Two moors, a mysterious tractor and now a council legal letter

Garry Doolan

Garry Doolan

Garry Doolan is BASC’s deputy director of communications and public affairs. He has more than 20 years experience of journalism and the media. He joined the organisation in 2016 and is a keen shooter and beater, with his springer spaniel Quincy.

ON April 28 this year, BASC published a blog in response to video footage circulating on social media that showed a large tractor mowing on Baildon Moor.

We headlined it “The Council, two moors and the mysterious tractor” because the events up on the moor appeared to us stranger than fiction.

Like other rural organisations whose staff care passionately for conservation, we were shocked to see activity which risked destroying the nests of vulnerable ground-nesting birds at the height of their breading season.

It was, therefore, right and proper under the circumstances that we asked a number of searching questions of Bradford City Council, who are responsible for managing the moor.

But it appears they do not agree.

Last week, a two-page letter arrived in our post from the Council’s legal department demanding we take down the blog written by our uplands officer Gareth Dockerty. The Council also said that if we did not satisfy a list of other demands within five days, they would take the issue to the ‘wider media’.

It’s a bizarre tactic for a public body to threaten a communications department with publicity. Usually, lawyers’ letters tend to talk of legal action.

We have, of course, re-examined the original blog alongside the Council’s letter. We’ve looked for substantive legal points on which they may have claim against us. We can’t find any.

We have also looked at what other organisations and individuals said at the time. It was clearly an issue that inflamed passions and attracted substantial comment, much of it critical of Bradford City Council. Much of it in terms much stronger than ours.

If those organisations or individuals wish to contact BASC in the coming days, we will consider a collective defence of our rights to freely and legitimately challenge public bodies such as Bradford City Council when there are clear grounds to do so. 

In the meantime, we are happy to publish the substantive points made in the Council’s letter to BASC as we can best define them. Our replies are in bold:

1. You (BASC) claim that the Council are responsible for a tractor mowing heather on Baildon Moor during the nesting season for ground nesting birds?

We do not claim the above. We say the film ‘reportedly showed a tractor mowing on a moor managed by Bradford City Council’.

2. You (BASC) are critical of the Council’s management of the moorland.

Yes, we are. And rightfully so – we contacted Bradford City Council with our concerns by phone and email after the incident; our questions remain unanswered.

3. You (BASC) claim that a lack of gamekeepers was responsible for failure to prevent the arson attack on Ilkley Moor.

We do not claim the above, instead we reference a Bradford Council paper titled ‘Ilkley Moor Management Plan’ that states “their [gamekeepers] presence on the moor, day and night, provides an additional level of protection to the moor’.

4. You (BASC) claim that by withdrawing shooting leases, the Council is lumbered with unprofitable business plans for moorland and limited expertise to manage them.

We do claim the above. We will be happy to hear of how the £11,000 annual rent from grouse shooting is now being recouped from the moor. The claim of ‘limited expertise’ is dealt with in the paper referenced above.

What next…

So, at this point, with the Council’s lawyers watching, it would be useful to outline BASC’s opinion of where we are now and what we know to be fact.

  • Mowing took place on Baildon Moor at a critical time for ground-nesting birds that would likely be breeding.
  • It is illegal to disturb or damage the nest site of a wild bird (unless under specific exceptions).
  • This incident occurred on moorland that Bradford City Council has responsibility for managing.
  • The incident was reported to the police by the Council.

We will not apologise for asking questions of the Council, nor will we accede to the Council’s demands to publish their position on the issue. Certainly not while a police investigation is ongoing.

In the absence of any meaningful approach from the Council in the last five weeks and any offer of useful dialogue with either BASC or the broader rural community on this important issue, we will instead allow the Council to play out its threat of taking this matter to the ‘wider media’.

It is BASC’s opinion that the more people alerted to what took place on Baildon Moor that day – on the Council’s ‘watch’ – the better for the future protection of the moor’s valuable wildlife and habitat.

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