Nature study attacks upland grouse moors
FIFTEEN per cent of upland species is facing extinction.
That is the conclusion from a coalition of more than 50 wildlife and research organisations who have published the State of Nature 2016 report. Those at threat include curlews and lapwings – iconic breeds for Teesdale.
Some of the authors of the report are at odds with grouse moor management and have again made claims that heather burning is bad for wildlife. However, they say they know less about what is affecting upland nature than other habitats.
Liz Charman, RSPB conservation officer for the North East and Cumbria, said: “This report shows that while there have been some wonderful conservation successes in recent years, there is still a huge job to do if we want to save nature in the UK.
“In Durham, we are particularly concerned about our upland wildlife.
“Curlews and lapwings used to breed in abundance in the uplands of Durham but they have suffered huge declines in the past few decades.
“The RSPB and other nature conservation organisations are working hard to halt the declines of these species but we can’t do it alone and need the Government to take urgent and decisive action to protect our precious wildlife.”
Following the State of Nature report in 2013, leading professionals from 53 wildlife organisations have pooled expertise to present the “clearest picture” to date of the status of our native species across land and sea.
The report reveals that more than half (56%) of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while more than one in ten (1,199 species) of the nearly 8,000 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.
A special focus has been made of the uplands.
The report said: “The UK’s uplands are often regarded as our wildest landscapes, seemingly untouched by human activity, but this is far from the case, as large areas are intensively managed.
“Nevertheless, they do provide the UK with some of our most dramatic landscapes and distinctive species, and cover around one-third of the land area.”
Of the 1,357 upland species assessed, 15 per cent were categorised as threatened. Twelve of 36 upland breeding bird species are red-listed as birds of conservation concern.
However , the report said it was far from a clear picture.
It said: “We know less about what is affecting upland nature than we do about many other habitats.
“We also have less monitoring data, particularly for non-avian species.
“As a result, our review of the drivers of change included relatively few upland species. However, we know enough to be able to identify the major impacts on upland wildlife in recent decades
“A large proportion of the UK’s uplands are managed intensively for food production, and are heavily grazed by sheep and deer, which converts them to grassland.
“This is compounded by the impacts of drainage. In large areas, uplands are also subject to frequent burning rotations as part of grouse moor management.
“This can result in heather dominating blanket bogs and has greatly reduced the condition of internationally important upland sites.
“Many of our upland species are at the southern edge of their ranges, and they may be forced to move northwards in response to climate change .
“The climate some of these species favour may also move uphill. The result would be smaller UK ranges, and in some cases – for those species already restricted to high mountain-tops or the extreme north – it could mean UK extinction.”
The authors of the report said the population of heather moorland loving hen harriers was “extremely low”. They blamed “illegal persecution associated with grouse moor management”.
Andrew Gilruth, from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, recently pointed to a paper published in May and accepted by the Royal Society – the world’s longest-standing scientific society.
The paper, titled ‘The role of fire in UK peatland and moorland management: the need for informed, unbiased debate’, assessed the science behind the arguments, and highlighted “media bias” around reporting on this issue.
Mr Gilruth said “This comprehensive review thoroughly assessed the scientific literature and concludes that the following commonly held views are not verified by the evidence currently available and should not be perpetuated in discussions until they are formally addressed: regular burning increases heather dominance; fire kills or significantly damages Sphagnum moss; peatlands are particularly sensitive sites with regard to fire; the interaction between wildfires and managed burning is clear; fire alone can contribute to peatland degradation.”
Meanwhile, the report did say a reduction in sheep on the fells during the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis led to problems for species which benefit from upland grazing.
Jim Cokill, director of Durham Wildlife Trust, said: “As a society we need to decide what our priorities are. Have the demands we make of the natural environment been too great?
“If we push agriculture to produce cheaper food to feed a growing population, with greater demands for housing and resources nature will suffer as a result.
“This is a question we all need to address, not just the scientists and farmers.”