Stody fine

Tues 21 April CopyThe raptorpersecutionscotland blog is on a roll at the moment and yesterday disclosed the fact that the Stody Estate has been fined, probably three quarters of its single farm payment, for the Buzzard killing on its land revealed by the conviction of its former gamekeeper Allen Lambert.

This is excellent news and shows how the legal system can be used as a strong deterrent against wildlife crime. Although, oddly, the RPA has not confirmed the amount of the withdrawal of Single Payment, it is thought to be in the order of £200k.

It seems odd though, that we first heard this news from an excellent blog using the FoI process rather than from Defra or the Rural Payments Agency.

If large fines such as this one are to act as a deterrent they must be in the minds of potential criminals – so why hadn’t we heard about this case already? And speaking as one of the many people who contacted RPA over this case, several times, why hadn’t we been told? Publicising the fine would encourage those raptor workers, Birdtrack contributors and RSPB Investigations staff whose hard work assisted in this case.

The RPA is a Defra agency and issued press releases on 28 October, 4 November and 10 November, but didn’t mention this case.

If you have the time to contact the RPA to ask them about this don’t use the number on the GOV.UK website (0345 603 7777) because it isn’t in use any more (although still listed on the website, and only came into existence less than a year ago). You could, as I did, try the other number 03000200301, and eventually you’ll find someone who doesn’t know anything about the Stody Estate, can’t use the reference number you have been given on previous enquiries to find anything out, and cannot transfer you to anyone who can help. In other words, I did bother but I wouldn’t if I were you.

And so I emailed them and got an automated reply with the interesting line ‘If we need to get back to you, we will reply within 10 working days.‘.  Well, I’ll tell you now, RPA, that you do need to get back to me please.

Could you please confirm the amount that the Stody Estate was fined and the reasons for the fine?

Hint: it was probably to do with the dead Buzzards pictured below which formed the largest single raptor-poisoning case in England.

Photo: Guy Shorrock
Photo: Guy Shorrock

 

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16 Replies to “Stody fine”

  1. Mark, Excellent news but I can't see it as a fine. It is simply a percentage of some money that we gave them being taken back. Why they had it in the first place is questionable.

    If I was unemployed or on a low wage the Govt would regard it as quite reasonable to cut my income simply because they want the money. In this area we had the situation of a person on Job Seekers unable to get to the Job centre because they were ill. The result of which was 100% of their benefits not paid unless they could produce a Drs note. The surgery said you've got a virus, its not urgent we can give you an appointment in 3 weeks. That person lost £60 but I bet that 'fine' was felt more that this estate is feeling it.

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  2. All the same, this will really hurt - its in a different league to the fines the courts hand out to the perpetrators (who couldn't pay anyway) and has the virtue of being money withheld rather than trying to claw it back.

    Had it been the Westminster Government, it would have been crystal clear why this penalty wasn't advertised - but I couldn't understand why the Scottish government, who really seem to be trying, wouldn't make a big thing of it - then I saw it was Defra's RPA and understood ! Especially as I had just been reading a very interesting item in Sue Everett's brilliant British Wildlife conservation news section. As you are discovering, RPA really do not want to hear from you - a true Defra FOI agency !- and make it as hard as possible for you to complain about breaches of compliance, even pushing you off to another agency which isn't actually responsible for or interested in compliance at all. Of even greater concern is the suggestion that there seems to be a disproportionate amount of interest and attention given to 'greener' farmers. If true, one wonders where that bias could possibly have come from ? In my experience it would be unusual for a civil servant to think something like that up for themselves.

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    1. 'disproportionate amount of interest and attention given to 'greener' farmers'

      Almost certainly in my experience. It is notable how many all-grass, low-intensity farms seem receive inspections, particularly NVZ, between Sept and December when the RPA are trying to bump their inspection numbers up. The EU require them to inspect at least 5% of Pillar 1 claimants annually.

      I'm fairly sure this disproportionate interest interest in these farms is driven purely by ease of inspection. Why bother inspecting a 1000-acre mixed farm which requires a much more demanding and and time consuming inspection, involving more rules and standards when a quick visit to the 100-acre all grass organic suckler beef farm just down the road counts the same in your report back to the EU?

      A simple way of preventing that from happening would be for the EU rules to require 5% of the total English area claim to be inspected, rather than 5% of the claimants. I doubt the NFU would allow that to happen though!

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  3. A couple of points, the Cross Compliance rules require that any penalties imposed are applied to both SPS/BPS payment and also any income from agri-environment schemes which started after Jan 2007.

    The Stody Estate holds two agreements, a combined ELS/HLS agreement which started in 2013 and another HLS agreement which started in 2008. According to http://cap-payments.defra.gov.uk, in 2014 Stody was paid £85,831 for both agreements.

    If, as has been reported, Stody have been issued with a 75% reduction, then the actual penalty must be £286,320. That will certainly hurt them - they will already be feeling the pinch in their arable operations with grain commodity prices being so depressed. I suspect they will almost certainly appeal against the RPA's decision and get the penalty reduced to 20-50%.

    I do wonder that if the Stody Estate been caught poisoning buzzards in 2015, would they have been penalised under SMR 2? I'm not sure they would have been, and I can't help but think that the first paragraph of SMR 2 was deliberately worded in order to mislead, and deflect from the fact that 'wild birds' now only seem to be protected in SPA's as far as Cross Compliance is concerned.

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  4. You could well be right, Ernest - I have to admit that experience also supports the idea that simple incompetence is more usual than sophisticated conspiracy !

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  5. Before you all start leaping up and down with joy at the fines imposed on Stody Estates it might be worth reading this from their website:

    Since 1994 the Estate has been in a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme with Natural England through which it actively manages extensive habitat for wildlife, flora, fauna and bio-diversity. As part of this scheme, the Estate has set aside the following from agricultural production: 400 acres of grassland, 110 miles of conservation margins, over 80 miles of hedgerow maintenance and coppicing, 100 acres of wild bird cover and widespread pond restoration. We have also established 120 acres surrounding our existing water networks (including the River Glaven) as a protected natural resource area. The Estate has installed and continues to manage numerous successful owl boxes.

    Now of course it could all be lies after all however common sense would seem to suggest that it would be unlikely that they would put all this at risk by implementing a policy of intentionally breaking cross compliance. The take away from this I would imagine is that they will find alternative income streams to replace what I'm now sure they feel is a disproportionate level of risk by relying on stewardship and now basic payment schemes. I can assure your readership that they are far from alone in this respect.

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    1. Julian - stewardship money is still over-subscribed. Let's hope it goers to farmers who don't break the law.

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      1. I am afraid you may be wrong there mark. The mid level scheme in England is looking like it will be massively undersubscribed and the glastor woodland creation scheme has approximately 40 applicants a drop from nearer 300.

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    2. I live in a Stody Estate house and this is partly true and partly untrue. they seem to have spent a lot of money with new fencing and hedging all over the glaven meadows which spoils our views and gives you the feeling of being cut off from a particularly beautiful spot. I have seen up to 10 families of Red Kite disappear one year and never seen them return .. I have heard shooting out the back of the house where there is a lovely field area where we used to walk our dogs (from the village) now it has a sign up saying 'conservation area no public access' and where last year they allowed the grasses to grow wild and high .. however this year they cut down the grasses to allow cars to park for a particular function ... so 'conservation area' my foot ... just a ploy to stop local people. Buzzards have come back now and 1 egret on the glaven meadows ... but i find this estate threatening and unfriendly and definitely two faced.

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  6. As at October only 25% of NE target of 4000 applicants had actually expressed an interest in the new mid and higher tier schemes. Having been involved in one HLS conversion I'm not surprised by that figure. The new scheme is unwieldy and over complicated, this combined with heavy handed inspections and penalties in my view will massively reduce the take up; as will the fact that the schemes have been basically high jacked by the NGOs and as a result many of the options are totally impractical as far as implementation on the ground is concerned. We spent weeks trying to see if there was anyway we could convert one HLS which was a high value scheme to the new Higher Tier but as at today we can see no way that it can be done. Our funding has been cut by 50% while the management we are expected to deliver on the ground has increased by the same proportion. Given the present pressures on our business in terms of low commodity prices (back to 1991 levels) and the need to reduce costs further it's a risk versus reward that we are not prepared to take at the moment. Had we been treated better in the past by the RPA in terms of penalties and inspections or even actually been paid on time (currently with the RPA we are 11 months overdue) we might have taken a different decision and I can definitely assure you that we are not in the minority in terms of this view.

    By Monday, it is understood only around 1,000 applications had been submitted, although applications were coming all the time and the final number will be higher."

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  7. Well me obviously if you look at the thread ! If you feel you've got something to offer on this or perhaps an angle which has been overlooked please get in touch. Regards j

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