is the response I've received from Natural England associated with the Freedom of Information request I put to them about various matters affecting the Forest of Bowland ( see my entry on this Blog dated 10.6.2013, although the questions are replicated below. )
As yet I've had no opportunity to study the response in any detail or discuss the matter with colleagues, but certainly that will be taking place shortly. My immediate gut feeling is that Natural England appear to lay great store on the relationship between United Utilities "estate" and the RSPB with less prominence being afforded the role, actual or potential, which the other upland estates within the Forest of Bowland SPA might
60 Whitworth Street
Dear Mr Armitage
Access to information request – Request no 2038
Thank you for the two requests for information which we received on 8 June 2013. Your requests have been combined into one response and were considered under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
1. Given that the Forest of Bowland, Lancs is designated as a Special Protection Area and given that key communities of raptors upon which that designation was first based have reduced significantly in recent times:
a) What systems of monitoring and their frequency are in place by Natural England to address these matters?
The RSPB continues to carry out systematic monitoring work for raptors throughout United Utilities Estate each and every year. Natural England continues to carry out regular checks for raptors, in well known breeding localities elsewhere throughout the SPA on other Estates relying too on intelligence gathered from local birders, Schedule 1 Species licence returns and also game keepers from the various Estates, with whom Natural England has very good working relationships.
b) When was the last formal exercise undertaken and follow up discussions taken with the Shooting Estates?
United Utilities and the RSPB have undertaken systematic survey work of its land holding this year and are currently considering what further action locally and nationally needs to be taken with Natural England to address the current decline of hen harriers in Bowland.
c) What was the precise nature of advice given to address the loss of these species?
Currently Natural England does not consider that there are particular land management issues or problems that need addressing within the Bowland Fells SPA. We are aware that there are factors operating away from the site (notably for hen harrier) that need to be addressed. The tracking of hen harriers tagged in Bowland has shown that they wander over huge areas and many do not survive until they are old enough to contribute to the breeding population.
d) Are liaison meetings held to agree burning regimes with respect to the heather moorland?
Throughout United Utilities Estate (a former stronghold for hen harriers in Bowland) burning is carefully controlled and consented under HLS agreements. These relate to United Utilities’ Farm Plans for its Bowland Estate produced under its programme of Sustainable Catchment Area Management Planning work for the area. Meetings have taken place during recent times with shooting tenants and United Utilities staff to discuss the renewal of existing burning consents, whilst burning regimes have also been discussed with other
Estates and are in the process of being re-drafted/finalised as up dates to consents previously issued as part of new HLS agreements with the various Estates.The traditional nesting sites of raptors have been/or are in the process of being mapped as ‘sensitive areas’ as defined within the Defra ‘grass and heather burning code of practice’ just as such sites have been dealt within Utited Utilities’s plans.
e) Which Estates are currently receiving subsidies to assist with moorland management?
The following Estates and their tenants are currently signed up to HLS agreements with Natural England for individual areas of Fell: the Abbeystead Estate, the Bleasdale Estate, United Utilities, the Duchy of Lancaster Estate and the Mallowdale Estate.
I am referring here to routine liaison carried out by NE staff NOT contact work by the research worker associated with the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan.
2. Recently a road has been put in place onto Blaze Moss, Forest of Bowland. May I enquire if:
a) Natural England are aware of this and granted permission for it to occur given it is sited within a designated area?
Natural England is aware of the track and was consulted upon a planning application received by Lancaster City Council for its construction. After appropriate consideration, Natural England did not object to this, since the track does not impinge upon the main part of Marshaw Fell and only extends as far as the foot of the Fell through an area of long established/planted woodland. Conditions were imposed upon its extent, precise location and drainage matters to ensure that no damage to designated features of interest occurred.
b) Whether this is the precursor to exploratory drilling associated with the fracking for gas within the Bowland Shales?
The purpose of the track is to allow access to the bottom end of the Fell for land management or shooting purposes, including grip blocking work proposed on Marshaw Fell under an HLS agreement. Natural England has no reason to believe that this was constructed to allow exploratory drilling for gas fracking of the Bowland Shales.
c) If such is not the case what is the nature of the development upon which the application rested?
Please refer to comments above.
d) What consultations were held with interested parties?
The track was constructed after receiving the necessary authorisation / planning consent from Lancaster City Council. I would advise that you contact Lancaster City Council direct for a list of those they consulted with.
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