Open letter to Andrew Sells

Dear Andrew

I hope you are well but I fear that the organisation of which you are the Chair, is gravely sick.

Natural England seems to have caught a disease whose symptoms are an inability to work for nature conservation in the uplands but instead to align itself with one small sectional interest, grouse shooting, that is fundamentally inimical to nature conservation and environmental sustainability.  Have you got a virus? Was it from a tick bite? Here are some details of the symptoms you are exhibiting:


Moorland Management Plans: you are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public and the European Commission by signing a series of voluntary agreements with upland landowners which are worthless.  They purport to revoke consents for damaging burning of protected blanket bog but they are a sham. Restoration burning? Heather beetle? Your agreements will allow burning to continue unmitigated.  Each time I see these symptoms exhibited I am going to try to call you out – it’s tough love, but in your best interests.  I wouldn’t be a true friend if I didn’t help you in this way.  You need help, you really do.

Last week NE had to admit to having produced an unlawful agreement with the owner of Walshaw Moor Estate. Oh, it’s a grouse moor. When you were younger, and under a different name, you prosecuted landowners for building tracks across blanket bogs, more recently you refused them permission, but now, in your muddled and confused state, you are paving the way for tracks across protected habitats.  You’re really very poorly.

Expect more legal challenges in this area if you do not pull yourself together.  You’re not in a fit state to drive nature conservation practice – you’ll crash it too often and be a danger to others.

Brood meddling of Hen Harriers: you can’t afford to lose another legal challenge really can you? And you face two, one from me and another from the RSPB, on this subject. We’ll see.

Hen Harrier data: before you became ill, back in 2008, you produced a report on your Hen Harrier study which showed signs of clear thinking. Do you remember when you said ‘Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England.’? Since then you have carried on your studies but not analysed them or published them except when forced to do so. I gather a vastly overdue analysis of your (our – we taxpayers paid for it) data is in train. Please tell me when that analysis will be available to the public. But also why has it taken so long? This study started in 2002 – it’s a disgraceful situation and makes many wonder whether the data have been kept secret because they implicate grouse shooting even more deeply in losses of Hen Harriers (as your 2008 report clearly indicated).

Southern reintroduction of Hen Harriers: I gather this is off the table for another year. I also gather that this is because those who might provide Hen Harrier chicks from outside England have noticed your strange and irrational behaviour and don’t think that you are a fit and able body to be given Hen Harrier chicks until you are feeling better. Is that right?

Bowland gull cull: I have been sending your nether regions FOI/EIR requests for information on this since last July (see below). As you probably know, people have been bumping off gulls in a protected area which was notified partly for their benefit. Oh, it’s a grouse moor. You are consistently refusing to come clean on this matter claiming that an investigation is under way. Whose investigation? It’s not a police investigation, it’s an NE investigation, isn’t it? Does it really take 10 months to investigate known individuals killing juvenile gulls in an SPA? You aren’t running a very efficient ship are you? Are you investigating yourselves or others? I find it difficult to believe that you are so inefficient as an organisation that you have not resolved this issue by now – it almost feels as though you are pretending to be investigating something so that you don’t have to admit that you, NE, were at fault here. Please tell me what is going on (and please regard this as a further FOI/EIR about the conduct of the ‘investigation’).

Secrecy and a consistent lack of openness:  almost all of your work in the uplands is carried out in secrecy with a small group of grouse shooting interests.  The public and wildlife NGOs are treated as though they are inconveniences.  It’s hardly the way to win public support for your and Defra’s work is it? But then, if you came clean there wouldn’t be support for it, would there?



My diagnosis:

You are very sick indeed.  You have been captured by the grouse shooting industry and have lost the respect of your natural allies. And you are internally conflicted – some parts of the NE body are less infected but your extremities are uncoordinated and out of control of the main internal organs.  There is little connection between the organisation’s brain and its digits which is giving rise to uncontrolled and unpredictable spasms of anti-social and anti-conservation behaviour.  There is no sign of cordination and the body’s conscience has become wholly disconnected from its actions.

You have already trashed the reputation built up by your predecessors in statutory nature conservation.  It’s clear that NE isn’t fit for work.  You shouldn’t be out and about because you are a danger to yourselves and to the environment which you were set up to conserve.



The trouble with these chronic diseases is that the patient continues to decline gradually and gets worse and worse without realising themselves that they are behaving very strangely and they aren’t their old selves.  It’s a slippery slope, and those are dangerous things when in the uplands.  And you have fallen a long way already.  Your friends  and acquaintances are shaking their heads over how deeply you have declined.


Is there a cure?:

At the very least, a series of transplants involving new Chair, new Board, new Chief Executive and a new senior management team is necessary.  The illness seems to be systemic now and although we can discern some healthy organs they are seriously weakened and embedded in a heavily challenged body.

Even your friends are beginning to believe that euthanasia may be the kindest thing for you as well as a necessary step to protect the upland environment from NE’s ever more unpredictable and destructive behaviour.

Get well soon!


Mark (I am a doctor)

Please treat the questions highlighted in red as FOI/EIR requests. Or just send me a guest blog which addresses the issues raised here and I will (almost certainly) be happy to publish it.




26 Replies to “Open letter to Andrew Sells”

  1. Brilliant ….
    Might need your help in how to
    make an application FOI ..
    The Badger Sett at the back of my
    residence was destroyed last year !
    Culprit ( s ) unknown; although , Bidwells (( land agents for Trinity Col .
    Cambridge )) just might have had an input .. not had a reply from NE since making a request for licensing of etc.
    Regards Tom Bensons

  2. Brilliant Mark and very necessary, well done. We the public tax payers support your actions in calling for change in NE’s governance!

  3. Whilst delighted to read your open letter, I doubt there will be any response worthy of the title. A very sad time for those of us who work or have worked in nature conservation, NE proves time and time again that it is no longer fit for purpose.

  4. Most excellently done Dr Avery. This whole sad and sorry debacle is an excellent example of how the influence and power of a few individuals rots and destroys this country of ours. Best switch the machine off and let the patient die.

  5. All this makes me wonder about the horrendous workload of the NE employee. What between rounds of golf and lunch with grouse moor owners, having to placate all these nay-Sayers.

    1. Natural England employs around a couple of thousand people. It may be that some of those in the upper levels of the organisation hob-nob with grouse moor owners in the way that you suggest but I imagine that most of them do not. I’d guess that at the operational level many of the staff are pretty demoralised at having to do a difficult job with inadequate resources and ever more constraints issued from the political masters on what they can do and say to actually protect wildlife .

      1. Do I really need to put (heavy sarcasm). Obviously NE have more than 1 employee. If they did however, going by current performance, hob-nobbing with grouse moor owners would seem to be a top priority.

      2. And I fully accept your demoralisation argument. It must be very difficult to operate under these conditions if you are reasonably ethical.

        1. As we know, many new graduates, in whatever discipline, need to seek out positions as Interns. This is no different for those studying the Natural Environment. Many environmental NGOs currently have pressure on finances and look to offer these opportunities. Locally there is a steady flow through local reserves. Although no salary is offered, they receive some expenses and some excellent paid for training on the job and courses. This experience helps when they look for a job.

          I am aware that some of these Interns have been offered, and accepted, jobs with Natural England and I would not blame them. No doubt at their level they continue to get good training and work that they enjoy and feel is worthwhile. At interview they would be unlikely to ask about the Political Hierarchy of the organisation. I just hope there is no indoctrination or that they slip into the ethos of NE.

      3. Yes, I got the sarcasm. I just felt it rather unfair to encapsulate the entire workforce of NE in your comment when it it is the ‘leadership’ and their politcal masters who are deciding the policy and who deserve to be the target of scorn. Apart from that (and given your second comment below) I think we are broadly in agreement.

  6. Brilliant analysis of the capture of a state organ(ie paid for by us) by special(or is that monied) interests?

  7. And the badger cull licensing. The process within NE is so secretive that the office used is kept locked at all times & even the identities of the staff involved are kept secret. (According to NE whispers.)

    What are they hiding?

    1. I know exactly what they are hiding, and it has clear parallels to the impact assessment failures Mark has exposed in the uplands. Perhaps Dr Avery would be interested in a chat about it?

  8. Well said, Mark. I need to lie down in a darkened room, now. My blood pressure is too high.

    Andrew Sells is a Chartered Accountant. He worked for Schroders, an Asset Management Company with locations in well-known tax havens such as Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the UAE and Bermuda.

    He then ‘managed’ venture capital funds (???)

    He became Chairman of Linden Homes, which is now renowned for trashing the environment all over the country, including near where I live.

    He was then Chairman of Wyevale Garden Centres (the well-known importers of invasive plants) and because of that became some sort of BIGWIG in the RHS (Treasurer, of course!). He is a member of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (shame. Any WWT members here?).

    Naturally, he sits on Defra’s Board – so he helps to ‘oversee’ himself!

    As Chairman of Natural England, he “is responsible for leading the organisation and making sure that it fulfills all of its goals”.

    So it has been money, money, money, money, money, and more money all the way, with not a Hen Harrier in sight.

  9. Is it time to name a few staff members that are also not doing their job? Like the shooting industry that certain NE staff are working for like ********* who thinks trees don’t grow in the USA and would prefer to kill Buzzards rather than move them away from Pheasant release pens!!

    1. John – I’m not sure what youa re going on about and I have removed a name partly because I don’t know what you are going on about?

  10. A bit more rational than the rant I sent to them yesterday. Sick of Natural England, sick of DEFRA and sick of the Tories – and the Labour Party, who should be putting the boot in over the politicisation and failures of NE and DEFRA, but are incredibly quiet about the atrocities being carried out under their mismanagement.

  11. Here,Here Mark , well said. Natural England is no longer fit to carry out the tasks for which it was originally formed. It has completely lost it’s way and sought to get into bed with those it should be seeking to control.

  12. A much easier and quicker diagnosis could have been offered (although not as much fun).

    Dear Andrew,

    Diagnosis: NE is not fit for purpose and should be euthenised.
    Cure: There is no cure. Instead create a new organisation which isn’t in the pockets of the CA and NFU and works for the benefit of nature and conservation.


  13. Excellent work Mark – Well done & thank you. Assume you have sent a copy to Michael Gove?

  14. We urgently need some research to help diagnose the cause of this particular illness, which seems contagious because Scottish Natural Heritage has also come down with it. Their licence to cull 300 Ravens in Perthshire, a county which holds only 42 breeding pairs of the species, has stepped beyond the line into a form of mental illness. The mad pseudo-scientists have clearly taken over the asylum.

    1. Hah, messed up the link (and I can’t see an edit option), but it’ll still take you to the article. It’s been a few years since I used HTML!

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