Grouse moor estate in Nidderdale with history of wildlife crime to be rewilded

A grouse moor estate in Nidderdale with a history of wildlife crime is set to be rewilded, according to an article in the Telegraph and Argus.

In May 2017, the RSPB’s investigations team filmed two armed individuals, dressed like gamekeepers, appearing to shoot at a nesting Marsh harrier and then apparently removing eggs from the harrier’s nest on Denton Moor (see here). Despite a thorough investigation by North Yorkshire Police, nobody was ever charged for these alleged offences.

[Screengrab from RSPB covert video of two armed men at a Marsh harrier’s nest on Denton Moor]

In February 2019, gamekeeper Austin Hawke was convicted at Skipton Magistrates Court for an offence relating to the death of a badger caught in a snare on the same grouse moor on 28th May 2018. Hawke was found guilty of failing to check the snare contrary to section 11 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (see here).

In March 2019, the owners of Denton Moor (an engineering company called NG Bailey) announced it would not be renewing its grouse-shooting lease following the spate of wildlife crime (see here).

And now the estate owners, brothers Cal and Nick Bailey, have announced an ambitious rewilding project for the estate, according to an article in last week’s Telegraph & Argus (here). The article is reproduced below:

THE two brothers behind an ambitious plan to transform the Denton Hall estate into an exclusive hotel and rewilding project have outlined their ideas for the scheme – and vowed they want to take the local community with them on their journey.

Cal and Nick Bailey are members of the family which set up the huge NG Bailey engineering company and are shareholders in the business.

Denton Hall was bought by NG Bailey in 1976 and the Grade I Georgian Listed building has been used as offices and a wedding and events venue.

The Bailey brothers are in the process of buying the building and its 2,500 acres of land from the company to realise their dream of helping to combat climate change.

It is also something of a home-coming for Cal and Nick, who grew up in the house and roamed the estate’s moorland and woods in the 1970s.

Although the sale is still in the process of going through, the idea is that developing the house into an exclusive boutique hotel will help finance the wider project – turning the estate into a model of biodiversity and regeneration that will be a flagship scheme driving climate change-combatting measures.

At Denton Hall, which from its elevated position looks out over the greater Ilkley area, Cal Bailey says: “The climate crisis is real and nature in the UK and the wider world is seriously under threat.

“There’s a phrase ‘think global, act local’ and what that means for us is taking this opportunity which we are lucky enough to have to buy this estate and realising our three major goals of making a positive contribution in terms of three major areas, carbon, nature and food.”

Their plans are well-thought out and hugely ambitious, and they appreciate that there might be some misgivings among local people, particularly in the close-knit Denton village community neighbouring the estate. But they are determined to allay any fears about the development.

Cal says: “We are very keen that people in the area hear what we are saying and planning. There have been a few voices against our plans, but the overwhelming number of people have been supportive.

“It’s an exciting opportunity and there’s obviously a long way to go. The way we get there is as important as where we get to so we are absolutely determined to get to the end point but we want to take people with us, otherwise, what’s the point?

“We have tried to lean over backwards to share our vision with people because it’s really important that local people are on this journey with us.

“In every example I’ve seen of rewilding or any similar initiative up and down the country, when local people begin to understand what’s happening and begin to feel part of it, they recognise something special is happening and want to be a part of it.”

But what exactly is going to happen on the Denton Park estate? Over to Nick Bailey, to outline the main points of their plan.

Nick says: “We’ve set ourselves a 30-year horizon because with the best will in the world things change. NG Bailey took over the estate in 1976 and started developing what had been a neglected farm, and 50 years ago they had a very different vision and no doubt visions change so they didn’t think too far ahead.

“So one of the things that struck me was that over no other issue almost ever in history had scientists universally agreed, quickly, the climate crisis and the biodiversity challenge is real.

“So anyone who doesn’t face up to that is like a flat earth group. Scientists describe it and come up with suggestions, governments incentivise it and legislate around it, but it’s people who implement change and that’s what we want to do.

“Our aim here is to create an estate that can balance nature with carbon and with food and that can make as full a contribution as it has the capability to do in each of these three areas.”

So what will that mean in practice? Well, there are several schemes that the brothers want to put into motion over the next few years.

* The Moorland — Peat in good condition is one of the best things to sequester carbon but if it’s in poor condition it can contribute to carbon in the atmosphere, so one of the major projects will be to come up with a restoration plan for the Denton Park moorland peat.

* A Hundred Acre Wood – The brothers are working with the White Rose forest organisation to plant something like a thousand trees per acre, on average, which they are hoping to get underway by November.

* Additives – Their farm manager James Bush is looking at ways to reduce all chemical additives used on the land, whether fertiliser, herbicides or pesticides.

* Food partnerships – They want to utilise the land for growing and rearing food and providing local food producers and breweries with the raw materials so that their products are completely locally sourced. This includes fruit and vegetables, meat, and raw materials for alcohol production.

* A Tree Nursery – This would enable them to develop and grow the best varieties to help with the rewilding of the whole site.

* Bees – a mixture of hives and schemes to attract wild bees, which are essential to biodiversity, and also with a view to producing the estate’s very own honey.

* Grazing land – at the moment there are deer and sheep on the land, but they are looking at reintroducing cattle and possibly pigs to have a stronger mix and also provide food production as well.

* A Walled Garden – There’s already one there that has a history of growing food on the estate, and bringing that back into use is part of the plans.

* Water management – This is a hugely important part of the plans. Some 9.5 million tons of rain fall on the estate each year so proper management of the land will help to cut back on potential flooding further down the valley.

These are just some of the plans in the pipeline, and the Bailey brothers are consulting with a wide range of experts and organisations to look at how to put them into practice and to develop new and exciting ideas to help the estate be a model of biodiversity and rewilding.

Cal says: “We have this amazing opportunity to put our beliefs into practice on a bit of land in England that we can buy and manage. Because we have this opportunity and the fundamental belief that the world is in crisis, this is something we want to do.

“Does this mean we are experts in land restoration and farming? Not at all. I’m an accountant by training, a businessman who’s running factories. Nick is an engineer, but he’s been a teacher.”

Nick adds: “I’ve restored a couple of buildings in the past but not to this scale. This is a chance to play and learn, if you like, but I think so many things in my life have given me so much to bring to this project.

“So, no, we don’t have all the skills that we need, we’ll need the help of a lot of other folk. But we want to see our three goals of carbon reduction, food production and nature brought together in one vision on this estate. And the way we will fund it is hopefully bringing visitors to the estate who will stay here.”

It’s a long-term project, though, and the brothers know that. But they want to get local people onside to help them realise this dream.

Nick says: “There will be loads of opportunities for people to get involved and they won’t come all at once, even though people are battering the door down now, but over the next five or 10 years more and more people from the local community will become involved with the projects here, and hopefully inspire more and more people and it will be something for Ilkley to be proud of.”


22 thoughts on “Grouse moor estate in Nidderdale with history of wildlife crime to be rewilded”

    1. Absolutely. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has said that animal agriculture contributes as much damaging greenhouse gases as the direct emissions from every car, truck, train and plane on the planet. Time to go plant based.

      1. One of the largest agricultural contributors to world-wide atmospheric methane contamination is rice production.

        The UN Food and Agriculture organisation would be better proposing ways to reduce the human population if it was really interested in saving the planet.

        1. I agree, Keith Dancey. It’s just that populations need to be reduced humanly, if there’s time. The planet will survive, without life.

          Keith Dancey commented on Grouse moor estate in Nidderdale with history of wildlife crime to be rewilded.
          in response to Lizzybusy:
          Absolutely. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has said that animal agriculture contributes as much damaging greenhouse gases as the direct emissions from every car, truck, train and plane on the planet. Time to go plant based.
          One of the largest agricultural contributors to world-wide atmospheric methane contamination is rice production.
          The UN Food and Agriculture organisation would be better proposing ways to reduce the human population if it was really interested in saving the planet.

  1. Same people running the rewinding as ran the criminal
    grouse moor? Do leopards change their spots???

    [Ed: Incorrect. The grouse-shooting was leased to a third party, and the estate owners announced that the shooting lease would not be renewed following the conviction of a gamekeeper for wildlife crime]

    1. I think the confusion (and justified questions) arises from the fact that Nick and Cal Bailey are members of the family whose engineering firm has been the owner of the estate. It could be that their buying the estate in their two names is simply a change of ‘ownership’ without really changing the ultimate ‘beneficial owner’. This can often be done for all sorts of PR and other reasons. It isn’t made clear in the article – which has all the hallmarks of a PR-produced press release rather than a piece produced by a journalist’s news gathering.
      The matter of switching ‘ownership’ of estates needs to be looked at and built into any licencing of grouse moors when it is brought in in Scotland.

    2. That is good news, especially about the shooting lease being rescinded.
      I wish the brothers all the luck in the world, and I sincerely hope it works for them and involves the general community, as it will help to bring the community together.
      I really like their vision for this.

      Cheers, All!

  2. This scheme doesn’t sound much like re-wilding to me…..additionally why so much focus on the fictional climate crisis instead of admitting most environmental damage is directly caused by humans’ selfish activities on the ground.

    1. “why so much focus on the fictional climate crisis”

      Oh. What fictional ‘climate crisis’ is that then? Did you skip all your science education?

  3. It’s actually Wharfedale not Nidderdale. But great news anyway. Perhaps better to describe the farmland proposals as regenerative farming but what’s in a name? The moorland abuts the Duke of Devonshire’s land where driven grouse shooting and gamekeepers still rule. Let’s hope the Denton Hall estate proves a successful contrast. It’s not a “wilderness area” anyway but next to busy communities and commuter land for Leeds and Bradford. Let’s not knock any change for the better.

    1. Do you know if there is a map of Denton Moor boundary online? Does it go all the way north to the A59 I wonder? Bolton Abbey estate will be next to go “wild”, hopefully!

  4. What an exciting move in the right direction. It seems there are some good people out there with their hearts in the right place.

  5. Good to hear, both for local and national reasons.
    But it’s not Nidderdale. The estate is in Wharfedale.

    [Ed: Yes, in Wharfesale but inside the Nidderdale AONB]

  6. Some good news for a change. Wonderful.
    The more land that can be rewilded the better.
    Especially land that was previously a grouse moor

  7. For me the discussion about what the owners are planning to do with it is irrelevant just now. If the butts are going to fall into permanent disrepair and the quad tracks and medicated grit trays are going to get overgrown and lost then that is a good enough starting point for what comes next. Being vague on the geography of that area, I looked at the map and noticed that the next moor up is Blubberhouse…the one Lord Walsingham shot his 1000+ grouse himself in a day in 1888. The 150year anniversary of that ‘feat of sportsmanship’ will be 2038. What will things be like on both these estates then, I wonder?

  8. Not sure how much rewilding will actually take place, but practically a miracle that any is taking place in this part of the world. While progress has been made in Scotland there has been a soul destroying dearth of it on English grouse moors so far, pretty much echoing the situation in Wales. Every new scheme in Scotland was good news, but simultaneously underlined nothing was changing on English grouse moors. So this is fantastic and hopefully indicative that maybe a tipping point has finally been reached and we’re going to start seeing more and more grouse moors switching over in Lancashire, Yorkshire etc. Really great to see flood prevention mentioned, this is such a fantastic plus point for rewilding and a negative one for grouse moors.

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