Grouse-shooting bosses are crying fowl over a ban on a herbicide they say was introduced to protect spinach but which will devastate moorland habitats.
The Moorland Association, which represents landowners and managers where birds are shot by paying customers, called the prohibition ‘European bureaucracy gone mad’.
The association said the ban on the herbicide Asulam will change the face of Britain’s countryside.
It was the only effective bracken control chemical, but the EU’s European Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health put a halt to its use after fears over its use in aerial spraying of spinach, according to the Moorland Association.
The MA said the legislation means this is the last summer land can be sprayed with Asulam, leaving vast tracts of countryside vulnerable to massive bracken infestation.
MA vice-chairman George Winn-Darley, who manages 2,630ha (6,500 acres) of North Yorkshire heather moorland, said: “Three quarters of the world’s heather moorland is found in the UK. Without Asulam, we would have already lost 50 per cent of it.
“Designed to safeguard continentally grown spinach, the ban will be devastating to our rural economy as moorland gives way to the suffocating effects of bracken.
“Without the Government-approved chemical, successfully and safely used for 35 years, our countryside and rural livelihoods will suffer very serious consequences.
“This will not only adversely affect biodiversity, including red list endangered species, but radically impact on grouse management, jobs and ultimately the appearance of globally important moors.”
The MA said it cares for 343,983ha (850,000 acres) of ‘precious heather moorland’.
The ‘Glorious Twelfth’ – 12 August – is the traditional start of the grouse-shooting season, when hundreds of hapless birds are blasted from the sky. The shooting cannot take place on Sunday, so many of the birds will face an unlucky 13 August this year.
The MA is warning it could be the last time shooting takes place to the extent it has.
Mr Winn-Darley said: “Grouse breeding will be badly hit, along with the shooting industry, which is worth over £67m in England alone, creates 42,500 days of work a year and supports over 1,500 jobs.
“MA members spend vast sums of money managing the moorland habitat. So much is at risk, including 46 upland bird species.”
He added: “May and June have been the wettest on record, bad news for all breeding birds.
“Last year may have been the last good season for our unique wild red grouse.
“The EU ban is causing furore in UK farming and conservation circles.
“Its legislators seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
The association said bracken control on grouse moors has produced another significant benefit: a 60 per cent reduction in the blood-feeding ticks responsible for Lyme disease, which can affect walkers infested by the insects.
A spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Asulam is important for the control of bracken.
“We are continuing to support efforts to secure its approval by Europe, with appropriate conditions to protect people and the environment from harm.
“In the meantime, we are working within the present rules to ensure its continued safe and effective use.”
Most of England’s moorland lies within what the MA said are key tourist areas: North Yorkshire, Lancashire’s Trough of Bowland, the Peak District and the Cumbria-County Durham borders. Much of it has Site of Special Scientific Interest status it said and, ironically, is protected under European law for plants and birds.