Wuthering Moors 66 – Natural England you have lost the trust of the public

Nobody really trusts politicians these days (which personally I think is sad because there are some good ones out there) but until recently we have trusted government agencies. In nature conservation, in the olden days, some of the greatest nature conservationists of their time, of any time, worked in and led the statutory agencies – and yes, I have Derek Ratcliffe in mind amongst many others.

After reorganisations and cuts our statutory agencies are shadows of their former selves – and yet the job we need them to do is just as great and just as difficult as ever.

There are many good staff in Natural England but it is a failing organisation – failing to do its job for nature, failing the public and therefore failing to retain our trust.

Our crowdfunder is to take legal action against Natural England – to make them do their job properly! I’m sad that it has come to this. It would have been hard to imagine a decade ago and it’s the consequence of political neutering of a once laudable organisation (if you consider NE, EN, NCC and NC as being one evolving body).

Just look at some of the comments that supporters of this legal challenge have attached to their donations:

  • Keith £50 – Natural England are a corrupt body
  • Chris £10 – We’re standing up to the nature trashers because are NGOs and Statuatory Bodies don’t have the stomach for the fight
  • David £10 – Natural England has been weakened so drastically that it offers very little protection & needs to be challenged
  • Brian £35 – Good luck with this Mark, Natural England have lost all credibility, in backing this proposed track with downright dodgy data!
  • Chris £500 – I’m pleased to give but confounded by the fact that I’ve already paid these miscreants through my taxes – they are so compromised
  • Nigel £25 – Natural England seem to be less fit for purpose than the Home Office, if that’s possible.
  • Tracey £10 – Thank you for taking this ridiculous department to task.
  • Mike £10 – The four countries’ statutory advisers are not fit for purpose. They need a very fundamental reform, so that they stand up for biodiversity, including objecting to damaging development proposals
  • Rosemary £100 – It is outrageous that Natural England can allow a landowner to damage his land

And that is just a selection of some of the most recent bolshy comments.


Win or lose this case – and I am confident that we can win – under this government and under its recent and present leadership, Natural England has lost the trust of the public. We do not think that NE is working for wildlife and we do not think that it is working for the taxpayer.

Please help draw a line in the sand – or actually in the peat – and make NE do its job properly.  Please add your support to this crowdfunder to mount a legal challenge which, if successful, will make NE do its job properly.  Thank you.



10 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 66 – Natural England you have lost the trust of the public”

  1. Mark, there was a misunderstanding previously about your points framing this issue. I fully support the general gist of your criticism, and this action. However, what I consider mistaken is just to simplistically attack Natural England. Part of the reason is contained in this quote from above.

    “It would have been hard to imagine a decade ago and it’s the consequence of political neutering of a once laudable organisation (if you consider NE, EN, NCC and NC as being one evolving body).”

    The operative bit is “political neutering”. You are right to point out that it is the worst it’s ever been. However, I think it is mistaken to portray it as just having happened in the last 10 years. This process began before Natural England even existed. It was there right at the beginning of the creation of English Nature, and was almost certainly present even in the days when Derek Ratcliffe was the Chief Scientist of the NCC. He not only fought running battles over this, but it’s the very reason that the then Environment Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, split up the NCC within days of Derek Ratcliffe retiring, to “politically neuter” our statutory conservation bodies and to bring them to heel i.e. to do the bidding of their political masters, and the vested interests, who’s pockets the political masters are in.

    There was no real golden era of nature conservation, even though Derek Ratcliffe is a hero of mine. What happened was at one time the NCC was heading in the right direction, even if it never arrived there, because of the efforts of some great naturalists, conservationists and scientists. But what has happened since, is that gradually we’ve been heading in the wrong direction. When English Nature was created, it contained many valiant staff trying to do the right thing, but was no longer heading in the right direction. Over time there have been far too many compromises.

    I fully agree with you that under the tenure of this government, things have taken an even more dire turning for the worst, but it is not realistic to pretend that everything was wonderful 10 years ago, or 20 years ago for that matter.

    As we can see from the recent Raven Culling fiasco with SNH, and other policy of NRW, this is not confined to Natural England. There is a broad problem, which can be simplified as a problem of the modern variant of neoliberal ideology, which sees economic growth as being the be all and end all of everything, and compromises have to be made in favour of it. Then there is the unfettered unpleasantness and cronyism of this government, which is virtually allowing the various lobbies it is in thrall to, to write it’s policy over conservation.

    What I am saying, is that no matter what statutory conservation body we have under this type of government, it will act like this, because if it didn’t then the government would act to bring it to heel, and make sure it did behave like this. Just look at the US and see what the Trump regime is doing to the EPA, and their various conservation bodies and legislation. This is why I support this action you are taking, but to really tackle it, all conservationists and bodies have to come together to confront the general political problem, and draw a clear line in the sand, and say no more. To say to politicians, if you cross this line, we will openly challenge, and bring public opinion to bear.

    Mark, I say none of this to be argumentative, to state my own opinion, but to try and focus thinking on the problem, and to try and start constructive debate on addressing the problem.

  2. “To say to politicians, if you cross this line, we will openly challenge, and bring public opinion to bear.”

    Isn’t that what actions such as this legal challenge and the one on brood tampering are doing? Not to mention the various petitions, hen harrier days, articles etc etc?

    If you have something else, something more, in mind why not say what it is?

    1. I did actually state this in my comment, where I said “all conservationists and bodies have to come together to confront the general political problem”. That means a concerted effort where all are speaking with one voice. As I made very clear, in no way am I being critical of individual actions and efforts.

      I will explain more later. However, let me illustrate the problem with one simple point. If all the relevant NGOs really spoke with one voice on these line in the sand issues, there would have been no need for Mark to launch a crowd funded challenge to Natural England’s clearly unacceptable policy on a number of matters. This is because all the NGOs and other bodies would have robustly challenged it with judicial reviews some time ago. This is in no way belittling Mark’s efforts. Quite the contrary, I applaud Mark for taking the bull by the horns.

      It would be quite possible to draw up a general accord, a sort of code of conservation ethics, a line in the sand, and to say any action, any policy contrary to this, is a step too far, and all bodies, and individuals are automatically opposed to this. Currently different NGOs, organizations, bodies, individuals have different positions on these matters. Trying to address every single wrong action individually is a very ineffective means of dealing with the general problem of things happening, which should never be allowed to happen. As I say, I commend all individual actions to prevent these things which should never happen, but they are building up. Things are clearly getting worse and little or no progress is being made. I only condemn those harming the natural environment and causing declines in our biodiversity, not those trying to conserve it.

  3. Cull NE & be done with the wall protecting the ‘villains’?

    NGOs challenge Govt. sadly in the main (or at least in the northern half of the country) those days seem to be in the annals of history? Resources will mean they have to pick fights they can win and as pointed out above they need to work collaboratively, in the interim Mark et. al. continue to hold Govt. lapdogs and their pals to account ….

    1. However, Natural England also does have some very good staff who engage in vital work such as managing our National Nature Reserves, and primary conservation work. I know for a fact that many of these people read Mark’s blog, support his campaigns, and are disgusted with the decisions of senior management under the thumb of their political masters.

      Simply attacking Natural England, without focusing on the primary cause of the problem, it’s political masters, who are trying to undermine the core function of it’s conservation role is actually playing right into the hands of the vested interests who only want to exploit biodiversity and the natural environment for their own ends.

      Remember, that at the very beginning of the Cameron government one of their first acts was to try and sell off Britain’s National Nature Reserves. If you simply did away with Natural England, you would have to sell off our National Nature Reserves, because who would manage them. In other words it would play right into the hands of these vested interests who wanted to sell off and carve up our National Nature Reserves to weaken nature conservation. Many of the NGOs, especially the National Trust are even weaker when it comes to confronting the damage being done to habitat and biodiversity by powerful vested interests.

      My point is not to appease or justify disgusting policy like this highlighted above. It’s to point out that Natural England are simply the fall guys for political policy implemented by government, especially this government.

      Does anyone really believe that if a new statutory conservation body was created by this government, that it would do things any differently? I say that in fact, if this government created a new statutory conservation body we would be far worse off. This is because they would build it from the ground up, so it would have to compromise it’s conservation duty when they conflict with the agenda of vested interests. In fact leaked documents got by Greenpeace and written about in the Guardian by Adam Vaughan prove that this government has got plans to make Natural England far more hands off when it comes to enforcing nature conservation legislation.

      Yes, attack and highlight the corrupted decision making such as that highlighted by Mark. But we mustn’t lose focus of where the real problem lies, and that is with the political masters of Natural England who want it to be weak and corrupted, whenever there is a conflict between vested interests who support and finance these political masters. If the political masters of Natural England really wanted it to be tough on the damage to moorland created by shooting interests, and the raptor persecution they perpetrate, Natural England would be tough on these things, and would focus on conservation.

      The real wall protecting the “villains” are the political masters of Natural England.

  4. Great points Stephen, and I hope the mention of Raptors will help focus everyone’s attention as it needs to be focussed.
    The Shoot [Hunt, Racing] fraternity is particularly well off, therefore capable of mustering funds for the most expensive and artfully researched legal defences, so it offers exemplary illustration of the problem. Readers here will know that environmentally destructive attitudes go back a long way: the right of a landowner to do as they please was fought over in Norman times, status exerted with the help of a large horse and merciless subjugation of objectors. Baronial privilege-grabbing *as the standard form of behaviour* extends across powerful cliques, including public-school educated professionals in the City and Parliament and, dare we say it, across the judiciary as well.
    To prevent gamekeepers from interfering in natural moorland biodiversity and to bring their employers to genuine justice for the most cruel and ugly harm to Raptors and every other threat to the Grouse, Pheasant, etc, is to challenge the entire “bloodsport” culture and to ask for land to be greenwood again, for the sake of the Planet. They know this, and so they will keep the debate from ranging widely lest it publicise the urgent change in fashion required, just as Big Oil deliberately stalls easy access to solar panels & electric cars.

    I don’t know whether Mark has in mind a David and Goliath contest in this instance. If so, let’s wish the slingshot well.

  5. I accept there are good staff in NE at grassroots. Accept it is the political masters that are the issue. Don’t accept if we culled NE we’d have to sell off the publicly owned NNRs. Why? NNRs team as a separate entity funded much the same as currently. Do we need the other paper pushing roles, focused on process (expensive at that) rather than outputs? Regulatory (protection & enforcement) review that aspect & a free standing non-political organisation with a backbone & teeth) …. ha, ever an agnostic ….

    As for David and Goliath, ever thus but let’s not just wish the slingshot well but get a community of them behind ‘it’, this is surely where the critical mass of collaboration will work to keep the profile in the public landscape etc.?

    1. Some of the knowledgeable people are gagged by specific clauses in their contracts, holding themseves back from joining any campaigning community is understandable in these circumstances. Those above them are easily cowered by knowing their pay scale attracts rivalry in an opportunity-starved job market.
      Others have been held back by scientific protocol. It is traditional not to pronounce on future possibilities or to appeal to people’s codes of behaviour. Gradually, the horror of mass extinctions and climate change are allowing them to step beyond the old boundaries of proveable facts and industry sponsorship.

    2. I didn’t actually say the NNR’s would have to be sold off. My point was that it was what this government tried to do, and which was luckily stopped because of the backlash. In other words this government has tried it on to see what it can get away with. Unfortunately this government would like to go further if it could get away with it. I’m sure that this government would quite happily legalize the persecution of raptors on grouse moors if it thought there wouldn’t be an almighty public backlash, which might cost it a lot of votes. The basis for me saying this is that this government’s attitude to raptor persecution, is to turn a blind eye to it. Under a different political regime, Natural England produced the report “A Future for the Hen Harrier in England”, which firmly pinned the blame for the decline of Hen Harriers on the grouse shooting industry.

      My overall point was that if Natural England was disbanded, re-organized, or a new statutory body created to replace it under this government, what we got would likely be worse. We’d get a toothless PR operation, which would claim everything was wonderful, and this type of debacle at Walshaw Moor, would be more common. What’s more when this government takes us out of the EU, there wouldn’t even be grounds for challenging the decisions of this body, because it would be hardwired into the legislation, that this sort of decision would be legal.

  6. What pains me is that the NGOs appear to have given up the fight, rather than coming up with a strategy to address the problem, as SteB suggests. It’s as if they’re keeping their heads down, praying for a change of government and hoping everything will get better when that time comes. Full credit to Mark for stepping into the breach – again.

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