Peak park ban leaves walkers fuming

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THE Ramblers' Association is ready to challenge the entire system of closure of moorlands in the Peak District National Park following a row between the representatives of walkers and mountaineers and landowners over access to the area during dry weather.

Some 80 sq miles of the park has been closed to walkers following a ruling by the Fire Panel - a committee of Peak District tenants and landowners, English Nature, the fire service, the Ramblers' Association and the British Mountaineering Association - that the moorland is so dry it represents a fire hazard.

But what has outraged the walkers and mountaineers is that these restrictions to do not apply to shooting parties.

Critics of the shooting parties say there is no means of preventing people firing guns during the dry weather, even though hot cartridges ejected from a shotgun might spark a fire.

"Frankly, our members are going to be very browned off if there is any shooting on the moors this weekend," said Alan Mattingly, director of the Ramblers' Association.

"Our members are asked to keep off the moors, but as soon as the shooting season starts, they go and blast away at the birds. We would think that's the biggest fire risk."

The moorlands of the Peak District National Park have been closed to the public for more than two weeks because the long dry summer has dried out the peat beneath so much that if a fire started now, it could rage for days.

On Thursday and Friday, the Derbyshire Fire Service fought a blaze at Longendale, near Glossop, for more than 12 hours before bringing it under control. With about 3 million people entering the park's 550 sq miles every weekend, the park's operators are said to be "desperately anxious" about the risk of fire.

The British Mountaineering Club has also questioned the value of the existing system. "We don't support the principle of closure, because we don't believe it is effective in preventing fires," said Jeremy Barlow, the BMC's access officer.

Shooting parties are organised by individual owners of the land. The Peak park is not publicly owned, but belongs to a mixture of private individuals, such as farmers, privatised organisations, such as water companies, and public organisations, such as The National Trust. Usually they allow people to wander freely on the land, and leave its running to the rangers, but they can withdraw access rights when they wish. However, rights of way remain open, and can only be closed by an special directive at national level.

Pat Goodall-McIntosh, the Peak District National Park's director of visitor services, said:"The fire service tells us there's no risk from a shotgun because there's no spark and the birdshot doesn't ricochet."