Millions being spent on green recovery risk being wasted by 'clueless environmental NGOs'
Across the uplands of the UK, Natural England (NE) and their staff are a frequent presence. As well as having their own involvement in certain areas of moorland through projects such as Moors for the Future, a moorland regeneration project whose partners also include the RSPB, United Utilities and the National Trust, NE also have a huge amount of control over the financial management of the uplands.
Take the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, for example, who run 14 separate reserves within the Peak District National Park, and who have just received a grant from Natural England of £538,000 to go towards 'green recovery'.
The real question, though, is how wisely is this money being spent? Fashionable terms such as ‘green recovery’, ‘improving biodiversity’ or ‘increasing carbon capture’ are hard to quantify. However, take a look at the areas managed by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and compare them to nearby managed moorland, and on the face of it, it’s hard to justify the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money that is being donated . Sections of their land are covered in flowering ragwort – a notifiable weed – and bracken which produces toxic emulsions (Ptaquiloside) and cancerous spores, as well as housing ticks.
The nearby managed moorland, in contrast, displays far more biodiversity in both plant and animal life. It does, however, cost more to achieve, as managing moorland obviously involves employing people to carry out that role. Buying up land, as the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust do, and then allowing it to ‘self manage’ itself – does that count as going towards the ‘green recovery’?
At the moment, Natural England are advertising for ten more local advisers in the Peak District area. But unless Natural England are careful with their hires and their financial donations, there are concerns that the environmental health of the uplands could be severely harmed by the current direction of travel seen from the likes of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Simply buying up tracts of land and allowing it to exist totally unmanaged is not the wisest of investments – as the RSPB have seen at their Lake Vyrnwy reserve.
When the RSPB took over the reserve almost 40 years ago, there were healthy populations of red grouse, as well as large numbers of breeding curlew and whinchats. Less common but still breeding were the golden plover, hen harrier, merlin and stonechat. But the RSPB stopped heather management, and the birdlife has been severely depleted. In fact, whilst bidding for a £3.3million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the RSPB warned that "in the next few years curlew, black grouse and merlin will cease to appear as breeding species in this area of Wales. It is also likely that the same fate will fall red grouse and hen harrier within a decade".
The experiences of the RSPB should act as a warning to any wildlife organisations who proposes doing something similar – particularly when they are doing it with funds from the taxpayer. This however seems to have been lost on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.