Not so Fine Shade (3)


This morning a group of about 20 concerned locals gathered in the Fineshade car park to meet the local MP, Andy Sawford. It was good to see Andy paying attention to this local rural case, though, as he said, he doesn’t have a vote, but if he did, he said he would vote against the proposal.

Fears were expressed about local traffic, increased risk of road accidents, loss of amenity value and impacts on wildlife.  Andy said that he didn’t see this as a modest development but as a major one which would clearly change the character of the area and affect its wildlife.

Yesterday, Andy (@AndySawfordMP) tweeted ‘seems to me that at Fineshade @forestholidays are involved in privatising woodlands by another means’.

It was good to meet the local butterfly expert from Butterfly Conservation, Martin Izzard (whose book I reviewed here ages ago) who confirmed to me that there are records of purple emperors from this wood.

Dormouse picI still think that a combination of local opinion bearing down on Tory councillors (I have written to mine) and the threat of legal action over ignoring the Dormice (which is entirely possible) might save this wood from the terrible damage planned for it by the Forestry Commission who own the land (on our behalf). The councillors don’t have to be brave – they just have to do the right thing!

You can object to this proposal if you wish (as usual, there is quite a lot of entering your details to be done) through this link.  The more objections the better – even if you just say that you object and nothing more.  The more this case becomes a hot potato the better, too!

If you are a local, then I might see you at a crowded Council Chamber at the planning committee meeting on Wednesday evening at the East Northants Council building at Thrapston , starting at 7pm.

But do remember, if you are a Woodland Trust member, that the Woodland Trust isn’t that fussed about this loss of wildlife-rich woodland to 70 holiday chalets with hot tubs, wi-fi and Sky TV.  The Woodland Trust has not objected to this loss of woodland and tried to justify their position in a comment on this blog yesterday (see here – click on comments). The Woodland Trust has a commercial link-up with Forest Holidays who have submitted the planning proposal.





I object, and so do the Dormice

Fineshade EN/14/01704/FUL

DSCF2971_2I object to the planning proposal to build 70 holidays cabins at Fineshade on the grounds that it would harm the conservation status of a European Protected Species (Dormouse). Also, that the proposed development would not pass either of the first two of the ‘three tests’ needed before such a damaging development could be approved. The information provided to the planning authority by the developer is clearly woefully inadequate.



Dormouse picThe Dormouse is a European Protected Species (EPS).  As such, it receives special protection which in the UK is transposed in to law by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended).  Fineshade Wood has, according to the applicant’s ecologists a history of this species. In the completely inadequate single site visit on the 29/08/2014 they recorded a single nut, albeit outside the red-line boundary (development area), but contiguous with it; i.e. no ecological barrier.  Quite rightly, they concluded that dormice are present within Fineshade Wood and likely to be within the proposed development footprint.

I have checked the appropriate survey guidelines (attached) which are readily available online and the recommended survey methods have not been followed. The single visit in August does not remotely constitute sufficient survey although it confirmed the presence of Dormice, it doesn’t give any meaningful indication of distribution or population.  This is relevant to the application as the local planning authority needs to assess the application against the ‘three tests’.

Any plan or project which potentially affects the favourable conservation status (FCS) of any EPS, has to take into account obligations set out in the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora Directive 1992 (92/43/EEC) see The Habitats Directive – Environment – European Commission for more information on this Directive (see for a guidance document).

Any plan or project that would likely have a significant effect on the FCS of an EPS is required to pass the ‘three tests’ set out in Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.   The three tests are sequential and all three have to be met. The first two have to be met, before you consider the third.

The three tests are:

1) there must be no feasible alternative solutions to the plan or project which are less damaging to the affected European site(s); THIS TEST IS NOT MET
2) there must be imperative reasons of overriding public interest for the plan or project to proceed; THIS TEST IS NOT MET
3) all necessary compensatory measures must be secured to ensure that the overall coherence of the network of European sites is protected THIS TEST IS NOT RELEVANT
Given that the surveys undertaken failed to comply with the published guidelines and nor did they justify deviating away from them, in my view, the LPA cannot discharge their obligations under the 2010 Regulations.  How can they determine if there are no feasible alternative solutions (within the context of the woodland block) if they don’t know where the dormice are?  Do they use the woodland uniformly, or do they avoid certain areas?  If they avoid certain areas, would these not be alternative solutions?  Without the survey evidence (or at least a reasonable attempt to answer the question), they are not in a position to proceed beyond the first test – and remember, all three must be met.  How can the third test be met when they don’t know where and how many and what sub-habitat within the wood the dormice use?  Is the habitat management, which is proposed as a condition of planning permission in the officer’s report, appropriate/ sufficient?  The LPA are not in a position to answer this; and they need to be.  The law requires this (see the Woolley case (see a useful document here: – note that the Regulations have been updated but the case-law applies).

On this basis, in my view, the LPA cannot determine the application.


Have you seen Henry?




Not so Fine Shade


Fineshade Wood is not far from where I live, so I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t paid more attention to what is going on there.  It’s a place I know, and like, and visit now and again, but it’s c40 minute journey from where I live, so if I want to visit a wood there are closer options.  But what is happening there exemplifies much of the difficulty and complexity of protecting wildlife in the present day UK.

Fineshade is a really nice woodland, owned by the Forestry Commission (or us, in other words) and it’s pretty good for wildlife. It isn’t notified as an SSSI although arguably it could have been, and it isn’t quite a fully ancient woodland, but it’s certainly getting on a bit and, given time, it will be ancient.  The FC describe it as ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’.

And rich in nature it certainly is, with records of Dormice (I’ve never seen a Dormouse and I would like to), Badger, Adder, Nightjar (not on my Northants list), Slow Worm, Grass Snake, Great-crested Newt and Turtle Dove. Now those may all live in the woods down the road from you but they aren’t a common assemblage in east Northants. And, all the experts concur, the data are patchy and a decent survey would probably come up with more interesting stuff. By the way, there are invertebrates and plants in the wood too!

Now you might have guessed that this wood is under threat. A company called Forest Holidays want to remove large bits of this wood and replace them with 70 piles of wood called holiday cabins. Getting rid of large chunks of this forest will therefore give you the ‘ultimate forest experience’ – unless of course you are an Adder, Dormouse or Turtle Dove in which case you won’t get any forest experience (so I guess that is ‘ultimate’ in the sense of ‘last’ (last ever)).

The main thing standing in the way of this development in the heart of a semi-natural woodland in the heart of England are some local councillors (including my own councillor, Brian Northill, who will be getting a copy of this blog).

I hope the councillors reject this proposal – it’s an unwarranted destruction of my natural heritage.  Let’s hope they do at their meeting next week.


DSCF2985_2I see this case as being very similar to the Sanctuary case of this time last year which had a largely happy ending. It’s a local wildlife site which is cherished by local residents and which is irreplaceable.  As with the Sanctuary case, there is a good argument that this site ought to be notified as an SSSI and if it were it would receive far greater legal protection.  The wildlife NGOs ought, I think, and I’ve written this before, to be campaigning for far more sites to be notified as SSSI to prevent this type of issue arising.


Who is involved in this issue?:

The Forestry Commission (which I pay for through my taxes) – why did we bother telling government not to privatise some forests? Because, I believe, we thought that they would be safer in our, the public’s, the state’s, the FC’s hands. But FC are the landowners here and are, apparently, shareholders in Forest Holidays too. That’s all a bit rum, isn’t it?  Whether or not they (err, that’s we) have a stake in Forest Holidays, the FC should not be allowing this type of development in what they, themselves, describe as a ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’! For heaven’s sake!!  What do they think they are up to?

East Northants Council (I am a voter) – the planning authority, who pay the Wildlife Trusts to give them ecological advice on matters such as this.

Beds, Northants and Cambs Wildlife Trust (of which I am a member) – has lodged a very strong objection to this development. Good for them! I like that.  The Wildlife Trust will be in a difficult position if the councillors ignore the objection of their own, local, ecological advisors. Should they keep taking the money even if their advice is ignored? And I can’t find anything on the WT website on this issue. Certainly my local wildlife trust uses the site for events and walks to enjoy its wildlife, but doesn’t seem to be highlighting the issue very much.  I’m slightly surprised that I didn’t hear about this issue from my local wildlife trust.

RSPB (of which I am also a member) – has also lodged a very strong objection to this development. Good for them! I like that.

The Woodland Trust (which I have never been tempted to join) – has made weak comments on this application to destroy large areas of a ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’. That seems very odd to me, but then the Woodland Trust does have a financial relationship with Forest Holidays (although that cannot have influenced them at all, not at all).

CPRE (I sometimes toy with the idea of joining them) – object to the development.

Northants Bat Group – object.

North Northants Badger Group – object.

Northants Dormouse Group – object.

You can see the full list here, and if you do look at it you will see that the Woodland Trust really does stick out like a sore thumb – the NGO that you would expect to be fighting hardest for this woodland site, a site universally acknowledged to be wildlife-rich, is not sufficiently moved about this major development actually to object to it.

But your eyes may well pass lightly over the name Tom Purseglove.  Tom Purseglove is the Tory candidate for the marginal constituency of Corby, where I very much hope that my excellent local Labour MP, Andy Sawford, is re-elected in May. However, Mr Purseglove does seem to have chosen the right side in this debate so good for him!  I gather Andy Sawford is visiting the site tomorrow morning and I may well see him there then.

Most of the local councillors are Tories, and they will be undermining the position of their local candidate, one of whose priorities is to preserve ‘the rural character of East Northamptonshire’ and who believes that ‘local people should decide where development is, and isn’t acceptable, and their view should be respected’ if they were to approve this very unpopular proposal (just count the objections).

In summary:

  • Fineshade Wood is very good for wildlife (and there are many more like it and they should be made SSSIs).
  • wildlife conservation organisations object to the development (except the Woodland Trust, and the Woodland Trust has a close relationship with the developer, by coincidence).
  • it is mostly Tory councillors who will decide the planning application and the Tory candidate for the marginal parliamentary seat opposes the plan and has put great emphasis on protecting this area’s rural environment.
  • the FC facilitated this proposed development in the first place – how safe are our forests in the currently constituted FC?
  • is this what you want to happen to ‘your’ forests?

With ‘friends’ like the FC and the Woodland Trust then no wonder woodland wildlife is having a rough time of it!

Of the 1,256 woodland species studied, 60% have decreased and 34% have decreased strongly.State of Nature report, 2013.






Defra – what are you for? (4)

This government has been hopeless at doing things for nature. Almost completely hopeless.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act received Royal Assent in November 2009. Then there was a general election in May 2010 and everything ground to a halt.

Defra has dropped several proposed Marine Conservation Zones from the current consultation because of ‘economic cost’. It seems as though marine industries are wagging the Defra dog. And Defra does appear to be a bit of a cur, these days.

The Wildlife Trusts have always been active on this subject and I wish they would actually get a bit tougher on the government failure. The Marine Conservation Society has a useful ‘I want these sites designated and you shouldn’t have dropped the others’ email that you can sign too.  One thing I liked about this was that you could choose your own title for your email. I chose: Defra- you have done very little for nature in the last five years and you haven’t done enough in this area.

Marine Protected Areas work for fishermen as well as fish, cetaceans, seabirds and squidgy little marine things.  Why let the fishing industry – an industry that doesn’t operate on the basis of science or long term sustainability – veto marine protected areas that will benefit wildlife and benefit fishermen (in the long run) too?

The whole point of the environment department is to fight for the environment – not to cave in and compromise nature’s needs.  But Defra seems to have been captured by industry under this administration: farmers, shooters, fishermen and developers.





BASC wriggling, G(W)CT silent. How interesting.

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

BASC are wriggling on lead. Their previous Chief Exec appears to be in favour of a lead-free future, on the basis of the evidence. So BASC is preparing to disparage and demean their long-serving and much-respected former Chief Exec, it seems.

I cannot understand why BASC is so against a ban on lead ammunition – they would say that they are waiting for the evidence (but in practice, they are against change).  After all, most of their members, historically, are wildfowlers who aren’t allowed to use lead ammunition anyway. So what does it matter to them?

I would be surprised if the Game (and Wildlife) Conservation Trust will speak out against a lead ban – because that would completely destroy the remnants of its scientific reputation.  But, we’ll see.

In fact, thinking about it, it would be very interesting if the G(W)CT kept quiet on this subject and left it to the completely unscientific Countryside Alliance, and fairly unscientific BASC, to make the arguments for why wildlife and people should continue to take the consequences of using a poison as ammunition.

Will the G(W)CT complete its dive to the bottom and argue publicly against a ban on lead ammunition, or will it begin its long climb back to the sunlit uplands of scientific credibility (which it used to stride with pride), by agreeing that the science behind a ban is pretty much undeniable? Silence would be pathetic, given that G(W)CT are members of the LAG (unless their Chairman’s stomping out of a recent meeting really did mean that he had resigned).

Andrew Gilruth is apt to be quite quick to shoot from the hip – what will he say about lead ammunition? My guess, is nothing. But the G(W)CT is welcome to a Guest Blog on the subject of lead ammunition here. As is, almost anyone else actually. And that includes John Swift. The G(W)CT website seems strangely reticent on the matter.

For the shooting ‘community’ this seems to be a ‘we can’t argue the science so we’ll just rant and rave about it’ type of issue.  Expect lots of ranting in, and maybe from, the Shooting Times but no carefully argued case.  Watch this space…



Don’t leave them short


I won’t be buying any boardshorts, as surfing looks to me as easy as falling off a log and just as much fun (a bit like skiing really).  But if I were going to buy some smart cool shorts then I would like the idea of them being recycled from beach and ocean plastics. That sounds good to me.

Twenty plastic bottles will make a pair of shorts – it might need 25 to make me a pair of shorts (and I’d prefer they were longs).

It also sounds good to the Marine Conservation Society (and the Eden Project) who have supported Riz to crowdfund to develop such shorts. They seem to be doing quite well – but a little more help would move things along nicely.



A lead-free future

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you know anything about the evidence for harm from lead ammunition, and know anything about how many other countries have switched to non-toxic ammunition, then it is difficult to imagine how the ‘Lead Ammunition Group‘ could possibly do anything other than opt for a lead-free future.

Parts of a single email released under FoI and published on the Shootinguk website seem to indicate that the Chair of the Lead Ammunition Group, the ex-Chief Exec of BASC, John Swift, is moving in that direction. Gosh! Quel surprise!

Here is the relevant excerpt:

As you will know I am currently preparing for a restricted LAG meeting at FSA on Thursday which […] is attending. My objective there is to see whether and to what extent a consensus/common position might be achievable. Whatever emerges it remains my intention to complete […] report, which is now well advanced without further delay. I reckon that I have seen everything that needs to be seen, and listened to everything that needs to be heard — that on top of 40+ years of steering various groups around the lead minefields.

“If I had to give you the heads-up, it would be along the lines that the LAG process will point with complete certainty to the toxic nature of lead ammunition, qualified with equal certainty that precise effects and their extent can only be predicted with uncertainty. The conclusion to be drawn on all the evidence that I have so far seen is that lead ammunition is harmful for both wildlife and human health — it is not just a matter for wildfowl — and moreover that the alternatives are safe, effective and available at comparable cost.

And remember, that despite intense lobbying by shooting interests, the UK signed up to a ban of lead ammunition in Quito last year.

Current Defra ministers are pretty hopeless, but they would gain some credibility if they published and accepted the report from LAG before the general election. Otherwise they are leaving an ‘easy win’ to their successors

Nene Washes

It was freezing at Eldernell on Friday afternoon but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

A Barn Owl was sitting on the fence just before we got to the car park – which I could already see was fuller than usual.  Barn Owls are just lovely aren’t they?  Any visit to a nature reserve that starts with a Barn Owl has to be a good one.

The car park was well and truly full. As I got out to start scanning for raptors there were Cranes calling in the distance, and Whooper Swans too, but the Cranes were just great.

A distant Short-eared Owl flew over some rough grassland that in a few months time will hold Black-tailed Godwits and Corncrakes. It was a distant view, but Short-eared Owls are just lovely aren’t they? And any view is a prize to be savoured.

A Kingfisher flew past. Top bird!  We’ve only been here 10 minutes!

A distant Marsh Harrier made me wonder whether it was a Hen Harrier for a while and then another harrier might have been either species on the basis of the distant brief view we had. There was almost always a Barn Owl and a Short-eared Owl in sight. A few ducks went past.  The gulls were heading somewhere in the direction of Peterborough to roost and the Crows and Jackdaws were gathering over a wood to do the same.  What is all this communal roosting for exactly?  It’s still a bit of a mystery to me.

A very, very, nice man asked whether we would like to see the Long-eared Owl – and of course we said ‘yes, please!’.  We walked c100m to the east and looked across a water-filled ditch into a line of bushes that were trying to be trees. There, looking back at us with sharp orange eyes was a Long-eared Owl – quite cat-like. Quite still. Quite thin. Quite lovely. Any visit to a nature reserve that includes a Long-eared Owl has to be a good one.  The LEO looked inscrutable and I wondered how we looked to him (or her). I was feeling cold but very happy – did that show?

It seemed wrong, in a way, to leave the LEO but it wasn’t doing anything, and didn’t look as though it planned to do anything except sit there and wait for dark. So, after a while, we started scanning again for other birds. The SEO was still hunting, as was the BO. A three owl day – BO, SEO and LEO!  I don’t get many of those.

We were still scanning, but I had to keep putting my hands in my pocket to warm them up – it was colder than cold.

A Sparrowhawk shot past.

The Kingfisher passed by again.

Because there were four of us, we tended to chat to each other. If I had been on my own I would have spent more time looking through binoculars and less time chatting (I might have muttered to myself that it was cold). But the chatting was good too. Luckily, although the car park was emptying gradually, a man who was less sociable, or more focussed, or simply miles more observant than me, shouted out first that two Cranes were flying past (which they were) and then that there was an adult male Hen Harrier flying past too (which there was!).

It was really what I had hoped to see, especially a ‘grey ghost’ of a male. It was distant view, and in failing light, but of quite long duration, which was what mattered most. Any day when you see a male Hen Harrier is a good day!  For two of our party this was a ‘lifer’ – in fact for one of our party this was the fourth lifer of the visit (which was by now just over an hour in duration).  We watched the harrier until it settled down on what might have been its roost site for the night.

A Red Fox ran from right to left in the middle distance.

By now we were alone in the car park and there wasn’t much light. but the vista of the Nene Washes was striking enough.  The eastern sky was still light – there was even some blue in it and some orange.  The other three were sitting in the car drinking hot chocolate while I stood outside in the cold enjoying the scene on my own.

It was time to head home to watch England lose to Wales in the rugby (but they didn’t, did they!) and it had been a great visit to one of my favourite nature reserves.  Two species of harrier and three species of owl, with Kingfisher, Crane and wild swans thrown in too. It had been a good decision to make this visit.  The only thing that could make it better would be a LO.

Three hundred metres down the road, in the dark, but silhouetted against the sky, sitting in a tall Ash was a small owl-like lump. It had to be…or was it? Then the Little Owl flew out of the tree and away into the dark.  A four-owl day!  Little Owls are just lovely aren’t they? Any visit to a nature reserve that ends with a Little Owl has to be a good one.


It makes so much sense

By historicair 22:10, 30 May 2007 (UTC) (Own work (Lyubomir Ivanov)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By historicair 22:10, 30 May 2007 (UTC) (Own work (Lyubomir Ivanov)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This blog has argued for the UK government to work with the administrations of the UK Overseas Territories to create massive marine conservation zones. If we have the relicts of an empire we might as well use them to protect the world’s natural resources.

Today 100+ people including a bunch of top bods of environmental organisations (including the RSPB, Greenpeace and Pew Environment Fund), scientists (such as Callum Roberts, Sylvia Earle and Dan Pauly), actresses (Greta Scacchi, Gillian Anderson, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Christie and Zoe Wanamaker (by the way, boys, where are the actors?)), and other well-known folk (eg George Monbiot, Chris Packham, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall) and a few other folk (including me)  signed the following letter which appeared in The Times:


The UK has the fifth largest area of ocean in the world under its jurisdiction when its overseas territories (UKOTs) are taken into account. More than 94 per cent of the UK’s unique biodiversity is found in the UKOTs, which support a large number of rare and threatened species and habitats found nowhere else on Earth. It makes good economic and environmental sense for the UK to work with its territories to establish effective networks of marine protected areas throughout all waters under UK jurisdiction.

We urge the British government to protect over 1.75 million km² of the world’s oceans by creating large-scale and fully-protected marine reserves in three of the UKOTs — the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island, and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. This would make a globally significant contribution to ocean conservation, leaving a historic legacy for people and wildlife at very little cost.

The last Labour administration saved up creating the marine zone around the Chagos archipelago until close to election time. I suspect we will get good news on this front before 30 March too. And so we should.