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.
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?
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.