Catfield Fen again

I’ve been writing about the battle to save Catfield Fen since spring 2012 (and I’ve added those blog posts to the curated archive – click here). Although most of the previous 10 posts were in 2012-2014, and the apparent victory by the land owners, Tim and Geli Harris, to save a wildlife gem from water abstraction seemed to have been won in 2016, the case rumbles on. This is so often true in site protection matters; however good the site, however overwhelming the victory for the environment, pressures from development, intensive farming, and in this case water abstraction for agriculture, simply don’t go away. The good guys have to win every time to save our wildlife, the forces of environmental destruction only have to win once for wildlife to be lost for ever.

Throughout this long battle fought by the owners of an SSSI to protect it from water loss one of the allies for the environment has been the former MP Norman Lamb – but he’s gone now. His successor, Conservative new boy Duncan Baker MP, is energetically throwing his weight behind environmental destruction in supporting the farmers who want access to water that should be maintaining this ‘protected’ wetland.

Mr Baker is quoted as saying;

I am 100pc committed that the actions we take have to reflect the need to look after our precious environment.

Eastern Daily Press 31 January 2020

What do you think the next word is?;


Eastern Daily Press 31 January 2020

Did you guess right? Mr Baker goes on;

But the EU legislation does not take account of the threat to the business, so I don’t think it is balanced legislation. It only takes account of the environmental factors. We absolutely have to make a commitment to preserving water and the environment, but at what cost to our food producers? At the moment the legislation is at all costs to our food producers and I don’t think that’s a very sensible approach.

We need to make sure that any decisions taken are absolutely correct, and we need to listen to all sides. The environment is hugely important to me, buy (sic) we still need a sustainable economy.

Eastern Daily Press 31 January 2020

This type of nonsense will be spouted by Conservative, mostly, MPs with increasing frequency and, you mark my words, the EU environmental protection, imperfect though it is, will be slashed and burned pretty rapidly in what we will come to look back on as the post-Brexit environmental disaster.

Mr Baker doesn’t know his backside from his elbow, it seems, when it comes to the role of legislation and yet he is now part of the legislature – a part that shows every sign of having been captured by the vested interest of agri-business and being prepared to lash out at EU environmental protection whenever the opportunity arises, as here. He is also standing for the Environmental Audit Committee presumably as the ‘I don’t understand the environment and am not going to stand up for its protection under current legislation‘ candidate.

The forces pressing for environmental destruction, although they never put it quite like that, used to say that the environment was getting in the way of progress, by which they pretended to mean some general societal benefit rather than their own bank balances, but now they are quite upfront about this being a battle between a public good (the wildlife of a protected site) and their own bank balances. It’s so typical of today that the local CDonservtive MP sides immediately and so strongly with the forces of agricultural damage.

At least Mr and Mrs Harris have worked for years to get the Environment Agency and Natural England into a much better position than they were back in 2012 and that is very much to the Harris’s credit and somewhat to the agencies’ credit too (although I am loathe to praise public servants merely for eventually doing their jobs after years of neglect).

A longer perspective is often valuable, but often rather depressing too. A report by Natural England entitled ‘Extinctions and declines of plant and invertebrate species within the Ant Valley‘ tells the tale of two waves of extinctions of species largely caused by water abstraction, in the 1910s and 1970s with the ‘uplands’ of the site (you have to smile don’t you, this is the Norfolk Broads) being lost and the wildlife hanging on in a damaged, water-starved valley bottom. But this could be restored over time by controlling water abstraction. That is the job of the agencies, notably the Environment Agency and Natural England, and you would think the Broads Authority too, and one might even hope that the local MP might play a part.


6 Replies to “Catfield Fen again”

  1. Mr Bakers words are absolutely TYPICAL of the Tories. The environment and wildlife is so important to them as long as it does not get in their way. This is a very good example of what hypocrites they can be. It is this sort of double dealing that gives politicians such a terrible name. It is also this type of attitude that is so worrying regarding the preservation on the Birds and Habitats Directives. What a dreadful lot these politicians are.

  2. At the risk of you grinding your teeth Mark at what must be the quadzillionth time I’ve mentioned this – this proposed anti conservation ‘development’ comes at a time when the UK and in fact the world wastes a third of the food we already produce. Of course some are no doubt rubbing their hands at the prospect of growing export markets, but I don’t think the rest of us should be happy to live in a wildlife free, herbicide drenched land so others can make money from helping obesity in China and keeping their bins topped up with nosh as well as doing it here. One thing’s for sure the proposed increase in agricultural production won’t be to feed the world’s starving – they don’t have any disposable income obviously so no profit in that. After some lobbying the official anti food waste campaigning in Scotland eventually mentioned (once so far) the land used to produce food that gets wasted is equivalent in area to India and Mexico combined. Usually we are told that we are to cut food waste to prevent methane from landfill contributing to climate change. Saving nature right here and now doesn’t get a look in, but the conservation organisations should be pushing this message like mad.

    The arrogance and blatant money grabbing of representative organisations like the NFU is breathtaking and infuriating. Obviously they are too used to saying and getting what they want when those that should oppose it are maybe biting their tongues but are definitely hoping accommodating them is a foundation for conservation progress. It isn’t, when you do this with children they become screaming spoilt brats which is what many farming organisations effectively are. It’s ten years this month since I went to Lewis to help crofters (and ‘townies’) there combat their fuel poverty and carbon emissions and found that for the effort of keeping a few manky sheep to qualify you as a crofter it was like saying ‘Open sesame!’ to a near bottomless well of public subsidy and political patronage. If anyone doesn’t believe me they are free to go over and look themselves, the mental picture you may have of people living in smoky black houses and cutting turves of peat to keep themselves warm is the result of a highly manipulated story and image that’s been fed to us for ages. And do the crofters show any gratitude or concern for (the very many) less fortunate than themselves? Fat f****** chance! As much likelihood of NFU Scotland asking its members to change their land use a bit to reduce the number of homes downstream from getting flooded rather than tell the world what victims they are from beavers making the corner of their tattie field a bit soggy (one Scottish Farmer apparently is trying to get a licence to ‘control’ beaver because he thinks they scare his cattle). Wild Justice has been brilliant, we need a sister organisation (Wild Voice?) whose role is simply to counter any crap and propaganda in the lobbying and public statements from vested interests like the NFU with basic facts and objectivity. What organisation is currently fulfilling that necessary role? Definitely not good for conservation or a healthy democracy, but clearly a boon to craven, self serving career politicians. Well done for highlighting this Mark you are certainly a ‘Wild Voice’, terrible shame more aren’t.

  3. Indeed, Les, we do need a ‘Wild Voice’ and if they were really doing their job it would be provided by our conservation NGOs. Unfortunately, there is a culture within these organisations that baulks at doing or saying anything that might upset the farming community, partly because they have come to rely on farmers to provide some of their management activities and partly because many of their council members are farmers.

  4. I am constantly bewildered as to why the NGO managers of the other half of Catfield Fen (Butterfly Conservation own, RSPB manage) seem to never be vocal about this…………
    And what abotu the RSPB Sutton Fen reserve? Also NWT have sites in the Ant valley, I’m sure. Suerly they could team up to be vocal ont e issues of water, housing etc. in the catchment?

  5. “But the EU legislation does not take account of the threat to the business…”

    An argument that can and has been used to try to justify all sorts of things that are and were always plainly unacceptable from slavery via sending children up chimneys to ripping down rain forests and other precious habitats. Mr Baker claims that he wants a sustainable economy but fails to understand that an economy that destroys the environment within which it operates can never be sustainable.

Comments are closed.