Wuthering Moors 22

This email exchange shows that the cost of the abandoned legal proceedings by Natural England against the Walshaw Moor Estate were over £1m of taxpayers’ money.  This is your money and you have been given no satisfactory explanation for why the case was dropped when a few months earlier NE had been pursuing the Walshaw Moor Estate for 43 alleged breaches of environmental legislation.

Rumours abound over the size of the HLS agreement that has been agreed with Walshaw Moor Estate.

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From: Smyllie, Jim (NE)

Sent: 09 March 2012 17:53

To: Dondi,Arik M (FFG-CCEDAR)

Cc:Arkle,Tanya (ERG-LOR); Mortimer,Robin (ERG)

Subject: RE: RESTRICTED- REGULATORY: Update on the Walshaw Estate

 

Arik

Apologies for sending this a little later than I would have hoped.  But I hope it does the job for you.

Total spend in relation to the appeal,  the JR and the criminal proceedings

(including expert and legal costs)@ :                          £1,022,000

 

This can be broken down as follows:

Legal spend inquiry and JR:  £762, 000

Legal spend criminal proceedings: £104, 000

Expert costs at the inquiry: £122, 000

Miscellaneous costs (printing, T &S): £20,000

Aerial photography: £14,000

 

Commentary:

1.  Natural England tried unsuccessfully for several years to have a realistic discussion with the Estate around future management of the Moor including offering support for management via the HLS scheme.  These negotiations failed and the Moor was, in Natural England’s opinion deteriorating so badly under the Estate’s management that it felt it had no choice but to take regulatory action and serve a notice modifying the Estate’s existing old, and poorly worded, consent to prevent further damage.

2.  It has taken the litigation including a 5 week public inquiry relating to the notice modifying the consent, a threatened judicial review and the instigation of criminal proceedings to allow Natural England to have a productive conversation with the Estate about future management of the Moor.

3.   Natural England is satisfied that it has secured a solution which ensures that the Moor, which is a SSSI, SAC and SPA, is now better protected and that there are controls in place relating to the management of the protected habitat.

4.   The cost of getting the Estate to the table to negotiate has to be set against the fact the Estate estimated their entitlement in terms of compensation  as [section withheld].  ­ The HLS agreement that will underpin future management of the Estate will pay no more than [section withheld] making an overall saving to the public purse (taking out the spend on the proceedings) of potentially [section withheld]·

Happy  to offer any further  context  by email or verbally. Jim

Jim Smyllie

Executive Director, Delivering with Communities

Natural England

 

 

From: Dondi, Arik M (FFG-CCEDAR)

Sent: 08 March 2012 10:57

To: Smyllie, Jim (NE)

Cc: Arkle, Tanya (ERG-LOR); Mortimer, Robin (ERG)

Subject: FW: RESTRICTED- REGULATORY: Update on the Walshaw Estate

Jim- I suppose this was inevitable…

Special advisers are keen to be able to address questions about the cost of the legal proceedings.

Do you have an estimate for a) defending the appeal, b) preparing the prosecution c) defending the Judicial Review?

I guess the justification of the costs will come from NE fulfilling its statutory duty and the benefits of securing environmental protection.

We should treat the cost of the eventual HLS agreement as separate, as it is not just expenditure related to the legal situation, but money that you would seek to spend in the normal course of delivering policy outcomes.

a.

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25 Comments

  1. John Miles

    Where is the Environment Agency in all this? Surely if drainage has taken place the sediment entering all these reservoirs must be a big problem.

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  2. Roderick Leslie

    This money would never have been spent had the Government been resolute in applying the law without fear or favour. History shows it is quite exceptional for cases like this to get to court because bodies like NE prosecute only as a last resort. The huge costs have been run up because the owners hoped NE's position might be undermined by friendly Ministers and they appear to have won their bet. It is not NE that ran up this bill but the biodiversity Minister - the tragedy is NE will no doubt have to find this money - I wonder what Mark and other blog followers would have liked NE to do with this particular wasted £1 million ?

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  3. BB

    Good point John Miles, the huge effect of burning and drainage on Englands blanket bogs are an elephant in the room for the EA. They are turning a blind eye until the Water Framework Directive makes it impossible to run scared of the difficult politics. Call me cynical but watch and see how many executives and directors take an early pension before 2015 when article 4 says they must have met environmental objectives.

    Seroius questions could also be asked of the expense burning and associated colour and peat sediment costs Yorkshire Water. Over the border in Lancashire, United Utilities have a strict no burning policy on all thier catchment land for this reason.

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  4. DavidH

    I would equate Natural England with the investment bankers. All they seem good for is losing/wasting public money without producing any benefits

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    • Filbert Cobb

      Perhaps it's in the blood - check out the CVs of the Exec Board ...

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  5. Gongfarmer

    How the hell can you justify the outcome of this as "the costs will come from NE fulfilling its statutory duty and the benefits of securing environmental protection"? NE has failed in its statutory duties to enforce the law with regards to damage to a protected site, and the influence of the meddling Moorland Association and ministers with interests needs to be addressed. This is a gross waste of tax payers money with an environmental body handing out over £1 million with NO conservation gain and some legal bods making a nice buck or two in the process.

    After reaching this monumental error in 'resolving' the issues, have the [alleged] damaging practices that the owners have done been rectified at their cost (not tax payers via HLS) or has it been allowed to stay? How much burning is occurring on deep peat bog under the new agreement (probably no change there)?

    According to NE's nature on the map website the value of the Walshaw moor agreement is £2,504,668.08. No doubt they have made good use of the payment supplement for managing heather by burning!

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    • Mark

      Gongfarmer - thank you. I have removed one sentence where you make a personal remark. And I have added an 'alleged' which I am sure you meant to include. But what you say seems very much to the point to me, thank you.

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  6. Gongfarmer

    Thanks for the editing Mark, of course its 'alleged' as NE failed to do the right thing and pursue the matter correctly and try them for the 43 alleged breaches of the WCA and HD. Almost seething enough to write to my MP over this but will no doubt will get back the usual patronising Tory guff and non answers I receive when ever I do bother to make contact with him.

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  7. Phil Espin

    Hi Mark, I have just received a detailed letter setting out a refusal to provide the expert witness statement on a number of grounds including legal privilege. Have you received the same letter. Would you like to see it?

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  8. Joe W

    I had heard rumours that the NE were having to offer Walshaw a HLS agreement worth £1.25 million over 10 years so I am astounded to note that the value of the agreement is double that figure at £2,504,668!

    NE’s decision to financially reward the bad practice at Walshaw Moor also has wider implications for the wildlife of North-West England. The region is hardly awash with HLS funds; in fact many good applications have been significantly watered down in the last few years due to pressures on the budget. I am also aware of many upland and lowland farms in the region which have had good HLS applications rejected due to lack of available funding.

    According to NE’s own data, in 2011 the average annual value of a HLS agreement was £18,900, so the Walshaw agreement is worth 13.25 approximately HLS agreements. As this is a national average, this will be well above the average value of an upland HLS agreement in the NW.

    So if we didn’t have a grouse shooting Defra Minister with a propensity to bung tax-payer’s cash to his shooting chums, these are some of things that HLS could have funded in the NW over the next 10 years:
    - 527 hectares of wild bird seed mix;
    - 556 hectares of nectar flower mixture;
    - The creation of 705 ha of wet grassland;
    - Maintenance/restoration of 1252 ha of species-rich grassland;
    - The creation of 8,349 wildlife ponds;
    - The creation of 17,890 wader scrapes 100m2 in size;
    - 357,809 km of new hedgerow planting;
    - 50,093 skylark plots!

    Furthermore the £2.5 million that NE is giving to the Walshaw Estate is approx. 33% of the total budget that Defra has allocated for Nature Improvement Areas over 3 years. In fact over 3 years, the Walshaw Area of Nature Conservation Abandonment (WANCA) will receive £126,400 more than each individual NIA.

    Also I wonder where the NFU stand on this ?, surely they have an obligation to their members to object to ERDP money being spent on a rich man’s playground, particularly when it could be used to help keep, by my reckoning, at least 25 hill farms in business.

    Apart from making me very angry, this whole situation is so utterly depressing…and it’s still bloody raining! :(

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    • Mark

      Joe - I can see you feel strongly about this but to be fair, some of what you suggest is speculation and unproven. However, the unwillingness of a government department and a public body to be open about this matter is concerning and does nothing to dampen suspicions, does it?

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      • Joe W

        It certainly does not Mark, though to be fair Natural England have published the value of the Walshaw Moor HLS agreement on Nature on the Map :
        http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/identify.aspx

        I think it is reasonable to assume that given the publicity surrounding this case, they will have gone to great care to ensure the accuracy of the information published on their website.

        All of the other figures/data I have quoted in relation to how the £2,504,668 which is being given to Walshaw could be better spent are factual. As is the fact that many farms in the NW are being turned down for HLS agreements due to lack of available funding.

        I do concede that the exact management prescriptions contained within the HLS agreement have yet to be established. However there are some important facts have been established (gosh, I'm starting to sound like a ranting Rafael Benitez!).
        Natural England was prosecuting the Walshaw Estate (on 43 separate counts)for breaches of its consents under both the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the Habitats Regulations until they abrubtly dropped the charges.
        As you have commented yourself, since all of these charges were suddenly dropped, the WME ‘have not been required to remove any of the existing infrastructure’ which may have formed the basis for some of those 43 alleged charges.

        The SSSI Notice of Proposal which was signed off by NE on the 1/3/12 gives consent for burning degraded blanket bog every 15-20 years and active blanket bog every 20-25 years. I think it is safe to assume that the burning of blanket bog was one of the 43 charges.
        I very much doubt that the HLS management prescriptions, which have been subsequently drafted by NE deviate too much from the consents listed in the SSSI Notice of Proposals. I could be wrong, but its perhaps safe to assume that if the HLS agreement required the Walshaw Estate to cease the burning of blanket bog then they would be very keen to share that information with us all. In fact, given the publicity surrounding the case, I would go so far to say that I would expect them to be shouting about it from the rooftops.

        As it happens I do have a great deal of sympathy for NE regarding this case. It appears to me that they have been placed in an appalling position by the powers that be. I have particular sympathy for those NE advisers working on the ground, especially the HLS adviser who was been given the uneviable task of putting together the WME HLS agreement. They are an honourable bunch and this whole situation must be very dispiriting for them.

        The sun is now shining...hurrah!

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        • I tried to find the information about the HLS agreement on the webpage that you linked to in your comments but found it led to error bad link. Does anyone have a currently working link to the page on NAture on the Map that has this info?

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  9. Dennis Ames

    Guess this is really the tip of the iceberg.How many more estates are doing similar things.

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  10. Paul V Irving

    It all beggars belief that with 43 charges against the estate it has come to this Of course the agreement does not really put those things that were wrong on the estate back into good heart because we have apparent burning consents on blanket bog at too frequent an interval.
    This is probably in management terms not a unique moor , far from it, so what do we the public who are paying for it gain.
    1 A grouse moor with a strange lack of protected predatory birds ( like most grouse moors)
    2 A vegetation management system that we know will lead to a poor quality blanket bog when it could be first class and probably still be good shooting.

    3 A moor that probably has too much drainage and John is quite right to point out that it is part of the Calder Valley drainage so badly affected by recent rain. The blanket bog should be a sponge for much of that water. Much of that run off will be poor quality coloured run off we have to pay for to be cleaned, if we are customers of Yorkshire Water ( and where is Helen Phillips Now -- YW.)

    All in all not a bad bargain if you are the owner/ shooter, for the rest of us a tragic opportunity missed.

    Remember this moor is not unique and many are managed in similar fashion and are parts of SPAs or SSSIs with industrial burning levels being popular at the moment ( keeps the harriers from breeding)--- What harriers I hear you say, Oh yes there aren't any, strange that, another thing to blame grouse moor management for. "Vermin" traps everywhere grouse grit everywhere. Its like intensive farming but for grouse, with all the ecological consequences of intensification and now we discover we are paying for it through HLS. ----- Words fail me. Well done NE how do you hold your heads up in decent company?

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  11. Linnet

    BB's point about Yorkshire Water is interesting. Didn't Helen Phillips, CEO of NE, go there after she left? And I guess she was at NE during most of the Walshaw case? So could she ask questions about Walshaw now, in her new capacity? I wonder what she knows about it?

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  12. Circus maxima

    Private prosecution? Anyone fancy organising a whip round for the costs?

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  13. BB

    A local who speaks with the estate workers has reported to me that there are even more new tracks being built right now! This is not rumour. It seems not only are the other tracks being ignored, even more have been granted!!!! What the hell is going on !!!

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    • Mark

      BB - hmmm! Not sure who we could ask since Defra and NE don't seem to want to tell anyone about this case.

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  14. What is the difference in the way Barclays interfered with the bank lending rates, its all corruption. Intervening to withdraw the prosecution of the Wuthering moor in the face of such over whelming evidence against the estate is clearly an attempt, in this case successful, to pervert the course of justice. Someone at least should be brought to account via the courts, if not lose their job over this political intervention.

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    • Mark

      Terry - that may be your opinion but I don't think we know that any untoward intervention has occurred. I remain concerned at many aspects of the Walshaw Moor case and Defra and NE are not doing a good job of dispelling concerns. See my blog on Monday for more on this.

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  15. Ian Coghill

    I used to enforce a lot of environmental legislation. Unlike the legislation enforced by the police, public sector enforcers make their own decisions to prosecute without the safety net and checks and balances provided by the CPS. Although they should use the same tests before going to trial, direct involvement sometimes leads to mistakes. The commonest reason for pulling out of a case in this manner is that the consequences of proceeding are likely to be worse ie that you are going to lose. It is not usual to subsequently admit that this was the case hence the widespread use of confidentiality agreements.

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    • BB

      Perhaps NE were about to WIN the public inquiry. This would have drawn a new line in the sand that the moorland association wanted to prevent at all costs.

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Trackbacks

  1. Wuthering Moors 22 – latest in this fiasco resulting from Natural England’s failure to prosecute this estate for 43 alledged breaches of environmental legislation. « Raptor Politics
  2. Wuthering Moors 28 - Mark Avery

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