EU spinach ruling threatens moorlands

Gun and Grouse on Butt � Moorland Association
Gun and Grouse on Butt � Moorland Association

As the grouse shooting season beckons, moorland owners fear an EU spinach ruling threatens the centuries-old tradition.

A ban on the only effective bracken control herbicide will change the face of Britain’s countryside, devastate wildlife and destroy land management worth around £100million a year.

So say Moorland Association members, who are facing the start of the 2012 season, on August 13, with the prospect of ending the successful stewardship of 850,000 acres of globally-recognised heather moorland.

The Brussels legislation means this is the last summer land in Northumberland can be sprayed with Asulam, banned following safety concerns over aerial spraying by continental spinach growers.

Heather moorland manager James Scott-Harden, of Newbiggin Estate on the Durham-Northumberland border, slammed ‘European bureaucracy gone mad’. He said without the government-approved chemical, countryside and rural livelihoods would be put at serious risk.

“How can herbicide which has been safely used here for 35 years be sacrificed in the name of spinach?” he said.

“Rare wildlife and habitats, including red list endangered species, will face extinction once bracken swamps their breeding ground.

“The impact on grouse management, jobs and ultimately how moorland looks will be dire.

“The protection of heather moorland is paramount. We’ve already been hit by some of the wettest weather on record, bad news in itself for breeding birds.

“Game can’t be shot on Sunday, which means the glorious twelfth gives way to the thirteenth this year, and you can’t help thinking there’s an unlucky resonance.”

The bulk of the country’s moorland lies within key tourist areas and has Site of Special Scientific Interest status. Ironically, it is protected under European law for plants and birds.

Bracken control on grouse moors has seen a 60 per cent reduction in the blood-feeding ticks responsible for life-threatening Lyme disease.

Asulam was banned by the EU’s European Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.