Defra – dire, egregious, failing, risible and adrift.

It’s more than 18 months since the current ministers walked confidently into Defra’s headquarters at Nobel House after the May 2010 General Election (with one change of Lord in the interim).  I’m glad that we have not seen too much chopping and changing of ministers under the Cameron (Clegg) coalition government, as that rarely leads to informed and confident government.

By now we have had time to come to some sort of view about the performance of the Defra Ministerial team, and I’m afraid it is not a good report card in my view.  If you were to put yourself in the position of wildlife then this is what you might say:

Forestry – stalled.  Despite some good things and some bad things in the government proposals we are now in a position where there is nothing visible happening, and the status quo is not a great place to remain on this subject.

Agriculture – no movement on tweaking or restructuring agri-environment schemes so that they deliver good value and more wildlife for huge public investment

Marine – hopeless lack of progress on international and national site designation

Wildlife – shifting focus to ecosystem services and away from endangered species with no comprehensive framework for government nature conservation priorities

Enforcement of wildlife protection  – no need for vicarious liability for land owners to match that in Scotland (says landowning Minister Richard Benyon) and dogged, albeit slow, progress towards a futile badger cull

Listening to stakeholders – independent voices (SDC, RCEP) abolished, agencies (NE in particular) silenced and wildlife NGOs largely ignored.  Moorland Association, NFU and others have the ear of Defra.

Clout within government – budgets hatchetted by Osborne in CSR, no ability to restrain CLG over NPPFand influence at, perhaps, an all time low.

Plants and animals (and all those taxa which are unsure of themselves), vertebrates and invertebrates, marine and terrestrial, upland and lowland, in the soil or in the air, pretty and ugly, useful and noxious, big and small – all, if given a voice, would say that they have gained little or nothing from the current government over the last 18 months.  They, biodiversity, are a top Defra priority and yet the prospects for wildlife get worse rather than better.  If nature were given a voice then it would be crying out in fear and in anger, and in disappointment and dismay.

Only if nature were given a vote, might politicians think a lot more about nature’s richness and a little less about our own.



19 Replies to “Defra – dire, egregious, failing, risible and adrift.”

  1. “Deeds speak louder than words”. In the early days of this current Government we had a lot of good words and reports from the ministers at DEFRA, including about being the “greenest government ever” and the need to protect and enhance nature and biodiversity. However their deeds, I do agree Mark, I am afraid, point in the opposite direction from their words. (They often do with politicians). The underlying theme of their deeds is clearly one of the continued exploitation of nature.

  2. Dear Mark You could perhaps add that Defra is in near-total control of the UK nature conservation movement, and ask whether dear old nat cons has sold its soul for 30 pieces of silver?

    NB This is my own personal view and is not necessarily that of any organisation with which I may be associated….

    1. Weeding (out) the (New Labour) Plants

      I quote directly from a recent Farmers Guardian blog:-

      “I posted before that the Civil Service First Division (the most Senior of Civil servants) is almost entirely a plant by the previous Labour Government to ensure the failure of any non-Socialist Policy

      I am a Civil Servant (appointed from Industry 3 months ago) the entire system is full of people who will not or refuse to implement policies – this happens to me at least 4 times a day…this makes sure that you lot see this Government as incompetent … they are not …. they are being sabotaged as I said before. I have to post as anon…… sorry”

      1. Trimbush – you are back, couldn’t resist could you? That’s why the last Government failed then, it wasn’t a Socialist government either!

        1. You’re right Mark – it wasn’t even a government – rather – a regime!

          Merry Christmas

  3. Hope you do not mind Mark but the NFU blog some way back now and thought struck me that I think those outside the farming industry think of NFU president as similar to other union leaders whereas nothing could be further from the truth.Other union leaders say to members do this and like lemmings everybody follows the leader.Does not happen like that in farming each and every one will make their own mind up and do what he/she wants to,evidence is there for all to see in numbers taking these agri-environment schemes up.Really NFU president speaks for himself and very small number of others.

    1. Dennis – that’s fine, thank you. I see Peter Kendall has been back-tracking like mad today, claiming he was misunderstood. Ha ha! NFU President is elected and by a system that requites him/her to get an increasing proportion of the vote on reelection. It’s a very progressive voting system in many ways. Any politician elected by it would claim a strong mandate. And however he got there, and whether other farmers take notice of the NFU Pres or not, I can absolutely assure you that politicians do (to a ridiculous extent!). So the NFU Pres is a powerful figure and with power comes responsibility.

  4. Very nice comment Mark and I agree entirely with you,hope your criticism had the result of him backtracking.Think your point about politicians taking notice of him is one thing that really annoys farmers because think all presidents of NFU get to be too friendly with politicians to the detriment of fighting hard for what average farmers want.probably be said they were in politicians pocket.

  5. Nature doesn’t have a vote but nature lovers do and they have a lot of votes. How to utilise this voting power for wildlife is a challenge which the wildlife organisations must accept and act on quickly.

  6. Hi Matthew ! Perhaps not the view of any organisation but possibly the action….

    And I love Trimbush’s fantastical quote – that is simply the Defra Mark is talking about, there’s no conspiracy there – the inertia is far too great to rise to plotting. Its an inertia inherited from MAFF which is alive and well and living in Defra and simply can’t kick the CAP habit.

    There is one bit of good news – not that the conservation lobby will find it easy to swallow – and that is the English public’s fine judgement in rising up as one for some of our most beautiful and biodiverse landscapes, the National Forests.

  7. Mark – what a depressing note. I hate the phrase ecosystem services, it’s so cold and utilitarian, and its stamping on our wildlife and filling the pockets of the academic community. It’s worth reflecting that investment in river restoration seems to be doing pretty well. Nothing at all to do with the fact that our beloved under-secretary is a fisherman, of course.

Comments are closed.