Does grouse-moor management cause flooding?

Published on 17 January 2016 in News and comment

After catastrophic flooding across much of northern England in December and January, communities downhill from rigorously drained grouse moors are asking whether the shooters’ ‘sport’ is contributing to their misery. The largest number of signatories from one locality to campaigner Mark Avery’s e-petition on the UK Parliament website against driven grouse shooting (which has amassed over 31,000 signatures with just four days of voting to go) came from Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, a town beneath a grouse moor and flooded for the fifth time in a decade in December. This is how Mark explains the link between land management on grouse moors and flooding events downhill:

‘The disastrous floods of recent months have put a spotlight on the role of land use as a whole, and more than ever before, grouse moor management, in affecting flood risk. We clearly wouldn’t get floods without it raining a lot, but how we treat that water once it falls to earth is also important. The quicker water leaves the uplands, where 70% of it falls, the quicker it gets to lower ground where most people live.

‘Grouse moor management, particularly drainage and heather burning, is known to shift water off the hills. That’s part of the point of it – heather, on which Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus depend, and therefore on which the hobby of grouse shooting depends, doesn’t thrive in very wet conditions.

‘Hebden Bridge experienced a damaging flood in December and that comes after two floods in 2012, and also floods in 2006 and 2007. These followed the purchase, in 2002, of the grouse moor that sits above the town by Richard Bannister and intensified management of Walshaw Moor for grouse shooting. The Ban the Burn campaigners in Hebden Bridge are convinced that changes to management in the hills above their town has caused or worsened the floods of the last few years – and they may well be right. It’s difficult to be sure but this is just the type of thing that the science tells us might well happen.

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