Not telling, yet…

I emailed the NE Media Office this morning with the following simple questions:

  • Has NE consented culling of Lesser Black-backed Gull in the Bowland Fells SSSI for this year?
  •  Was an appropriate assessment made of the impact on the conservation interest of the Bowland Fells SPA before any consent was issued?
  •  Please may I see the appropriate assessment if it exists?

These are pretty simple questions which do not require a huge amount of effort to answer. See recent posts Those gulls again and RSPB calls on Natural England to act for the background to this request.


NE has responded saying:


Access to information request – Acknowledgement – Request No RFI 3929

Thank you for your request for the information detailed in your email below, which we received on 10 July 2017. We are dealing with your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

Your request is being considered and we will send out our response within the legal deadline of 20 working days which is 9 August 2017. If, for any reason, we are unable to meet the deadline we will keep you fully informed of the reasons for this.


Government departments and agencies sometimes complain about people using FoI and EIR requests and say ‘You should just have asked us nicely’ but the truth is that they sometimes retreat behind FoI and EIR when they are asked nicely.  My questions could have been answered as follows ‘Yes; Yes; You can see it in a while’ or ‘No; Not applicable; Does not apply’ and been pretty good answers.

NE will be in rather more trouble if the answers are ‘Yes, No; Not applicable’.

I suppose the worst answers would be ‘Yes; Yes; We’re not very proud of it so we are using delaying tactics’.

We’ll see – but not answering simple questions merely fuels speculation  (see today’s blog by our mates at Raptor Persecution UK; Natural England still refusing to release details of Hen Harrier brood meddling plans.



9 Replies to “Not telling, yet…”

  1. Not entirely fair, Mark. As I always tell callers when they enquire about an FOI, if you just want the information I’ll give it to you now, but if you want to submit an FOI, as you’re absolutely entitled to do, you should be aware that you’ll be invoking a formal legal procedure that takes a while to go through and so you’ll get the same information a few weeks later.

    By invoking an FOI Mark made it illegal for the person he emailed to respond with the sort of off the cuff answers Mark suggests. They will instead have to refer your query to a specialist designated officer who will have to write a formal response backed by an “audit trail” of data that they can produce if challenged.

    Now, if one thinks that NE (or whoever) are likely to be less-than-wholly truthful in their reply, or one needs their response to be a formal legal one because one intends to use it in proceedings of one’s own, or one has tried asking and had no response, then an FOI is the way to go. But don’t complain if the procedure you have obliged the organisation to follow takes some time, because it does. Accountability is not free or instant.

    Every single person I’ve ever had an FOI from was either a) a nutter or b) indulging in a form of denial of service attack or c) both. FOIs have their role, but in my subjective experience they’re far more often abused than used legitimately to hold public bodies to account. But then I’ve never had anything to hide…

    1. Jbc – I didn’t submit an FOI or EIR, NE turned it into one!! I just emailed the Media team my questions. That was my point.

      1. Ah… well in that case apologies for my misunderstanding. Sounds like NE abused the process as a delaying tactic this time then 🙁

    2. I was responsible for FOI in a major government department for a number of years and (apart from the fact that you misunderstood Mark’s post) I find your comment generally worrying. Whilst some may use FOI in a misguided belief that it will uncover a malign official intention towards them (as distinct from simple incompetence), that does not make them nutters. Nor are campaigns invoking FOI anything like a denial of service attack, that’s misuse of the language. In any case FOI law has ‘frivolous and vexatious’ type provisions for such circumstances. ‘Abuse’ of FOI, it seems to me, is in the eye of the beholder. It was interesting (and a relief) that, whatever the misgivings some have expressed over the last couple of years, no attempt was ultimately made to change the law. Whatever, Mark and others, notably RPUK, have made excellent use of it for exactly the ‘legitimate’ purpose you identify and long may that continue.

  2. Well, in our last case a perfectly legal decision had been taken by the responsible authority, in a publicly accountable way, in conjunction with other agencies and the Parish Council, to solve a very local problem.

    A well known local character disagreed with the decision and was convinced that there was a conspiracy afoot. So they demanded to see all the correspondence using an FOI to one of the parties. So far, fair enough. All the meeting minutes, emails etc were provided.

    Clearly there was a cover up because there was not the slightest trace of a conspiracy in what the enquirer was sent, and he knew that therefore we were hiding what really happened at all those secret meetings that must have taken place.

    So he FOI’d one of the other consulted organisations and yet again all signs of the conspiracy that he knew had occurred were missing. He was sent an almost identical set of records! This other organisation wasn’t just part of the plot, clearly they were part of the cover up too.

    So he FOI’d yet another one of the organisations involved and yet again got the same minutes, letters, and emails. Now he could be certain that the cover up spread far and wide! We were all corrupt! This was proof that, as he had always suspected, the cover up was organised and coordinated at the highest level! So he FOI’d yet another one of the organisations involved in the decision… etc.

    Meantime he was badgering staff and Councillors about how the organisations they worked for/governed were covering up the conspiracy – look, even an FOI wasn’t producing all the records he knew must exist. Concealing records that should be revealed by an FOI is a criminal offence you know.


    £000s of staff time expended, as if none of us had anything better to do, because he insisted he had a right to do what he wanted on a site he didn’t own, and even though what he did was damaging an internationally designated wildlife site. He didn’t like that we had collectively taken action, with the support of the landowner, to stop people like him from doing what they had gotten used to getting away with.

    The first FOI was reasonable, if misplaced. After that I remain of the view that it was all an attempt top bog us down in FOIs until we all gave up and backed down. Feel free to differ.

    It may well be that in a major government department you simply got a much higher proportion of legitimate FOIs – I do hope so for all our sakes! My experience is all local, and few the FOIs I’ve dealt with have been about matters that are only of importance to a very small number of individuals (often n=1) who simply don’t like a decision taken by a perfectly reasonable and accountable due process. None of the FOIs have revealed any information not already in the public domain or which we would not have supplied on request without the bother of an FOI.

    Just for the record, was wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t have FOIs, despite the fact that I think that FOI is open to abuse. I agree that a lot of really useful information has been unearthed by them. But if you as an enquirer choose to use that route to find out about a decision affecting 10m of a blind ending public right of way, rather than asking for the same non confidential information to be sent to you informally, you should expect it will take a while for a response.

    1. ps The classic denial of service attack was from 1or 2 individuals who bombarded Walberswick Parish Council with over 50 FOIs in less than 6 months until the entire PC resigned along with the Parish Clerk. What is admin to “A major Govt Department” can destroy a small organisation.

    2. I understand all you say, and that it’s based on direct experience but your closing para said ‘…far more often abused than used to hold public bodies to account’. And I think that’s dangerous talk – from us, as it were.

  3. I asked the SNH for information on the shooting of Barnacle Geese on Islay. They would not give it me! So I then asked for FOI which had to be through one lady who gave me what the staff claimed they could not give. Why Not when I got it in the end?

Comments are closed.