THE owner of a grouse moor within the East Nidderdale Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) has been ordered to pay £925 in fines and costs by Skipton Magistrates for illegally burning peat.

Ben Ramsden, 59, whose family has owned Lofthouse Moor - which is used for grouse-shooting - for 100 years, pleaded guilty to three charges of burning vegetation on a designated site on peat of a depth more than 40cms without a licence.

All three burns took place on April 8 this year on areas of land at Thrope Farm, Lofthouse, near Harrogate, the Skipton court heard on Friday.

The case was only the second to be brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) under new laws introduced in 2021.

Ramsden, of Green Lane, Ashley, Market Harborough, did not appear in court, but was represented by his solicitor who confirmed his guilty pleas. His case had been due to be heard in the afternoon, but was moved to the morning session.

Prosecuting, Alison Whiteley, said the decision had been made to press ahead with the charges instead of issuing the landowner with a warning because all three sites where burning had taken place had been of a depth more than 40cms, there had also been 'ignorance' to the regulations from the land manager.

Inspectors visited the site in July and identified six burn areas - three of which were subject to charges. One piece of land measuring 0.318 hectares had burns of between 20cms and 60cms; another of 0.025 had 42cms to 97cms, and the third of 0.0023 hectares of 42cms to 97cms.

In a statement, Joanne Rawlings of the Peatland Protection Policy Team, part of Defra, said the illegitimate burning of peatland could impede its restoration; a second witness statement said inappropriate burning could damage wildlife habitats such as sphagnum moss. The court heard in mitigation that it had been a genuine mistake, that it would not happen again and that Ramsden would make sure his keepers got it right from now on.

Ramsden's legal representative said it was quite complicated legislation which carried a maximum fine of £1,000. Ramsden had co-operated throughout the investigation which had been due to mistakes made during the depth measurements.

"This was a genuine mistake; they were trying, and got it wrong. It won't happen again and Mr Ramsden will make sure his keepers get it right next time," he said.

Ramsden was fined £300, £100 and £200 for the three offences. Magistrates said the level of fine varied due to the area of land involved. He was also ordered to pay a surcharge of £240 and costs of £85.