Wildlife minister Richard Benyon under fire in another game-shooting case

Grouse estate burnt peatland that formed habitat of rare species – but legal case was dropped

A A A

Richard Benyon, the Wildlife minister, was under pressure last night to explain what influence he had on a decision to drop landmark legal proceedings against a grouse-shooting estate that was burning peatland in a conservation area.

Natural England, the Government's environment watchdog, withdrew from an attempt to ban Walshaw Moor Estate from burning heather and other unauthorised activities in March. The case would have had major implications for moor owners, who burn heather to encourage new shoots, which are eaten by grouse increasing their numbers.

Conservationists expressed disappointment and surprise that the legal proceedings had been dropped. Walshaw Moor in the Pennines is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the 16,000-acre estate is responsible for protecting its peatland, which includes the habitat of rare wading birds.

Natural England and Walshaw Estate Ltd issued a joint statement in March saying that they had resolved their dispute and that the estate had entered a "new management regime" in an agreement that was binding for 25 years. At the time the RSPB called the statement "opaque" and called for clarification on the details.

Mr Benyon, the Conservative minister responsible for wildlife protection at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), who last week backed plans to shoot out the nests of buzzards to protect pheasants, is a keen supporter of game shooting.

Mark Avery, a former conservation director at the RSPB said: "It makes me wonder what influence did Defra or its grouse-shooting minister have on the dropping of Natural England's legal case." Mr Avery has submitted Freedom of Information requests to both Natural England and Defra. Only Natural England have so far responded and Mr Avery said he has not yet received a satisfactory explanation as to why it dropped legal proceedings.

Martin Harper, the RSPB's current conservation director, said: "We are extremely concerned about how and why Natural England reached this decision. It came as a complete surprise, and raises a series of questions. We continue to seek an adequate clarification from Natural England of the process and thinking behind their decision."

A spokesman for Natural England said: "The 25-year agreement Natural England and Walshaw Moor Estate have recently entered into provides improved environmental protection for the Moors and also allows the estate to conduct its business activities.

"The benefits of the agreement are significant. For the first time, burning activities on the Walshaw Estate will be subject to specific controls."

Defra declined to comment on the decision to drop legal proceedings, saying it was a matter for Natural England.

Representatives for Walshaw Estate Ltd could not be reached for comment.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions