Peak District National Park – who is it for & who runs it? Guest blog by Bob Berzins

Guest blog written by conservation campaigner Bob Berzins, who has featured previously on this blog here, here and here.

The Raptor Persecution UK blog recently reported the most horrific cruelty towards hen harriers with four chicks stamped to death in a nest on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park [here] and this was compounded by a Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority meeting where one of the Authority Board members stated the Dales is not natural country for hen harriers and red kites apparently because you don’t see them there [here]. Many readers of this blog know you don’t see these raptors because they’ve been killed and we all campaign in our own way to try to stop this happening.

In this guest blog I’ll take a look at the situation in the Peak District, the discussions within the Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) about birds of prey, who makes the decisions on policy and where the decision makers’ loyalties lie.

Photo by Ruth Tingay

First of all a little bit about the structure of National Park Authorities, taken from the Peak District National Park Authority’s website:

The National Park Authority is a public body made up of two groups of people – members and officers. The members are the people who make the decisions. They are responsible for setting policies and objectives, ensuring resources are well used and money is well spent. The officers are employees who work to the policies and carry out the decisions made by members. On routine matters members ask officers to take decisions directly, in line with agreed policies. Overall responsibility for the work of the officers lies with the Chief Executive‘.

There was a Peak District National Park Authority Meeting on 20th May 2022 where members discussed progress on delivery of the Park’s Management Plan (2018-2023). Officers were present to provide details of action taken.

Background: over the last year or so there’s been three incidents involving deaths and disappearances of hen harriers in the Peak District: The reported disappearance of a hen harrier in the Stocksbridge area in February 2022 [here], followed by the disappearance of male birds from two nest sites in the Upper Derwent Valley [here] which resulted in the nests failing. The meeting took place just after the nest failures were publicised.

One of the abandoned hen harrier nests in 2022. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group.

Audio of the PDNPA meeting in May 2022 [listen here] 1:26:55 to 1:34.

Peak District National Park Management Plan 2018-2023 here.

During the meeting on 22nd May 2022, PDNPA Member Charlotte Farrell asked why the following target in the Management Plan is never met:

Restore populations of birds of prey to at least the levels present in the late 1990s, with the addition of hen harrier as a regularly successful breeding species‘.

She commented that the PDNPA needed to look at moorland management and grouse shooting and to be vocal about this.

Robert Helliwell was the PDNPA Member with responsibility for Natural Environment, Biodiversity and Farming (his term ended 30 June 2022). His response was astonishing:

Rewilding devastates bird populations because you lose the habitat for them.”

This was from the PDNPA Member – the person making decisions in the Peak District National Park – whose area of responsibility was biodiversity. And of course, he obviously sidestepped the request to be vocal on the links between grouse moor management and raptor persecution.

Also during the meeting, PDNPA Chair Andrew McCloy mentioned a “reputational risk” for the Authority but then said it’s an issue “out of our control”.

We need to challenge this derogation of public responsibility especially due to the secrecy of meetings between the PDNPA and shooting representatives and the involvement of pro-shooting groups in the management of the National Park – more of this below.

During the meeting, the Peak Park officer with responsibility for Landscapes described the recent “Chatsworth Moorland Managers Meeting” attended by South Yorkshire Police. There are the usual platitudes about how disappointing it is that two hen harrier nests failed and a complete failure to acknowledge why birds of prey disappear from grouse moors. These Chatsworth meetings are secret – there are no minutes and no list of attendees. If the PDNPA was serious about raptor persecution they would be very open about all the actions they were taking.

The PDNPA meeting in May 2022 provided a snapshot of one lone voice speaking out against wildlife crime. What about the other PDNPA members?

There are 30 members in the PDNPA. Sixteen are appointed by county, district, city or borough councils. Fourteen are appointed by the Secretary of State, eight of these have “specialist” knowledge to help the PDNPA and six are Parish Councillors. In total, eight members register an interest in the Conservative party and the Secretary of State is in a Conservative government. It’s easy to see how a National Park Authority can become a microcosm of the ruling party of government, especially when there’s no clear process for who gets “invited” to be a National Park Authority member.

May 2022 was the final PDNPA meeting for Robert Helliwell and the new person with responsibility for Natural Environment, Biodiversity and Farming is David Chapman, who lists an interest in Bolshaw Crop Nutrition, a local company that produces Industrial Powders, mainly lime based. Limestone quarrying is one of the biggest industries in the Peak District.

David Chapman is also Chair of the Land Managers Forum which was set up in 2006 by the PDNPA and ‘partners’ [here]. Four PDNPA members attend this forum and other attendees are nominated by National Farmers Union and Country Land & Business Association, formerly Countryside Landowners Association and a partner in ‘Aim to Sustain’, a coalition of game shooting interests which promotes game shooting. The PDNPA does not provide a list of the attendees (or their affiliations), no minutes are published and meetings are secret. These meetings are attended by PDNPA members with decision making powers but there is absolutely no accountability. This is supposed to be ‘democracy’.

As far as I’m concerned, there couldn’t be a clearer link between the PDNPA and game shooting. The PDNPA is supposed to be tackling the biodiversity crisis and I’m sure they’ll produce a very nice document to that end. But in the uplands grouse moor owners will look after their own interests, as they always have done and the PDNPA will go along their wishes.

This structure is about as democratic as the pandemic VIP lane for procurements. And until it changes raptor persecution in the Peak District will continue.

The purposes of the PDNPA are to preserve the natural landscape and to help people enjoy these areas. Instead, landowners’ interests are the priority and wildlife crimes are overlooked [Ed: see previous blog on abuse of power used to shield raptor killers in the Peak District NP here]. And don’t forget, National Parks are part of our government – apparently we voted for this.

ENDS

17 thoughts on “Peak District National Park – who is it for & who runs it? Guest blog by Bob Berzins”

  1. A great bit of research Bob and I’m sure your findings will be echoed across many National Park authorities.It is obvious that these committees are made up of people with strongly vested interests with the interests of wildlife very near the bottom. The comments of Robert Helliwell show a staggering :
    ( probably willful) misunderstanding of how rewilding can work and that it can include a more sustainable management of uplands that of course would not include driven grouse shooting. It is clear the park authorities need to change, become more democatic so that they incorporate interests beyond landowners and the shooting industry. If they do not, I fear for the future of our potentially wonderful National Parks.

    1. A check of corresponding register of interests suggests that Robert Heliwell is a sheep farmer. From what I have seen online and read, they are some of the most virulent opponents of rewilding as they are no doubt fully aware that most of the land that in future that could be rewilded in the UK would be land which is currently grazed by sheep, and sheep farming in the UK is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, and would be, from what I have read, uneconomic in many areas without those subsidies. Most sheep farmers are past an age where they could retrain into any other career, and therefore defend their role and way of life quite aggressively, which to an extent is understandable, although often very odd in the wider context. I’m not defending his laughable comments, which I’m sure he never expected to be quoted a wider forum.

  2. I don’t know anything about the educational achievements of the two people being discussed and I assume that they give up a fair amount of their own time to serve on these committees but I do think that it is incumbent upon them to seek to educate themselves about the issues they are being asked to consider. Our environment is at critical risk on so many fronts and any organisation being asked to make policy decisions should, as a matter of professional care, take steps to ensure that those decisions are being taken in a properly informed manner rather than in the fashion of a pub debate. I don’t criticise those who, justifiably, feel angry about the unprofessional and/or biased way that many of these organizations seem to operate but I feel that the most effective activity for those of us who have no direct involvement with the organisations involved is to continue to harangue our local MPs and try our best to bring these things to the attention of friends and family.

  3. I am sure that PDNP is not alone in the secret promotion of these undemocratic vested interests and the ignorance about or suppression of what should be being promoted in our NPs and AONBs, it’s certainly happening on YDNP, NYMNP and Nidderdale AONB.

  4. The Chair who said, “it’s out of our control” – yes, the NP may not have any powers of investigation or enforcement, but he should be shouting about the lack of this from the rooftops and demanding that the NP be given some powers. The reputational damage for the ongoing lawbreaking by well connected landowners is nothing compared to the reputational damage of knowing it is happening and just sitting on your hands!

  5. I note with disdain that the Peak District National Park Authority Board consists of 22 appointed politicians, with just 8 appointed experts.

    That is the principal problem.

    If you look at what National Parks are for, the emphasis is on landscape: “World-class landscapes with the power to inspire everyone” and “each one has been designated as a protected landscape”, with wildlife concerns coming somewhat secondary.

    That is also a problem.

    National Park Authorities do not own all the National Park land, so there is inevitable conflict between politicians and experts when it comes to “conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage” of a National Park and “seeking to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities”.

    In the recent consultation about the governance of ‘our’ National Parks there was opportunity to place more emphasis on wildlife (as strongly recommended by the RSPB) and upon increasing the number of experts (also strongly recommended by the RSPB).

    If we are to actually meet our 30×30 ‘commitment’ (at least 30% of our land and sea ‘devoted’ for nature by 2030) then the role of our National Parks needs to pivot toward ‘wildlife’ and away from ‘economic’ – because the Government appear to think that the mere existence of our National Parks in their current state counts towards 30×30. I do not.

    I very much doubt ‘appointed’ politicians would vote for that, though.

  6. How does this declaration of interest by Councillor Andrew McCloy not constitute a conflict of interest with regards to the shooting industry and promoting biodiversity? 31st May 2022, Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust and the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate. Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate, Estate Office, Wentworth, Rotherham S62 7TD – Evening dinner at Sickleholme Golf Club on 26 May 2022. Estimated Value £30, Accepted

  7. Lived in the park all my life. Biggest set of bent b******* going. Money talks when it comes to that lot, rotten to the core. Zero accountability.

  8. I am a double amputee and have had 30 plus years of harassment from the PDNPA they have told me they is no place in the national park for disabled people and have made this quite clear. No accountability and full of lies all the way through they have totally ruined the Peak District

  9. The Peak District National Park, just like the 2 Yorkshie ones, along with the Cairngorms are a joke. Native wildlife actively killed whether protected or not and millions of alien species introduced. National Parks? A National Sham! National Corruption!

  10. No Minutes
    No members lists
    No accountability!
    Surely this can’t be right. Even our Village Hall Committee are obliged to produce members and minutes?
    Again starting 2023 with a huge THANK YOU to you especially Ruth for continuing to work against these appalling, and I have to say sometimes depressing and challenging issues against our beautiful Raptors. Sometimes it feels we are still in the Dark Ages!!!

  11. This is a topic which needs some form of independent review. Northumberland National Park states in its own National Park Vision for 2014-2035 that moorland management and game are important to the park and and seems to go out of its way to say that bringing on peat lands is acceptable. There needs to be a formal review of how the parks view their collective successes.

    1. There’s a need for an investigative journalist or two with very tough hide to get in amongst things in lots areas Northumberland National Park including around breamish, alnham and shank valleys. Signs and leaflets patronise visitors and walkers urging to respect local traditions round there. But when did dominant land use for commercial large scale canned Redleg partridge shoots become classed as a tradition within our national park and who in national park organisation agrees on all our behalfs ?

  12. The Sandford principle is often misquoted as “conservation has priority over recreation”; however, importantly, it is better summarised as, “where those two purposes cannot be reconciled by skilful management, conservation should come first”

    The two purposes of national parks are, in short,

    -conservation of the natural environment and
    – access for the public.
    (Considering the economic and social well-being of the community is also a duty which was subsequently introduced and applies to more recently created parks).

    The purposes were amended by the Environment Act 1995. They are now, firstly, to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area and, secondly, to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public.

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