The minister’s speech

Therese Coffey
Therese Coffey

On the last day of October our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting (123,077 signatures) was debated alongside another, so-called rival, e-petition to protect grouse shooting (which still languishes under 25,000 signatures despite being over half way through its allotted time).

Having let a month pass I’ll now return to what was said on that day. Today I’ll start with the most important but least inspiring speech; that of the Defra minister Therese Coffey.

But first a few words to begin to address the questions ‘Where are we now, and what do we do next?’.  First, I’ve been having a bit of a rest actually! Only a few people know how much time it takes to keep the momentum going on a campaign like this and, although I certainly didn’t do it all myself, it’s been good to have a month to catch up with things that have been left undone and to start some serious writing for another book (which has no publisher, as yet). Second, I’ve been thinking about what next. Third, others have been thinking too, and I’ve had a lot of chats with people about where we should go and those discussions are continuing over this weekend and beyond.  Fourth, I’ve given a few talks since the debate, all to groups of birders and I have been struck by what a lot of keen people there are out there to continue the campaign for as long as it takes. So, things are happening behind the scenes, and they will continue behind the scenes for many months, but some time next year I think it is certain that the next phase of the campaign will be rolled out. I’ll come back to this general subject in later blog posts.

But let us remember the words of the minister on 31 October. They were badly judged because they ignored the evidence and minimised the issue. That’s never a recipe for keeping the lid on s0mething serious. This is what Dr Coffey said:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall, in this debate, which was chosen by the Petitions Committee and ably opened by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). It was triggered by a petition to ban driven grouse shooting, and the Committee also selected the petition to protect grouse moors and grouse shooting for debate. I thank all 20 right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today, especially those who made full speeches and stayed the course. We have heard speeches with passion, insight and clarity. I particularly commend my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), who described the extensive research he undertook for this debate. Members made a number of points during the debate, and I will respond to them during my speech.

The level of interest has been considerable, and we have had contributions from all parts of the United Kingdom. Not everyone who intervened has stayed. I thought we had got away from that habit in the previous Parliament. It used to be the Liberal Democrats who popped in, intervened, left and proclaimed proudly that they had spoken in the debate. They are an endangered species, and not one I am trying to save, but it seems that the Green party is adopting similar habits.

As set out in our manifesto, the Government support shooting for all the benefits it brings to individuals, the environment and the rural economy. We are also clear that wildlife should be properly respected and protected. We expect anyone involved in these enterprises to uphold the law in deed and spirit. According to a report by Public and Corporate Economic Consultants, which I recognise was criticised by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), shooting as a whole is estimated to be worth about £2 billion a year to the economy, supporting more than 70,000 full-time equivalent jobs. It is also involved in the management of about two thirds of the UK’s rural landscape. The Moorland Association estimates that the grouse shooting industry supports 1,520 full-time jobs.

Much has rightly been made by hon. Members, and by my hon. Friends in particular, of the supporting economy, which must be recognised, particularly in the most remote parts of rural England—too many Members spoke about it to name now, but their contributions will all be on the record. The hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) did not do so, although he seems very happy to have huge taxpayer support for the oil industry currently helping Scottish jobs in a fossil- fuel, carbon-busting economy. However, he is no longer in his place.

On moorland management, I think we can all agree on the importance of conserving the habitats on which grouse shooting takes place. It is undertaken on moors in several parts of the United Kingdom. Moorland management is vital for a biodiverse landscape, as has been extensively described. It can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation—for example, healthy heather provides good habitat for ground nesting birds and attracts butterflies and bees. The control of predators such as foxes also helps ground nesting birds, and without active management and conservation of the land, the landscape would quickly change and biodiversity would be lost. No one wants to see the landscape degrade, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) eloquently illustrated after his visits to the moors on the borders.

Extensive mention has been made of the importance of managed grouse moors to the preservation and increase of numbers of several species of bird, such as the golden plover, the curlew and the merlin, a bird of prey. I support the consensus on the importance of healthy, active peat, which provides good habitat for grouse and other wildlife, as well as numerous benefits to the environment and ecosystem services. Dry, degraded peat helps no one. We are absolutely committed to protecting and restoring these soils and have invested millions in large-scale peatland restoration projects, such as the Dark Peak nature improvement area. The Government will continue to work with moor owners and stakeholders to further improve management practices and peat condition.

The vast majority of grouse moors are in sites of special scientific interest, with Natural England’s consent required for management actions on these sites which could impact their important wildlife.

The issue of agri-environment funding has been raised. I expect we will continue to support our environment once we have left the EU and that, in the meantime, payments will be made to support environmentally beneficial land management, including the management of specific wildlife habitats, and works to improve the quality of the environment for wildlife, water quality and carbon capture.

As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), the uplands have complex land ownership and tenure arrangements, with many areas designated as common land. Many agreements result in funding going to grazing tenancies, which are critical to undertaking the beneficial management of the moors. I disagree with the hon. Member for Bristol East, who suggested that grouse shooting has been subsidised. I want to make it clear that agri-environment payments are not subsidies and they are not paid to support shooting activities.

Grouse moors contain a range of habitats that require different management methods. Rotational burning is considered to help to maintain healthy heather on the moors at different heights. Short heather provides food for sheep and red grouse and shelter for some ground-nesting birds. Tall heather provides shelter and nesting for other birds. The tapestry, if not the kaleidoscope, of heather plants at different stages of regeneration is achieved by rotational burning, and was cited as key to the success of the Glenwherry project that was referred to by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan). My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) referred to the successful preservation of black grouse in north Wales.

Burning takes place over winter and early spring when there are no birds nesting and the soil is wet. I understand that the peat itself is not deliberately burned and that there is a strong presumption against rotational burning on sensitive areas such as blanket bog, as noted in the heather and grass burning code, which recommends the cool burns that several hon. Members referred to earlier. Natural England’s consent is required to burn on a site of special scientific interest. I note the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) on alternatives and a reduction in burning. Heather could be cut as an alternative to burning, but that can be achieved only on suitable topography, and it may leave highly combustible material behind if not removed. He will know that several fires have been accidentally triggered. They have taken much resource to tackle and left damaged habitats that have taken years to recover.

A DEFRA-funded project is currently looking into the costs and effects of cutting as an alternative. I know the benefits of peat restoration for absorbing water, but, to be clear—I will cover this again—we know that upland peat is vital for filtering our drinking water, of which 70% comes from the uplands. We are committed to restoring and protecting that upland peat.

The 2013 Natural England study on the effects of managed burning found no direct evidence specifically relating to the effect of burning on watercourse flow or the risk of downstream flood events. It is the study to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) talked about cod science; I thought he was in a fishing debate. However, he rightly referred to the sustained rainfall that was the decisive factor in the unprecedented flooding in modern times, and he challenged the selective use of statistics from reports. He gave us some interesting analogies to do with bull elephants. I heard an analogy the other day about the River Wear in the north-east, which suffered flooding last year: something the size of the Royal Albert Hall would have been filled full of water in less than a minute, such was the torrent suffered in the north-east.

Drainage damages blanket bog, and Natural England does not consent to constructing drainage ditches on blanket bog in SSSIs. Grouse moor owners and other stakeholders are currently carrying out programmes of ditch blocking across the country, helping to restore peat condition. My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley referred to the levels of reservoirs, which takes me to another debate. Perhaps he might apply for another debate another time. The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) referred to continuing funding for the York University study. No decision has yet been made, but I note her concerns on that matter.

On the “bogathon” milestones, I must admit I did not know about them; I will look into them. My officials assure me that stakeholders are carrying out valuable work to look at ways of restoring peat, including through the “bogathon” events. We are committed to working with moor owners and stakeholders through the blanket bog restoration strategy.

Upland peat is important for carbon sequestration. That is why the Government are committed to working with moor owners and stakeholders to further improve management practices and peak condition. As has already been mentioned, burning is done for heather management, although cool burns are recommended, as I have already said. I absolutely recognise the impact of climate change, but we should also recognise the importance of biodiversity, without which the world would cease to exist.

Although we have heard much about improvements in the numbers of birds, described in detail by several of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), I have heard the concerns of some hon. Members that birds of prey, particularly hen harriers, are deliberately being killed. The Government take the illegal persecution of raptors very seriously. On the missing hen harriers in the last fortnight, the matter has been referred to the police. The local wildlife team has been involved and the national wildlife crime unit is aware. I can assure hon. Members that wildlife crime is a Government priority. We recently confirmed £300,000 of funding per annum for the NWCU for the next four years. Raptor persecution is one of six wildlife crime priorities for the UK. The unit has a dedicated group chaired by a senior police officer, with representatives from Government and NGOs working to deliver progress against this wildlife crime priority. It is building an intelligence picture and is due to advise on further action.

We recognise that the legal control of predators is a legitimate wildlife management practice in some circumstances. That is why Natural England will license the killing of certain birds of prey, although it would not consider licensing any activity that would adversely affect the conservation status of a species. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury referred to the Moorland Association study in Berwyn. The issue of hen harriers in Wales is interesting. When grouse shooting stopped, it might have been expected that the populations would burgeon and start to spread, but that has not happened. The populations have stabilised and they have not spread from the area that they occupied.

On the decline in the hen harrier population in England, the Government are committed to securing the future of this bird. That is why we took the lead in developing a hen harrier action plan, which was launched earlier this year. The plan sets out six complementary actions designed to increase hen harrier numbers in England, alongside the continuation of driven grouse shooting and the environmental, social and economic benefits that it brings. The plan is still at an early stage. Many factors can affect the successful nesting of hen harriers—food supply, weather conditions, predation and persecution —but we absolutely believe that the plan remains the best way to safeguard the hen harrier in England.

The Government have no plans to introduce licensing. As has been said, considerable regulation is already in place. Several Members referred to vicarious liability. I am aware that this principle was introduced in Scotland, but there is little evidence to suggest it has had an impact on the conservation of birds of prey. However, we will continue to monitor the situation and will consider whether the approach is necessary and proportionate to assist in tackling wildlife crime here.

Since the introduction of the offence, there have been two prosecutions, but the RSPB’s report suggests that there continues to be persecution incidents. In 2013 and 2014 a total of 18 poisoning incidents were recorded in Scotland. One particular incident involved the poisoning of 12 red kites and four buzzards, which I am sure we all deplore.

The professionalism of keepers has been extensively referred to; I wish to add my contribution to that. I thank hon. Members for debating the petitions today. I am sorry I have not been able to take any interventions in the short time I have had. However, it has been useful to hear the views of Members from across the United Kingdom regarding moorland management for driven grouse shooting. This is not a binary debate. The Government want to see a vibrant working countryside that is enhanced by a biodiverse environment. The uplands are a treasured asset prized by people for their tranquillity, quiet enjoyment, inspirational nature and recreation. They are also a vital source for goods and services, particularly food and drinking water, and make a major contribution to overall livestock production in the UK.

Central to the provision of services and assets that the uplands provide is the active management of the land by farmers, landowners and land managers. Successful upland policy is dependent on upland communities, particularly farmers and land managers, whose rural businesses are fundamental to the rural economy and whose role in managing the land in the long term will ultimately determine the value of the environmental outcomes.

I will finish by stating that the Government have no intention of banning driven grouse shooting, but we have every intention of bringing to justice those who break the law. We all agree that conserving the upland moorlands is in everyone’s best interests. We will help to ensure that a constructive dialogue continues so that grouse shooting is protected and these valuable moorlands thrive.

 

It is quite difficult to know where to start with this speech which, remember, is from a government minister with a PhD in science but could easily be from a post-truth evangelist for shooting.

035ostrich_468x538The major weaknesses in the government position are as follows:

  • on Hen Harriers there should be 300+ nesting pairs in England but this year there were three (none on grouse moors). But the government minister can’t acknowledge the seriousness of the situation because then she would have to address it, so she largely ignores it.  The minister has not come up with a single thing that government will do differently that will address this conservation failure of her department.  Isn’t it depressing that a biodiversity minister displays no real concern for biodiversity?
  • 035ostrich_468x538on wildlife crime the minister has ‘heard the concerns of some hon. Members that birds of prey, particularly hen harriers, are deliberately being killed’ which is great news that the minister is so up to date but all of the potential solutions are dismissed; no ban, no licensing and no vicarious liability (although the vaguest of vague comments about looking at it again perhaps).  There is no-one in the world, I would say, that believes that the current funding of the National Wildlife Crime unit will make a dent in the level of wildlife crime in the uplands of England.  It is astonishing that a Conservative minister can be so complacent about illegality.
  • 035ostrich_468x538the minister says that driven grouse shooting is economically important but  relys on the discredited PACEC report which, as the minister mentioned and then ignored, has been taken apart by other economists and which does not take into account the wider environmental costs of intensive grouse moor management.  But no matter, somebody once said that grouse shooting was economically important – that’ll do for Defra these days.
  • 035ostrich_468x538flooding might be one of the reasons why the economics need to be looked at but the minister does not quote any of the science, she is clearly not in a position to dismiss this subject by quoting studies but she largely dismisses it without evidence instead.

 

 

This is a sorry state of affairs, where a government minister ignores the evidence and paints an unsustainable and damaging land use as benign at worst and fantastically valuable at best.  But this speech will keep us busy for quite a while. I can envisage reports coming out on different aspects of the minister’s speech and taking her argument apart bit by bit.  In fact, if parliament is to do its job properly then either the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee or Environmental Audit Committee should take up the inquiry on grouse shooting and grill this minister on what she has said – Dr Coffey would soon be running for cover if having to justify her words, I feel.  Which legal experts would agree that wildlife crime will be brought under control by the current level of action?  Which economists would sign up to the minister’s glowing words about the value of driven grouse shooting to the economy? Which hydrologists would be prepared to say that intensive heather burning plays no part in downstream flooding? And which conservationists would say that the status of the Hen Harrier in England is favourable  or even likely to improve?

This ministerial speech will have been a slap in the face for the RSPB, and by its very nature to other wildlife NGOs too. Rarely has the RSPB’s case been so lightly swatted aside, and rarely have the facts weighed so lightly in the balance.  If government doesn’t listen to the evidence then where does that leave the NGOS and how should they now attempt to achieve their aims?

Where we failed at the very end of October was in mobilising enough opposition MPs to put the wealth of science against driven grouse shooting into the debate and that made it easy for the minister to ignore that it exists. But the shocking thing, and take a moment to think how very shocking it is, is that the minister was only too ready to ignore the evidence in order to speak up for the status quo on driven grouse shooting.  That is Defra acting not as a government department with the interests of the public at heart but as a spokesperson for a narrow interest group.  That really is quite shocking.

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32 Replies to “The minister’s speech”

  1. What a deplorable ministerial speech. It is very much on the lines " we have the answer, that is, we are fully supportive of driven grouse shooting, now we work out the arguments to support this statement." Not to recognise all the arguments against driven grouse shooting and to properly address them is really an abdication of responsibility and democracy.
    It is precisely this type of approach the is currently causing voters around the world to vote for antiestablishment parties and with this ministerial attitude it is no wonder they do.

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  2. I agree entirely Alan it was a speech which essentially said our friends in grouse shooting tell us that everything or nearly everything in the garden is rosy or is being adequately addressed and we will ignore all other opinions and deny the huge and building body of evidence to the contrary. In fact what evidence! We will continue to support them wholeheartedly in the face of this minor irritation of a petition ( they will go away or come to their senses). They need to know we will not !
    It is clearly a minor but powerful vested interest over democratic responsibility. What was most disappointing about the debate was the real lack of numbers of MPs voicing a different point of view. Our failure or their disinterest?

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  3. One thing that I think counted against us, and will continue to do so, was the way that the debate split along party lines even though this is not ostensibly a party political issue.

    Whether we like it or not the Tories dominate rural constituencies while Labour has never been very interested in rural matters (hence the pathetically low numbers who attended the debate). With the odd honourable exception, the Tories who came to the debate were amongst the least environmentally knowledgeable or sympathetic of MPs. I even heard one muttering on with climate change denial assertions throughout speeches from both sides.

    Getting even one Conservative MP on board would have strengthened our hand hugely. Could we find one to be a HH champion alongside Angela Smith of Labour?

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    1. But Labour needs to be shaken into action on this! Its manifesto at the last election included a pledge to take action to stop persecution of birds of prey on shooting estates but with a very few honourable exceptions the party seems to be completely uninterested in this pledge. My own MP, Chi Onwurah, has expressed platitudes about being “opposed to all forms of animal cruelty and damage to environment” but beyond passing on my letters to Defra ministers has not shown much evidence of doing anything about it.
      I don't know how to make this a bigger issue for Labour but I find their indifference very frustrating.

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      1. Marian - I think that might be a very good suggestion. From his website, he was a campaigner on animal welfare issues for many years before becoming an MP. He was on TV yesterday, and I thought he seemed likeable and sympathetic.
        I know Mark prefers the tightly focussed approach, but one route to this guy might be to stress things like the use of snares and the conditions under which pheasants and partridges are reared.
        If he shows any interest, then you could gently steer him towards DGS!

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  4. What does this woman actually KNOW from her own experience? Has she ever seen a Hen Harrier? (I saw one - only the second I've ever seen- on Sunday, and for some strange reason I got a big kick and a buzz at the very sight of it). I also have a friend who lives in the Hebden Bridge area who has been flooded twice. She is a District Nurse doing her bit for our NHS, is currently awaiting completion of repairs, and the insurance company is dragging its feet paying out. So I'm heartened to hear you're considering next moves Mark.

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    1. Joyce, she's really not interested in wildlife. That doesn't make her a bad person, in that she is interested in other things and seems to be a perfectly decent constituency MP, but it does make her appointment at Defra a telling illustration of Government priorities.

      Her main attribute to the Conservative Party is that, occupying a very safe seat, she will be instinctively loyal to the Government and is unlikely to have any politically challenging new ideas. The perfect choice for quietly maintaining the status quo in a policy area thought to be of no political importance.

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      1. She (Therea Coffey) might be more interested if she knew how many of those who signed the petition were Conservative voters in the recent election and who are unlikely to vote the same way in the future because of this issue. I,for one, will NOT be voting for them next time if this is their idea of democracy!!!!

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        1. Sadly, Bill, I think that the Govt, to the extent that it's bothered, has correctly calculated that most of the people who signed the petition wouldn't be Tory voters anyway (esp as they seem convinced that we're all Animal Rights supporters because of the LACS connection and the way that some of the publicity has been framed eg by the BBC). An interesting question would be to ask how many of the constituencies that delivered most signatures are Tory marginals? I suspect not many.

          Therese Coffey is personally untouchable in an extremely secure Tory seat, making the goodwill of her political peers in the constituency party and at Westminster a far bigger motivator than the potential loss of a trivial proportion of her votes.

          Meanwhile Labour, to the extent it's currently capable of deciding anything, has decided that as a "rural issue" remote from Socialism there are no votes to be won, at least none in constituencies where they might make a difference , so it's not worth their effort either. And pushing the social justice angle will only feed the Tory line that this is all about class envy and not wildlife at all.

          The joys of first past the post 🙁

          Whatever else finally provokes action, it won't be a fear of loosing votes. We need something smarter than that - fortunately moral pressure can transcend narrow political interests.

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          1. I must correct you on two points:
            The LACS is not and has never been an animal rights organisation.
            The LACS is an animal welfare charity with cross-party support.
            So it is hardly fair to blame the LACS for ministerial incompetence.

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          2. Paul, noted with apologies.

            Do you by any chance have a sympathetic Cons MP interested in DGS? Worth a shot.

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  5. Mark - I can understand why you and others probably feel exhausted. Reading the transcript of the debate was a depressing experience. I endorse your comments about Dr Coffey. As you indicate, clearly it is important that no impression is given that the 123,000 plus have learned that the words of wisdom (!) uttered at the debate have demolished their arguments and have taught them to creep away to reflect humbly on the errors of their ways. It may be obvious enough but from a Scottish perspective it would seem a good idea for allies south of the Border to keep a close eye on efforts in Scotland to regulate game bird management - note of course REGULATE at present, not BAN driven grouse shooting. From down south the picture may seem rosier in Scotland but it goes without saying that powerful vested interests here are arguing for "no change." I declare a previous interest (as a former RSPB Council member) but have to say that the RSPB must work away politely, firmly and persistently at the moorland/red grouse management issue AND NOT be deterred from so doing by worries over possible damage to its relationships with other land management sectors.

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  6. A very telling analysis of the Minister's speech, as you say at the end, the challenge now is to get more MP's on side and speaking up for the Hen Harrier. This will help in future political activity if there are more voices who will speak up for this species and who respect public opinion and scientific evidence!

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  7. Well, Mark, if you ever need a rest again, and you've really earnt some downtime, you'd be very welcome to stay in our little cottage in Alcala de los Gazules, Cadiz province, Andalucia where you should enjoy a real raptorfest. I can't guarantee Hen Harrier but depending on your timing you should see a dozen raptor species from the terrace alone and, if the wind's right, several hundred in a day (inc 50-100 Lesser Kestrels alone) - see http://birdingcadizprovince.weebly.com/

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  8. Thank you for this post and for all your hard work. We are at hand to support you in the New Year. RE 'Where we failed at the very end of October was in mobilising enough opposition MPs to put the wealth of science against driven grouse shooting into the debate and that made it easy for the minister to ignore that it exists.'

    Under your kind assistance, a number of us visited our MPs and presented them with a wealth of science showing the various negative effects of driven grouse shooting. They chose to ignore it, and my MP didn't even bother attending, despite a promise to do so. You can lead a horse to water...

    BUT everything is now on record, and we will harder than ever, under the guidance of you and other NGOs, to ensure a better future for our uplands 🙂

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  9. I have written to Mr Corbyn about the debate and followed up the lack of a reply with Tom Watson-hoping that may stir up some interest. The Labour party cannot afford to lose the votes of the people still supporting them, so I will continue to harass them for a reply. At least when Rory Stweart was in charge, I could visit him face to face and always received a reply from him. I have not heard one word in reply from Dr Coffey! Not sure when we will hear from the Raptor grouping of the WCU or whether they actually exist.

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  10. What failure ? How many voters did this debate persuade to the cause of grouse shooting ? How many people became aware of the issue, thought about it and were move3d to take action in supporting the petition ? And how many of them if they have continued to follow the saga will have been convinced by recent HH deaths or by the arguments for grouse shooting in the debate ? And didn't the Government lose its biggest single leaf, RSPB involvement in the HH plan, during the run up to the debate ?

    And whilst not budging, equally Ms Coffey was far more restrained in her language than Owen Patterson would have been - no 'green crap' in her speech. She won't do anything because like with Liz here brief is to do nothing - and if she does it well enough maybe she'll get a job she's interested in, like Liz. And the biggest bit of procrastination of all - the HH plan will roll on, continuing to lose grouse shooting support along the way. I don't think the Minister cares either way - a Minister who did care about grouse shooting would have used their position to tell the industry tgo put its house in order.

    It is also interesting how much there was on peat. She's been briefed on peat and it is glaringly obvious that the Department is interested in peat - OK, the bits relating to grouse management were doctored, but there was a lot more there than there needed to be simply to put up a defence of grouse moor management. Interesting, especially with the strong support for the economic case for peat moor restoration from the Natural capital Committee.

    And, on Labour's near absence (though honourable mention to the member for Bristol (East) ), if I were a grouse shooter it would be the forest sales fiasco (much ignored, and not learnt from, by the conservation lobby) that would be worrying me, because a political party lit the fuse, but it was genuine popular opposition, not party politics, that blew the whole thing up.

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  11. There are many bad things about this speech. To Mark's comments on ignoring the evidence, trotting out the cliches and so on, I would simply add that the Minister has failed in her main responsibility - to deal with the matter as a Minister. The petition after all was to Government as well as Parliament and she had a duty to respond. Instead of which she just read out the words given to her by her civil servants adding a few conventional nods in the direction of previous speakers. And the civil servants had drafted (as they would) on the basis of existing policy, as though there had never been a petition. Wildlife crime? 'Tick. The line to take is...' Vanishing hen harriers? 'Tick. We have a line on that too.' Only on burning did the uncertainties flicker half into the light. No matter that the policy is indefensible bordering on risible, the civil servants don't care as long as it is the handed down line to take. It is the Minister's job to reflect on whether it is fit for purpose - and she didn't.

    So the task ahead is to continue to wear down the defences of their dead policies, to the point where no Minister can get up and hurry through a thought-free speech in the way she did.

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  12. Just wondering .....
    How many of the 44 petitions which have achieved a debate have actually got a result i.e. changed Govt. policy or led to new legislation? After a quick look at the subjects I can't think of any that have resulted in change. Is it all just a PR job, apart from probably increasing public awareness? Just to make us feel we, the electorate, have some influence but really channelling us into a "safe backwater"?
    This is not to denigrate the massive achievement by Mark et al. It also served to identify the main apologists for this damaging hobby. Always better to know who you are up against in Government.

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    1. Northern Diver - one wouldn't expect an instant result, especially not for something as contentious as our subject. But it is part of the process. It's a step on the way to certain victory.

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  13. Understanding scientific jargon for Tory MP's
    1. Science: Science is defined as a bundle of used £10 notes.
    2 Journal: An unmarked brown envelop.
    3. Research: An expenses paid weekend on a shooting estate.
    4. Peer review: A bunch of en-nobbled people who check how much "science" is inserted into a "journal".

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  14. I do not think it is any help whatsoever that it seems to me that there is so much politics on this H H case.To me it always seems us Labour against those Tory.My guess would have to be that at least as many Tory voters would be against H H persecution as Labour voters.
    In my opinion it gives the politicians who run the petitions the easy route of thinking it is just some Labour followers stirring things up.

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  15. Its a fact that the Tory government support the Countryside Alliance which helps with their votes to keep them in power. The Tory gov put Andrew Sells into Natural England and this helps with handing out licenses to kill protected species of our wildlife. Badgers and buzzards. Licenses to kill buzzards are often given to protect the landowners and estates who run pheasant shoots. I have given up belonging to any political party but the Tory party is the most greedy and has no interests at all in the countryside as an area to be protected. For them the countryside is an object to be made money from. The NFU are also far to powerful for a totally unelected body and work for DEFRA as they represent in the larger landowners. Its all a tragedy as I see so much of our wildlife being slaughtered, shot, ripped to pieces to hounds, poisoned and trapped.

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  16. A good opportunity if you are a Richmond constituent to contact your new MP and try and get support for the Hen Harrier. I met my MP since the hen harrier debate with another constituent and found him generally supportive but uninformed. He has said that he will read Mark Avery's book during the Christmas holidays when there is a parliamentary recess. He has written to Defra on our behalf on aspects of what the government is going to do to Enforce the law regarding illegal persecution of hen harrier.

    I believe he genuinely wants to help and hesuggested another meeting once he gets a reply and has given me the contact details of his researcher whom I can contact at any time.

    Unfortunately he was unable to attend the debate and would have been barred from speaking in any event

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  17. "It used to be the Liberal Democrats who popped in, intervened, left and proclaimed proudly that they had spoken in the debate. They are an endangered species, and not one I am trying to save..." You were saying, Therese?

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  18. This women is MP for Suffolk Coastal - one of the most bio-diverse stretches of coastline in Britain. The mind boggles. There are plenty of birders here who could lobby her too.

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