Green Party upland policy cut down to size

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth is head of uplands at BASC. Having joined the organisation in 2016, Gareth’s role focuses on ensuring decision makers, stakeholders and the public understand the benefits of shooting for upland habitats and rural communities.

A parliamentary written question by Green MP Caroline Lucas has openly undermined her own Party’s radical policy on planting forests across the British uplands and over grouse moors.

In her question, the member for Brighton Pavilion asked what role Defra, the Forestry Commission and Natural England had in ensuring deep peat and other valuable wildlife habitats are not damaged by tree planting.

It would appear the Green Party has forgotten that around 60 per cent of all upland sites of special scientific interest in England, and much of the UK’s deep peat are on land managed for grouse shooting. And, by planting trees on grouse moors as they have been lobbying for would be unbelievably damaging to the underlying peat and habitat.

The true scale of damage being previously proposed by the Green Party can be read about from the RSPB’s work to deforest large swathes of the Flow Country in Scotland.

Caroline Lucas’ question has once and for all got rid of the idea that our expansive uplands are free to be turned into mass forestry plantations. As a recent Channel 4 investigation has highlighted, planting the wrong trees in the wrong area can release more carbon dioxide than sequester. This is also backed up by recent research from Exeter University which showed peatland plots planted with native and non-native trees stored less carbon than the original open moorland mosaic.

That is not to say there are areas that should not be planted, but rather than the Green Party’s misguided policy, the right tree must be planted in the right place if we are to tackle this nature and climate emergency. Over the last century the shooting community and land managed for shooting have been protecting existing and new woodlands across the UK, but not at the expense of our precious peatlands.

Our UK uplands store five billion tonnes of carbon in peat soil, more than all the forests of Britain and France. Efforts must be focused on collaboration to ensure the peat is healthy and working. BASC has taken part in the recent Defra consultations on peatland and tree planting strategies, ensuring the shooting community is a key partner in future decision making and we continue to provide credible solutions that take an informed and evidence-based approach.

Grouse moor management has been shown to restore peatland and can be significantly cheaper on the public purse than many other management techniques. Research commissioned by the Scottish Government concluded that grouse shooting required less public funding and ultimately benefitted the local economy more than other land uses.

This example of the Green Party’s ‘ban it’ culture may work in the media and be popular with supporters, but that does not guarantee it works on the ground. Following media attention their policies are generally picked apart and collapse, the only difference this time is that they have destroyed the policy themselves.

As for their view on the future of land use, it only leaves horticulture and development as their preferred options for our uplands. The mind boggles….