West Pennine Moors complaint to NE over their response

Dear [Natural England]
I wish to complain about the information that you sent me in response to this request (RFI 3031).  I request an internal review by NE of whether it has discharged its obligations under EIR.
Specifically, the paper NEB 49 13 is heavily redacted and contains little information about how the ‘Gate Zero’ process will work.
You have suggested that information has been redacted on two grounds:
1. Regulation 12(4)(e) – Internal Communications
I do not believe that you have applied the public interest test fairly or fully here. The invention of ‘Gate Zero’ seems to me to be a potentially illegal addition to the designation process which will harm the environment by reducing the number and coverage of notified and designated sites of nature conservation value. Protection of sites of nature conservation value is a matter of high interest to me, is a core duty of Natural England and is quite clearly a matter of public interest.  As far as I am aware the redacted papers are the only source of information on this subject for a concerned taxpayer to learn what is happening. It is unreasonable to withhold this information.  If this information is in the public domain elsewhere then please point me towards it, but I still request that you conduct an internal review of this redaction.
2. Regulation 12(5)(g) – environmental information
Since I suspect that the redacted parts of the paper may demonstrate that Natural England is weakening environmental protection of sites that qualify for designation or notification it is ironic that you cite ‘environmental protection’ as  a reason for redaction – how wittily ironic! I believe that environmental protection will be enhanced by shining a light on the details of Gate Zero because Natural England’s plans are weakening that protection by delaying the notification of sites as SSSI. Therefore, it is unreasonable for NE to redact this information which might reveal that NE’s plans will harm the environment. I  request that you conduct an internal review of this redaction.
And could you please check that what you sent me was in fact what you meant to send me as the numbering of sections and pages seems rather eccentric – could you please check?
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4 Replies to “West Pennine Moors complaint to NE over their response”

  1. Natural England appear to be failing in their statutory duties towards wildlife, in particular on moorland where red grouse are shot here in the north west of England. Since Natural England withdrew my licenses to monitor and protect peregrine in Lancashire's Forest of Bowland in 2010, when at least 18 territorial nesting sites existed, this year only a single pair of peregrines produced young. There were 5 additional nesting attempts each of which failed this season. The most logical cause being illegal interference at nest sites, destruction of nest sites and the disappearance of two clutches of eggs.

    In 2014 I submitted an appeal to Natural England asking that they consider reissuing my peregrine license for use the Forest of Bowland on the private estates, after almost 7 months I was advised the application had been refused. The reasons for their refusal is highlighted below.

    (a) It would cause unnecessary duplication of peregrine nest visits, where others were already licensed to undertake this work.
    (b) If your license was reinstated for use in Bowland it would result in too much disturbance to breeding pairs. (where are the breeding pairs Natural England are referring to now?)

    Natural England's reply was illogical and totally disregarded the fact that since 2010 at least 15 peregrine territories in the Forest of Bowland are now abandoned. The few nesting pairs in Bowland remaining appear to fail with regular frequency most years, which indicates more experienced on the ground licensed protection is needed in Bowland not less.

    Up until 2010 I had held a peregrine disturbance licence for use in the Forest of Bowland for almost 40 years. I am a qualified BTO 'A' ringer licensed to disturb and ring peregrine, red kite, goshawk, hen harrier, osprey and peregrine in Lancashire and Cumbria, but curiously Natural England continue to exclude a peregrine license for use inside Bowland where a license is needed most. I am also licensed by the BTO to disturb and ring golden eagle in parts of Scotland.

    If the disappearance of peregrine continues at the current rate in the Forest of Bowland, very soon licenses will no longer be required in this SPA and SSSi moorland region, simply because there will no longer be any nesting pairs to protect.

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  2. And if the gov.co.uk increases the charge to £600 a time for an FOI request, you'll soon be bankrupt. Can't have the peasants finding out what we're up to can we...

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    1. I know this is drifting off topic more than a little, but I would suggest that the FOI system needs a more fundamental overhaul, and I think that charging probably has a role to play.

      I have no doubt that FOIs can be very useful for extracting information that "they" want to keep hidden. However in my 15 years of dealing with occasional FOIs from the other side of the fence I have never yet had one that wasn't vexatious. Not one. If I take the call I always ask if they want the information - in which case I will send it to them - or if they really want an formal FOI response, in which I case I warn them that it will invoke a formal procedure and mean they get the same information much later. They always want to proceed with the FOI, and have never taken up my offer to simply send them the info they say they're interested in.

      FOI could not be better designed as a tool for "denial of service" attacks, especially in a small organisation subjected to repeated FOIs. One local Parish Council collapsed after one person subjected them to more than 40 FOIs over a very short space of time until all the Councillors and the Parish Clerk just walked away because they couldn't take it any more; precisely, one suspects, the outcome the correspondent wanted. The present system is wide open to abuse from the malicious or just plain bonkers.

      Replying to FOIs carries a significant cost in staff time. An FOI culture also means, inevitably, that all sorts of necessary conversations are simply had verbally to avoid leaving a paper trail, which defeats the whole purpose.

      Personally I'd like to see a rebalancing to deter vexatious and malicious requests. As part of that, I think charging has to have a role. £600 is certainly excessive but a charge of, say, £50 a pop might help deter the repeat offenders.

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