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AN ENVIRONMENTAL activist started a hunger strike today outside the offices of government agency Natural England over its failure to stop landowners burning moors for grouse shooting, making recent floods worse.
Dongria Kondh from Hebden Bridge, one of the communities flooded by Storm Ciara, launched her protest following floods that for the third time devastated communities in Calder Valley in the Yorkshire Pennines.
She began her hunger strike outside the agency’s Leeds offices, protesting at its “failure to investigate seemingly unconsented works and moorland burning on a big grouse-shooting estate above Hebden Bridge.”
Campaigners say that burning the moors to create grouse-breeding conditions destroys water-retaining moss.
Landowners also dig drainage trenches which channel flood water down into communities below.
Ms Kondh is also co-ordinator of Treesponsibility, a group which is re-foresting the Pennines and has planted more than 250,000 trees since 1998.
She said that evidence of the damage being done by moorland burning was presented to Natural England in August last year.
“There is a huge amount of well-founded local concern, informed by reliable hydrology studies, that upland mismanagement in the area is contributing to the severity of flooding in the valley during heavy rainfall events,” she said.
“Local community groups like Treesponsibility and Slow the Flow Calderdale are doing their best to reduce flood risk, but unless the large landowners are held to account our efforts will be in vain.
“Natural England either can’t or won’t act as a regulator for landscape management in the uplands.”
Ms Kondh said that the landowners receive taxpayer-funded subsidies for moorland management and should be publicly accountable — but that there was little or no monitoring of their destructive activities.
“After campaigning for better upland management in the Hebden Water catchment for nearly eight years, my patience has run out — which is why I decided that a hunger strike was the only remaining course of action,” she said.
Hebden Bridge and neighbouring communities Todmorden and Mytholmroyd were flooded in 2012, 2015 and again this year.
Natural England, part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.
Ms Kondh’s hunger strike comes as the Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack labelled PM Boris Johnson’s response to the flooding a “shambles” and that he should be “ashamed” of the government’s failure to plan for floods in the long term.
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