Last Wednesday all Natural England staff received an email entitled Natural England’s work in the uplands.
It tried to explain why NE’s Chair, Poul Christensen, had been reported as saying that NE’s Vital Uplands document had ‘let his organisation down badly’.
Because not everyone agreed with the NE vision, which you may have noticed was produced before the last General Election and before the neutering, emasculation and silencing of NE, it will soon be taken down from the NE website and will no longer form the basis of …well, of anything really.
The same email drew staff’s attention to the statement about the Walshaw Moor case.
Many NE staff across the organisation are wondering what will be next. It seems to many that a perfectly good piece of work on the future of the uplands has been unceremonially ditched on instruction from Defra and that a crucial piece of regulatory casework has been conceded. They may be wrong to interpret events like that but that’s how they feel.
In many ways the repatriation of the policy function by Defra, and removing it completely from NE, is a good thing in terms of democratic accountability. It means that Ministers should answer for the actions of their delivery bodies such as NE.
And so we should expect Richard Benyon to be keen to answer the following questions:
Has he written to NE or spoken to senior figures within NE concerning Walshaw Moor? If so, what was the nature of his input and did he instruct or advise NE on the line they should take? If so, what was the nature of his instruction or advice?
Does the agreement reached between NE and the estate lead to more, less or similar amounts of heather burning over blanket bog areas? And is that outcome consistent with the scientific advice that the Minister has received?
Does the agreement with the estate include agri-environment payments under HLS and, if so, are these payments entirely in line with the level of payments received by other land owners with similar habitats and issues?
Does the Minister have any interests himself in grouse shooting?
I wouldn’t expect an answer from Richard Benyon as a Guest Blog here (although Minister, you’d be very welcome) but I will jot down these questions and put them in a letter to the Minister soon. Perhaps there are people out there who could help me with some other questions that are worth asking – or maybe could guess at some answers even?