There was a bit of a fuss last week that the new Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson (species champion for the Barn Owl by the way) doesn’t know much about military matters. Well, I have some sympathy with that view but if we did have person specifications for cabinet posts which required detailed knowledge of the brief then there would be a lot of empty seats around the table.
The musical chairs of cabinet posts at reshuffle times would be made completely unworkable if the relevant Secretary of State had to have a good GCSE in the subject of their department let alone an A-Level or a degree.
And quite honestly the best of Defra Secretaries have hardly been steeped in the subject as far as experience or qualifications were concerned (see here for who you thought were good and here for info about the agricultural and environmental knowledge of recent incumbents (Michael Gove, Hilary Benn, David Miliband)).
I have been almost uniformly lucky in my bosses over the years, and some have had bags of knowledge (eg John Krebs, Colin Bibby) and some have not had much knowledge at all (at least to start with) about wildlife or nature conservation but they certainly did pick up the subjects quickly (eg Barbara Young (see my interview of her in Behind More Binoculars for an insight and some great stories) and Graham Wynne).
What we need from our politicians, and civil servants, is honesty, hard work, the ability to ask the right questions and the ability to make a high proportion of good decisions. Quite honestly those are qualifications that are hard enough to achieve.
We are still watching and waiting to see what Michael Gove’s impact on the natural environment will be, but I hear that he has had a remarkable impact already on raising the morale and the levels of activity in Defra (David Miliband had a similar impact when he arrived all those years ago), and so I’m pretty sure we will see some sparks fly eventually.
This expected consultation on traps, which will see the end of the Fenn trap, is an example of progress that was probably coming along anyway but we’ll see what Mr Gove does with it. Ring Ousels, like this one caught in a Fenn trap on a pole over a ditch on a grouse moor, can’t respond to anything, let alone a consultation, but you will be able to – watch this space.