Too little, too late

"Bybyhandschuhe 2011 PD 05" by Bin im Garten - Own work (own picture). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Bybyhandschuhe 2011 PD 05” by Bin im Garten – Own work (own picture). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts have just woken up to the fact that this government isn’t doing much for the environment – and doesn’t intend to – and that it is the job of NGOs to put pressure on decision makers to do the right thing.  The best time to put on the pressure is before the decisions are taken because afterwards is too late.

After Defra apparently stepped forward (who knows what is the real story?) to accept cuts of 30% in the latest spending review, this was criticised by the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts as follows:

Dr Mike Clarke, the RSPB’s chief executive, said: ‘The Westminster Government is keen to talk about “difficult choices” but it seems increasingly clear that abandoning its obligation to ensure the UK is habitable is not very difficult for them at all.  Five years ago DEFRA was at the front of the queue and took the joint largest cuts while other departments were still negotiating.  When once again DEFRA is heavily cut ahead of other departments, talk of “difficult choices” is hard to take seriously. This seems to us to be a truly perverse decision. A lack of resource is already damaging the UK Government’s ability to meet basic statutory obligations. These obligations aren’t ‘nice to haves’ – a healthy natural environment underpins our prosperity. Investing in environmental protection is an essential part of any plan for a better future.‘.

Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England, said:  ‘Even before yesterday’s announcement, the Government was only investing a tiny proportion of our national income in environmental stewardship and the restoration of wildlife habitats – its already far below the levels that we need.  It will now be reduced to such low levels that there are real question marks over whether the Government can continue to deliver its most basic functions and responsibilities for the natural environment.  When everything we depend on comes from the natural world this makes no sense for the economy and it makes no sense for the health and wellbeing of our society. 

The UK has been running up a massive environmental deficit over recent decades and which future generations will have to pay off.  These cuts are a false economy and will undermine and jeopardise the future growth and development of the economy.  I fear this is a missed opportunity for Government to start paying off the environmental debt that we’re leaving to our children and grand children.  We are now faced with the extremely worrying prospect that Government no longer has the ecological literacy or functionality that society needs if we are to build a genuinely sustainable future.‘.

I think the NGOs could have played a much better game over the last few years.  They needed to use their large memberships, and in the case of the RSPB a now-growing membership, to exert pressure on decision-makers. Only by creating a fear of the consequences of doing the wrong thing, consequences like losing votes, can most governments be nudged towards doing the right thing. There has been too little nudging.

It’s not an easy position for the NGOs to be in.  The climate for environmental progress has been poor for the last five years. No-one said it would be easy – in fact, it was blindingly obvious that it was going to be difficult. But the NGOs have treated Defra, and a succession of hopeless ministers, as though they are their friends, rather than either antipathetic to nature (Paterson) or simply hopeless (Truss).

The fluffy gauntlet thrown down by the wildlife NGOs a very few weeks ago is now lying on the ground ignored.

What price now, Rory Stewart’s and Liz Truss’s promises of ‘the best environment in the world’?

So where now?

The NGOs should start to shun Defra processes. Why spend huge amounts of staff time on talking to a department that cannot do much, and does even less, doesn’t listen and is quite likely not to exist in a few years time? Every working group should have, at most, one wildlife representative on it, ideally from Wildlife and Countryside Link, who reports back to all the NGOs.  There should be a public statement that the wildlife conservation community have no confidence in this government’s ability or even intention to do a good job for the environment.  No government minister should be offered a platform at an NGO event (although a place in the stocks should always be available).

The NGOs should take all opportunities to work with all opposition parties to forge environmental policies for the next general election that are well thought through and can be supported.  The opposition parties should see that the environment is an area which the Conservatives have abandoned and where there are votes to be won.

The NGOs need to turn back to us, their supporters, and engage us in putting pressure on decision makers.  This has really fallen into disrepair over the last few years.  The power, such as it is, of the wildlife NGOs comes from three things: the quality of their staff, the resources that they largely get from us the public, and the klout that they get with decision-makers through the size of their memberships.

The wildlife NGOs have acted over the last few years as though the crisis in their world was where their money might come from, rather than one of the disappearing biodiversity. It is time to mobilise us so that we can make a difference for wildlife. That is the NGO role when governments don’t listen.






Wildlife NGO doping scandal

"Syringe reusable1" by Goga312 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Syringe reusable1” by Goga312 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

WADA has been called in to investigate claims that the UK’s wildlife NGOs have been nobbled by dopers.

Sir Vague Ready, President of WADA, said ‘The rumours have been out there for ages and it’s time to investigate. Clearly there are no performance enhancing drugs involved – not a single personal best has been set by the UK’s wildlife NGOs in the last few years. They’ve just been plodding around the track. Something very fishy is going on. We are investigating claims that government officials have been seen tampering with the water supplies in Sandy, Newark, Swindon and elsewhere.

Claims that Defra and devolved administrations have been hypnotising wildlife NGOs with promises of ‘the world’s best environment’ are being investigated.

Defra minister, Lisa Trustless said ‘No we aren’t going to take any notice of the science. And we aren’t listening to NGOs with millions of members. And we aren’t going to regulate for a better environment. So, yes, I decided not to spend any money on the environment either (because really I want a job in the Treasury). And I am completely confident that this government, the greenest government ever, will deliver the world’s best environment by tea time tomorrow.’.

When Ms Trustless was asked about the doping allegations, she said ‘Not us. No need. They’re harmless‘.





Thunderclap #justiceforannie close to 5,000,000 social reach


There are still nearly three weeks until the end of November – and at the end of November a message will go out to almost five million people on social media (Twitter, Facebook and tumblr) asking them to support the e-petition to get a debate in parliament over driven grouse shooting.

If you have a social media account then please consider adding your voice to this ‘thunderclap’ and then it may go out to even more people. If you are Stephen Fry (11.6 million Twitter followers) or Ricky Gervais (10.1 million Twitter followers) then please consider supporting this thunderclap. But every new supporter is really valuable and all are welcome.

I really don’t know how successful this might be – perhaps very successful, but perhaps not very successful.

However, I do know that a lot of effort and thought has gone into it (and not from me!). The Moving Mountains Nature Network really is a grassroots approach to gathering support for wildlife. I think it is very impressive and I’m glad to give them a hand now and again with support from my social media accounts.

Let’s get a debate on the future of driven grouse shooting.




The Corner Laughers were on top form last night in the Portland Arms in Cambridge. A very good crowd filled the venue and a good time was had by all.

Thank you to the Cambridge Conservation Forum for organising everything. And to half of the Cambridge Corncrakes for performing too!

CTaKQhUWcAAn-u5.jpg large




Putting the abolition of driven grouse shooting on the map


The e-petition website is getting rather flashy these days.

Our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is doing fine, ticking along, and now you can look at a map of where the signatures come from.

Just look for the link under the current signature total and click, and you’ll see a map very like the one above.  This will allow you to see that the Isle of Wight is still leading the way (127 signatures), a little ahead of Defra minister Rory Stewart’s constituency of Penrith and the Border (114), Calder Valley (109), Norman Lamb’s North Norfolk (107), Stroud (106), and High Peak (94). As mentioned before, these aren’t exactly urban constituencies are they?

My own constituency of Corby is holding up its end pretty well with 51 signatures.

Have a look at the e-petition and you’ll want to hover over your own home constituency – then why not do something about getting its numbers up, please? Ask your friends and neighbours to sign too.

Sign here and we can get a debate about the future of driven grouse shooting in parliament.



Fob me, fob me

"Global European Union" by S. Solberg J. - [1]. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Global European Union” by S. Solberg J. – [1]. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Philip Hammond says that the British people will not be fobbed off with minor changes to the EU. Well, he didn’t ask me and I’m completely ready to be fobbed off – fob me, fob me! Give me the EU over the Tory party any time, please.

And David Cameron wants me to be fobbed off too. He’s really stuck if he gets a minor change in EU policy and then we all say it’s not good enough, because the PM clearly wants us to stay in the EU – you see, he can be right about some things.

Cameron is giving an object lesson in how deterrence doesn’t work unless your heart is in it. Just as we’d be better off not spending £100bn on Trident if we aren’t going to use it, and we aren’t even going to pretend that we would use it, then there’s no point pretending that we’ll leave the EU if there aren’t lots of concessions if we won’t. And we won’t. In fact, the whole ‘negotiation’ process is a complete and utter waste of time because we’ve all made our minds up already.

There is no way that either UKIP or Mark Avery are going to change their minds on the EU, although I am more likely to do so than Nigel Farage. So if we do leave the EU it won’t be on the basis of concessions – it will be on the basis of whether we want to turn inwards or be part of the real world.

And we really shouldn’t spend £100bn on a weapon that we believe that no past or present or future UK Prime Minister would use either as first strike or in retaliation. It’s a pretty expensive posing pouch – and we don’t need it.

In the comment about the fact that Jeremy Corbyn can’t be a real man if he won’t rather pointlessly incinerate thousands of foreigners if we have already been incinerated (by the way – what would be the position of Jesus on this tricky moral dilemma do you think?) we spend too little time wondering what we might rather do with £100bn.  Give it to the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation and Buglife and we can rest assured that many environmental problems will be much reduced. Let’s do that then. I’d rather use the money to fight on the side of wildlife in a real battle than nuke some innocent civilians in a conflict that may never happen.

Which would you rather do?

By National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Cambridge this evening – at The Portland Arms, 7pm


Cambridge this evening.


Guest blog – Mystery of the slugs by Brin Best

Brin Best is an award-winning author who writes from his home in the Yorkshire Dales. He has written over 20 books, many best-sellers in their field, including several titles about biodiversity and natural history. Brin has also been the trustee of three environmental charities, and served as a Council member of the RSPB for four years.
"Arion vulgaris eating". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Arion vulgaris eating”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


A wildlife mystery has been unfolding inside our house for the last couple of weeks, and it has taught us something new and exciting about the natural world.
The strange series of events began a fortnight ago when we spotted a sinuous, glittering trail on our dining room floor one evening.
It bore all the hallmarks of the slimy trails left by slugs, or their shelled cousins, the snails. But which of these creatures was it – and more importantly, how had it managed to penetrate the walls of our house?
Before we could answer these questions the plot thickened when three more trails appeared on the same area of carpet on consecutive nights.
Then, on the fourth day, success! As we were turning the lights off ready for bed I spotted a small garden slug – no longer than a chipolata sausage – slowly making its way across the carpet towards the kitchen.
I wrapped it up in tissue and banished the offending creature to the vast cavern of our lidded wheelie bin. I figured that it must have found its way in to our house through an open door on one of the warmer days we’ve been experiencing of late. Mystery solved, I thought.
But I was wrong. The following day we found more trails across the carpet and all over our furniture and eventually discovered more slugs, of varying sizes, traversing the carpet. We were being invaded by the slimy things and we still had no idea how they were getting into our house!
Some internet research revealed a startling fact about slugs that cast light on our dining room slitherings.
Remarkably, slugs undertake periodic migrations, sometimes moving several miles at a time, with many individuals often following the same route. It appears that our house is situated on a slug migration route and they have found their way indoors to avoid the ‘Alpine route’ up the walls and over the roof.
Close inspection of our patio doors has revealed a few small openings close to the ground, where determined slugs could squeeze themselves into our house. Once inside, they could continue their carpet-based migration towards the lounge window.
Thankfully, these holes can easily be filled and our slug invasion is soon set to end – or so we hope.
Yet we are strangely thankful for our unusual visitors and their slimy trails, because they have opened up the wonderful world of slug migration. And they’ve reminded us that there’s always something new to learn about wildlife.
"Brown snail" by Photographed by Guttorm Flatabø (user:dittaeva). - Photograph taken with an Olympus Camedia C-70 Zoom digital camera. Metainformation edited with Irfanview, possibly cropped with jpegcrop.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Brown snail” by Photographed by Guttorm Flatabø (user:dittaeva). – Photograph taken with an Olympus Camedia C-70 Zoom digital camera. Metainformation edited with Irfanview, possibly cropped with jpegcrop.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Oscar Dewhurst – Mountain Bluebird

Oscar writes: In September I spent a week in Yellowstone National Park with my family. Mountain Bluebirds were everywhere there, so I spent a bit of time trying to photograph them one afternoon while we were at Mammoth Hot Springs. This one briefly perched on a small pine tree, and I took this as it flew off.
Nikon D800, Nikon 600mm f/4 AF-S II lens
Mark writes: bluebirds, Western, Mountain and Eastern, are all lovely birds. I remember seeing Mountain Bluebirds in Yellowstone, as did Oscar, but my first and most memorable sighting was in the Badlands National Park. This image brought back memories of a slow puncture, my first Bison and cowboy hats.

My inbox

Do you look forward to, or dread, reading your new emails? I’m quite keen on mine, partly because, just occasionally, I get one like this:


MarthanewcoverAs a farmer I have often been a bit sensitive to your opinions, but at least I now know you allow that some of us are the good guys!

I did know something about the passenger pigeon, apparently a lot more than your average American, before reading your book. However, I was profoundly shocked and moved by your book. Books rarely move me to tears, other than some Thomas Hardy stories, but I wept a lot for the passing of the passenger pigeon and a lot more besides. I am old enough to have heard corncrakes as a child (in N.Ireland) and it grieves me that we are wiping out so many other creatures.

When we drove through a summer’s night thirty years’ ago the windscreen of the car would be marked by the bodies of many insect casualties. Not that I wish to kill anything, but I find it disturbing how rarely this happens now.

MarthanewcoverI live in Devon and farm organically. Someone who came to visit me commented on how many birds there were around and I was surprised because I don’t think there are nearly enough. Yesterday I was driving some six miles from a town back home so I started to count the birds I noticed on route. There were only four until near home, so they didn’t distract me from driving! Happily I saw a dozen or more fly past in the last half mile.

What is the point of life if we have no one (apart from far too many humans) to share the planet with? I shall be buying some more copies of your book to send to people for Christmas.

Barbara Barker

Signed copies of A Message from Martha can be bought direct from the author –