Wuthering Moors 19 – what is Defra hiding?

If you track back to 2 April on this blog you will find that I made Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulation requests to Defra and Natural England.

Defra failed to respond to those requests until sending me a letter dated 4 May saying that they needed another 20 working days to respond.  It is now 19 June and I have still not heard from Defra. This is outrageous behaviour by a government department.

The Walshaw Moor affair involved a dramatic, and in my experience unprecedented, volte face by Natural England in taking a legal case against an upland land manager over alleged offences concerning the building of ‘tracks, paths, car parks, grips, ponds, butts and other associated infrastructure for which the Walshaw Moor Estate did not obtain Natural England’s consent’ according to Natural England.

We already know from Natural England that a variety of emails and conversations took place between Natural England and certain senior Defra civil servants in the run up to Natural England’s change of approach. What we still await is clarification, openness and transparency from Defra on what other discussions there were and whether they involved their grouse-moor owning Minister Richard Benyon, and what discussions took place between Defra and other stakeholders in this case – for example the Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association and others.

Defra appears to think it acceptable to shut up shop and not respond to my requests.   I have emailed Defra to remind them that they are in breach of the legislation relating to such requests.

Defra is behaving as though it has something to hide – I wonder what it is.  I intend to find out.  This affair stinks.


14 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 19 – what is Defra hiding?”

  1. Mark,
    Totally agree, I know DEFRA have something to hide and the actions of NE failing to prosecute fly in the face of their statutory duties. There is clearly a cover-up going on and it stinks and is probably in breach of European law on designated sites of which NE and DEFRA need testing on.

    I’ve completed a FOIA request to NE as per your 12th June blog and think you are doing a sterling job in highlighting the case to your readership. I do wonder if it needs more muscle, the recent press articles you have quoted have been excellent but it needs more of a push to get it to greater masses. I do hope more journalists follow it up more and where are the major NGO’s on it? I’ve heard very little and time is ticking.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Just completed the Foi request via email as per earlier blog.

    Best wishes & keep up the good work,

  3. the Defra/NE information email address sent what effectively was an out of office reply promising to get back to me. Nor surprisingly, no reply. As I noted previously, from the experience over forest sales I believe Defra have completely abandoned FOI.

  4. You are doing a stirling job Mark – please keep going.
    I wrote to NE on 12/6 reference Walshaw Moor and have not received a response as yet although did receive a DEFRA “flyer” on Buzzards where specific questions I have raised have been evaded. I get the feeling that Defra and our latest Government are claiming some of the conservation successes for the increase in population over the past 30-40 years.

  5. It’s depressing isn’t it? The government department and their agency are behaving with arrogance towards the taxpayer, the landowner is convinced that the duty of stewardship is something they can deliver as and when they wish even while receiving taxpayers’ pounds for some of it and when this is put under a spotlight they all think that if they just keep quiet then we’ll all go away.

  6. My “Out of office” reply from Natural England promised a response within 10 working days – we will see!

    In the meantime I have been told by someone who is trustworthy and who definitely ought to know, that NE get “leaned on” – whatever could they mean I wonder!


  7. Hi Mark

    If they don’t reply what is the next step. Are you accessing any reliable legal advice about the best way to proceed? Is there an appeals procedure for FoI requests? If they continue to clam up, judicial review might be a way forward. Its pricey but fair tax campaigners have recently won leave to get judicial review over HMRCs decision to let Goldman Sachs off the hook in a tax dispute.

      1. Heard from DEFRA today who tell me I should get a reply to my request for the witness statement by 13 July.

        1. Phil – Many thanks. Yours is the sixth similar report I have had today – so NE have clearly sent out a batch of responses. Thank you for letting me know – and thank you for contacting them.

          I have received a reply from Defra and will blog about it next week.

  8. “We have thrown open the business of government, shining the light of transparency on everything we do.” David Cameron June 2012.

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