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
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.
Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Woodpecker and weasel: This is what the photographer has to say about the incredible picture
A million homes to be heated by river water energy
It's cowslips against honeysuckle in the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
- 3 Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...