Bitterly disappointed, hugely disappointed, shameful, pitiful, appalling, lamentable…

Bitterly disappointed, hugely disappointed, shameful, pitiful, appalling, lamentable…  That’s how the Wildlife Trusts, Marine Conservation Society and RSPB described Defra’s announcement that it was consulting on designating just 31 of 127 marine sites selected by a lengthy, inclusive and costly process involving hundreds of people.  Further progress might be made next year.

Defra described this as ‘pressing ahead’, presumably in the same sense as tripping up is starting a journey.

I’ve signed up as a friend of the MCZ127 with the Wildlife Trusts – I’m hoping they’ll give me lots of information and lots of things to do.

There are many areas where the precautionary principle could be applied but isn’t – designating marine zones is held up until there is proof that the areas need protection, neonics are used until there is proof that they do harm and abstraction licences are granted until it is proven that they do harm.  In all cases the loser is nature.  Nature doesn’t do science or lobby politicians, that’s why it needs help from all of us and why we need to gather together in NGOs, and why those NGOs have to do their very best to make a difference.

Imagine a situation where fishermen had to prove that their fishing would not harm marine wildlife before they could leave port, that pesticide companies had to prove that their products caused no damage to wildlife before they could sell them to farmers and where farmers had to prove that their abstraction of water caused no drying out of adjacent wetlands before they could suck up a drop.  Yes, imagine the boot being on the other foot.

Would we be worse off if that were the case, I wonder?  And Defra could stand up for nature more often – or sometimes.  Defra could ask the difficult questions of those whose activities might well harm the environment rather than ask for proof that nature will be harmed.  But Nature doesn’t vote.

One of the problems with the Westminster system is that government departments act as silos – The Treasury is pretty much single minded about money; the Ministry of Defence is tunnel-visioned about the military.  The only government department that doesn’t act like that is Defra.  Defra acts apologetically or not at all for the environment.  We don’t see Defra making big decisions and telling other government departments that they can stick their objections wherever they like because this has to be done – do we? If so, I missed them.

Defra is hopeless and getting worse.


20 Replies to “Bitterly disappointed, hugely disappointed, shameful, pitiful, appalling, lamentable…”

  1. Actually Mark, one of the things that annoys me about Defra is that they never seem to acknowledge when they mess up on an issue. For instance Defra are still going to try to ‘press ahead’ with the badger cull and instead of admitting that they didn’t count badger numbers to begin with, they are claiming that badger numbers rocketed in just one or two months. They also didn’t deal with ash dieback until this year even though it has been in europe for more than a decade.

  2. You’re correct when you say that nature doesn’t have a vote, but then it doesn’t need one. Nature just acts and lets us know of its displeasure through these acts. Acts such as the desertification of arable land, the depletion of fisheries, the trickleization (OK a word I’ve made up, but it fits the argument) of once great rivers, climate change, etc. But unfortunately those in power seek to be deaf & blind to natures very loud messages.

  3. Where an activity impinges on wildlife, legislation always seems to be retrospective (horses and stable doors?). Where it affects humankind it is often proactive. Look at all the hoops the pharmaceutical industry jump through (and the millions they have to spend) before a new drug comes to market. Of course they don’t always get it right! Perhaps the same criteria should be applied to the situations you mention Mark.

  4. Interesting your comment on Defra – it may just be a throwaway in despair, but I suspect not – and I suspect we may both be thinking the same thing. Is this department actually heading for the rocks ? Defra has always suffered from being MAFF in sheeps clothing but if you listen to Owen Patterson’s pronouncements he isn’t actually a Defra Minister – he’s A MAFF Minister. The big question now seems to be not whether Defra will trip over with a major disaster, but which one it’ll be. Patterson has a real problem with his badgers – his colours are superglued to the mast, he can’t wriggle out and yet it’s clear the Government is at odds with the voters at the same visceral level we saw with forestry sales.

    However, for me there’s a much bigger issue. The political establishment, led by the Conservatives, but everyone is in there, seems to have become detached from the present and be furiously fighting battles from the past. The country and its establishment just don’t seem to be in the same place. Clearly, the very rich who back the Conservatives think they – and no doubt their children – are going to literally float above the flood that literally and metaphorically looks like engulfing everyone else – and nowhere is it more blatant than over marine reserves. What sort of planet are we really leaving our children and grandchildren ? Can’t say I’m too proud of where we are at the moment.

  5. Marine Reserves are certainly a start, but I would much rather see a continuous no take zone around all of the UK extending to perhaps 5 miles out into our seas and then topped up by further more distant local zones which are known to be good breeding areas.

    There is an excellent 2009 DVD based on the book The End of the Line by Charles Clover which coincidentally I viewed last night; This film shows the horrendous amounts of endangered Blue Fin tuna for sale in Japan. The film mentioned the giant Mitsubishi company and suggests that they are one of the leading participants of tuna wheeling and dealing in the world.Even though Blue fin tuna are declining dramatically the film suggests that Mitsubishi are still investing in larger and more highly technical fishing vessels for tuna. It is suggested that tuna will be hunted until there are none left. As their numbers decrease the prices shoot up and some tuna are worth vast sums of money. Recently one tuna was sold for $736,000 US in Japan. The large companies dealing in tuna are effectively using this fish as a form of investment. They are storing frozen tuna in vast stores and probably will not sell them until the last wild tuna has been caught and the tuna price has rocketed.

    Even closer to home one of the most prestigious London fish restaurants was still selling blue fin tuna and had even marked on the menu next to this item that it was an endangered species.

    On a world wide scale scientist say that if they extrapolate from present trends there will be no commercial fish left in the oceans by 2048. Even coral reefs are already being exploited. Many japanese restaurants have for sale live fish which include some of the larger predators from coral reefs for example massive groupers and beautifully coloured moray eels. The most threatened coral area is the Coral Triangle in Southern Asia.

    As the large predators in the oceans are killed off then the ecological balance is disrupted. In Chesapeake Bay Cow Faced Rays have reached plague proportions. Their increase is a mirror response to the decline of certain Hammerhead Shark spp which are their main predator.

    Industrialised fishing methods are a matter for much concern. Some of the largest trawl nets have a mouth size large enough to unbelievably fit 17 x 747 jet planes. Even in the UK some of the fishing vessels are enormous. On the island of Whalsay in the Shetland Islands there is a fishing vessel often berthed which is the size of a cruise liner. It has been said that these large vessels can catch £1 million worth of fish in each haul and can catch there full seasons quota in a couple of days. Of course as you may have seen on the news these fishermen were not content with catching their quota but caught much more and illegally landed this excess in Norway. Shetlanders say that there is a greater density of millionaires on Whalsey than anywhere else in the world. This greed is not doing any of our fish stocks any good.

    The amount of industrial long lines laid out in any one year would now encompass the world 550 times. The spread of this fishing is driven by depletion of stocks in well fished areas.

    I noticed that on a Rick Stein show that a trawlerman told him that he was allowed to catch a certain quota of fish. Because the largest fish were worth more money any slightly smaller fish that were worth less were dumped back into the sea dead. This trawlerman said he didn’t like to do this but the government didn’t give him any other option. Of course he has another option if he wasn’t such a greedy b!*!!** he would catch his quota weight and cease fishing !
    The theme to all of this is that greed is destroying our ocean ecosystems and in some cases the greedy people are politicians who sell off their countries fishing quotas while their own people starve.

  6. Just a quick point in reference to the MOD, I’m pretty sure we did other things other then fight wars, the MOD sends Navy to help out with monitoring fishing qoutas, attempting to stop drugs that came in via the sea, airlifts of aid (boxing day Tsunami springs to mind) and more recently, thanks to a parliament cock-up,security at the Olympics.
    I sadly Mark cannot see Defra improving regardless which party put a minister in charge of it. You’re right, when it comes to Defra there is no clear “mission” statement to as exactly what they wish to achieve, just a general statement of purpose. There appears to be no accountability as to what they have achieved, failed to achieve and the reasons as to why they have failed. There are in my opinion certain departments that play a vital role for the UK that shouldn’t have to change who runs them just because of a general election, I’m thinking Economy,Health,Education and Enviroment, these areas should be covered by a cross section of MP’s from the main parties and advisors. They’re to important to be subjected to “party politics”, you just end with the mess we see today. Neither parties have a great track record in my opinion when it comes to Defra
    The question is is Defra fit for purpose or should it too be culled?

  7. And now I gather there is going to be consultation on whether NE should have regard to economic considerations in its decisions. Will the Treasury have to have regard to environmental considerations? I think not. Lots to fight. I’ve befriended all the MCZs as well – I’ll be watching the Cornish ones in particular, but care about them all. Grrr.

  8. I’ve seen the “Lincs Belt” appear in 2 maps this week. The second was in the map for non designated sites on the East Coast on the DEFRA site at the link provided by Mark. Very disappointing for all at LWT who’ve worked hard on this and all of us who love the Lincs coast.

    The first was on a map of potential fracking sites following on from Osborne’s subversion of our renewable energy policy the other day. I do not trust the ministers in this government one inch and do not believe the failure to designate Lincs Belt has nothing to do with its fracking potential. We will literally be fighting them on the beaches on this one.

  9. If you want to understand what the EA does to manage water abstraction Mark, do have a look here: You will see that licences are not simply granted until it is proven that they do harm, and sustainable limits are set for each reach of every river. Issues are often historic and related to pre 1963 permits (the so-called ‘licences of right’) which cannot be altered without payment of compensation. That money has never been forthcoming in sufficient quantity to sort the problems out. I know the detail is boring, but sometimes it is important! Perhaps a bit of helpful campaigning on that issue rather than unhelpful generalisations might pay dividends?

      1. I’m not familiar with the details of the Catfield Fen case Mark, but the fundamental problem with over-abstraction of water in England and Wales is the antediluvian legislation that the EA operates under. The legislation links property rights to abstraction licences which means that they cannot be changed or revoked without paying lots of money via an unbelievably bureaucratic process. It is the only one of the EA’s permitting regimes that has this unfortunate feature. It certainly doesn’t help the environment, doesn’t help abstractors plan for the future either. All I am saying is that if you want to criticise how the regime operates, that is where your considerable influencing ability would best be focussed rather than picking away at individual licence decisions and making generalisations that personally I don’t think are accurate.

        You have probably read it already (?) but the Water White Paper makes an interesting read in terms of how this might get worse in future, and talks about much needed ‘comprehensive reform’. Certainly at the moment we are very ill-equipped! I would be happy to discuss further if you wished, but your blog proabably isn’t the right avenue for that.

    1. 1. Its of no interest to us. Plus we’d have ones civil list halved, how would we heat all of our palaces?
      2. We stand to make a fortune from it.
      3.My son is too busy talking to plants to hear anything.
      4. My grandson would rather shoot pretty birds from the sky. Though we’re taking young Harry onto that Jeremy Kyle for a Dna

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