Why we’re here

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This is about a community fighting back against a large landowner who’s trashed the land for an elite bloodsport and worsened floods downstream

For years, the community in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding Calder Valley has had to wage a David-vs-Goliath struggle with Richard Bannister, the wealthy landowner who owns the 16,000-acre walshaw Estate grouse moor (1). The situation epitomises the inequality of land ownership in this country: less than 1% of the population own half of all England. We need greater equality of land ownership.

The landowner’s intensive slash-and-burn management of the moor has deprived the community of the natural flood defences they need.

As long ago as 2013, Hebden residents successfully lodged a complaint with the European Commission against the walshaw Estate’s practices. Now the UK Government agrees that burning of protected blanket bog has to stop, yet still walshaw Estate persists – propped up by over £280k in public farm subsidies in 2017 (2). We need the government to ban the burn.

It’s time to take back control of the land we depend on.

England needs a Community right to Buy, like now exists in Scotland. if the community in the Calder Valley were given control of Walshaw Moor, they would manage it properly – slowing the flow of water downstream, restoring the land to ecological health and locking up carbon to address the climate emergency. But for that to happen, politicians need to change the law. We need land reform in England, now.

Grouse moors are a waste of land: if the community controlled this land it’d lead to more jobs and greater local benefits.

Grouse moor owners boast that their wealth brings jobs to an area, but for Hebden Bridge and the Calder Valley, the ‘trickle-down economics’ of grouse shooting simply results in flooding. Rich businessmen and gentry who come in for a weekend’s shooting don’t spend their money in the town. If the community controlled the moor and surrounding farmland, it could ensure the benefits were spread much more equally: encouraging smallholder farmers and community growing, and building a green economy by employing local people in conservation, nature restoration and natural flood management (3).

We need to repair the damage that’s been done to our land by large landowners.

Hebden residents have been trying for decades to repair the damaged ecosystem of the Calder Valley: community group Treesponsibility has planted a quarter of a million trees in surrounding valleys over the past 20 years; slow the Flow are trying to fix the area’s broken natural flood defence mechanisms; and other local groups are working to nurture wildlife and protect endangered species. Land justice
Network will be helping out on a tree-planting weekend near hebden in April, and we want the Land Camp to initiate further action for ecological restoration.

We’re occupying unregistered land, which has never been registered with the Land Registry.

Who owns land is one of England’s oldest and darkest secrets – we’re pretty certain this land lies within the Walshaw Estate but why has the landowner never properly registered it? Concealing wealth and power is part and parcel of preserving it. The Government should make landowners reveal the land they own, and open up the Land Registry so the full scale of inequality in land ownership can be clearly seen.

We’re occupying farmland that has been largely abandoned*, leaving nearby farmsteads empty and falling into ruin

Why has this been allowed to happen? We need to make better use of the land we’ve got – whether that’s for housing, growing food or letting nature return.

*it has been pointed out that this could be interpreted by some to mean that the land isn’t farmed at all. Some sheep are kept on this marginal land, which is on the edge of a tenant farm.

(1) For some of the background on this struggle, and reference to the estate being 16,000 acres, see https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/countryside/9061388/Legal-battle-threatens-Englands-grouse-moors.html
(2) in 2017, Walshaw Moor Estate Ltd received £283,838 in farm subsidies, according to DEFrA’s CAP payments website: http://www.cap-payments.defra.gov.uk/
(3) The NGO Common weal has demonstrated how scottish grouse moors are economically one of the worse ways to use land. see Common weal, ‘Back to Life: Visions of alternative futures for scotland’s grouse
moors’, December 2018.