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Yorkshire Dales voted 'top European National Park' with Peak District 4th - yet Kevin Cox disagrees

We need to talk about Kevin - Kevin Cox that is, Chairman of the RSPB.

On the 3rd March 2019 the Ecologist magazine carried an article which was built around the opinions of the Dartmoor based multi-millionaire RSPB Chair. It was an attack on UK's National Parks. The basic idea was that our upland National Parks were in an appalling state and this was, in large part, down to the chronic weakness of the National Parks authorities and their indulgence of grouse shooters and grouse moor management.

Isobel Mercer, RSPB’s Senior Site Conservation Policy Officer, enthusiastically backed her Chairman, (it would be a surprise if she hadn't), saying, ‘People want to experience a countryside rich in plants and animals rather than barren moorland’. With a job title of such length and complexity, surely she will know what the public want?

Since then, none other than Martin Harper, RSPB's Director of Global Conservation, (another noteworthy job title, but this time tending towards megalomania rather than complexity), said that the Peak District moors were 'industrial landscapes'. In this he was enthusiastically supported by RSPB's Director of Species Recovery, ( a disappointing lack of global reach there) who said that grouse moors were heather monoculture and were indeed 'industrial landscapes'.

[RSPB's Isobel Mercer]

Let us consider the concept of ‘Barren Moorland’ and 'industrial landscapes'. All the areas they claim ought to be disliked so heartily by the public, on whose behalf they appear to presume to speak, are designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Obviously, the awful people who made the designations lacked their aesthetic sensibilities and just made a series of stupid mistakes. To make matters worse these awful places were made National Parks and are some of the most visited, photographed and loved landscapes in the UK.

Millions of people, blissfully unaware of how mistaken they are, revel in visiting ‘Barren Moorland’ and 'industrial landscapes'. National Parks are designated because people want to go there, and they want to go there because they love them as they are.

An interesting early example of the disconnect between RSPB's view of what people should like, and what the public actually like, was the announcement that the Peak District village of Edale had been declared by Ordnance Survey to be the most popular starting point for walkers in the whole of the UK. The most popular finishing point was Fairholmes, a brisk 13 miles walk away, crossing what, according to the experts from RSPB is precisely the sort of barren, industrial landscape that any sensible person would avoid like the plague.

[RSPB's Martin Harper on protest march]

The reasons for this are, of course, more complex than the fact that these moors are seen by normal people as beautiful places. People who actually go there know, that at the right time of year, our moorlands are full of life. Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Skylarks, Pipits, Merlin, Grouse, and many more fill the spring mornings with songs and the sky above with activity. On hot drowsy days in summer the air hums with insects, in a way lost from most places off the moors. Far from being heather monoculture, the moors are a fantastic mosaic of flowering plants, ferns and mosses. These are places that have had their problems, but today are wilder and more beautiful than much of the rest of the UK’s land.

Now there is another blow to the RSPB's view that the UK's National Parks and their grouse moors are loathed landscapes, ruined by years of mismanagement and desperate for salvation at the hands of a Director of Conservation and a Senior Site Conservation Policy Officer racing, like Batman and Robin, from their luxury Bedfordshire Mansion to save the day by educating locals, who know absolutely nothing, beyond the skills acquired over generations and a lifetime of practical experience spent protecting the landscape and its wildlife.

TripAdvisor has conducted a huge survey of public attitudes to National Parks across Europe and the world. They have just announced that the Yorkshire Dales was voted top European National Park, with the Peak District coming in fourth, having been beaten by parks as remote and wild as Vatnajokull in Iceland (2nd) and Plitivice in Croatia (3rd).

This is getting beyond a joke. What sort of people take part in these things. Can't they see when they walk out onto a landscape purple with heather, dappled with cotton grass and bog plants, accompanied by the calls of golden plover and curlew or the song of a circling lark, that they are in a ghastly industrial landscape akin to the opening credits of the Peaky Blinders. Can't they understand that the wildlife and biodiversity that they see and hear is not really there at all, but is in fact a clever back projection and surround sound organised by fiendishly cunning moor owners and gamekeepers.

Well, no they can't. The people who voted were perfectly sensible and intelligent and were fooled by no one, neither the moor owners, nor as it happens, the RSPB. Like the good hearted free men and women they undoubtedly were, they told it as they saw it.

Grouse moors are not industrial landscapes.

To continually claim that they are simply demonstrates that the people who make such ridiculous statements have lost their grip on reality and the English language. Grouse moors are not barren.

[Another landscape Kevin Cox would consider barren]

The fact that such a demonstrably false claim can be made by someone who is in charge of site conservation policy for the richest conservation organisation in Europe is frankly alarming.

The respectable elements within RSPB must cringe when the current crop appear in print or on the screen. Only a few years ago the behaviour of the worst offenders would not have been tolerated by either the management or the trustees, but now anything seems to go.

It is frankly tragic that a once great champion of the countryside has come to this.

Not long ago, Ian Newton, a man of genuine intellectual stature, was Chairman of RSPB. We have no idea of what he thinks about what is going on. He is no apologist for bad practice in moorland management but this is what he wrote recently on the subject of this piece.

“If grouse shooting fell into decline, the land would become available for alternative uses, reverting to grassy sheep walks or commercial conifer plantation, neither of which have much conservation value as currently managed. Little wonder that most managed grouse-moor areas in England are recognised for their conservation value, and are listed as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) or Special Areas of Conservation (SCAs), many of which fall within National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

The public have spoken. They have decided that two of the four best National Parks in the whole of Europe are where grouse moors make up a vital part of landscape management. They have rejected the RSPB's slogans and sound bites. The public have spoken and they agree with Ian Newton. They can tell the difference between a barren industrial landscape and a demi-paradise.


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