Gareth Dockerty worked for Natural Resources Wales as a Conservation Officer and Reserves Manager, and has qualifications in woodland, conservation grazing and ecology. He has also worked in North York Moors National Park on small rural business development and is currently Regional Officer for BASC in North Yorkshire.
The uplands face an array of often emotive and political arguments. Staying open minded to form an opinion based on a wide variety of evidence, alternative views and morals, can be extremely difficult.
We want a lot from our ‘modern uplands’: including carbon stores, tourist attractions, diverse habitats and species, farming, timber production, flood protection, communities, historical culture and a thriving rural economy.
Management of a habitat is not, in my opinion, not just science, but also an art. Ecologists are skilled in counting and monitoring species, and it is the informed land manager’s job to take this information and implement a management plan, which should remain open to change as the science underpinning it changes. This is known as adaptive management.
Since the Iron Age clearance of upland forests, a range of activities from peat extraction, military training, non-native forestry plantations and now climate change, have done ‘their’ best to change the uplands. It could be argued that grouse shooting prevented our uplands from being completely dominated by a sterile blankets of forestry, and while the grouse moor is a managed habitat, upland heathland (both wet and dry), is in many cases, an increasingly rare habitat often designated as an SAC or SSSI.
I personally would not want to see our uplands dominated by just heather,
and support new practices such as fencing in streams and allowing native regeneration of willow and birch to move into the river catchments. Let’s push on with projects like #slowtheflow, absorbing floodwater in the hills rather than further down river. But can we engage with the ‘grouse community’ to work together in supporting more experimental projects, by blending the science with the grouse keeper’s local knowledge of species, habitats and fire?
The shooting community has created and protected habitats that people care about, visit, enjoy and ‘consume’ in a variety of ways. Can we have more of an open dialogue, rather than just seek to ban the people who have conserved upland areas – who will then manage them?
While all views are valid in today’s society, ‘extreme’ immovable political views tend not to help create honest debate. Especially when opinions are confronted by strongly worded arguments which can inadvertently strengthen our own beliefs – regardless of the opposing arguments validity.
I believe shooting and conservation are inseparable – please can the people on the ground in the uplands be listened to, not excluded.
Gareth Dockerty is on twitter @garethbasc