There’s no doubting that Wild Justice has been the best crowdfunder that Natural England has had. NE is now recruiting 200 staff to do its job better.
Although the recruitment advert is ghastly, and makes Natural England sound like a support group for tree huggers, whereas it is actually an environmental regulator and enforcer with great power if only it exercised it, the jobs advertised are in the right areas.
In the meetings Wild Justice had with Marian Spain and Tony Juniper last year we stressed that NE was failing in its regulatory duties in licensing, protection of SSSIs and responding to planning casework. All these areas are being strengthened with the new posts. Lots of other people have probably said the same things but other wildlife NGOs have not taken legal action in the way that Wild Justice has.
- early 2018: Natural England licence brood meddling of Hen Harriers and this is challenged in court by myself and the RSPB. We lost that case but we are appealling the result and waiting for a new date for a hearing. This is unfinished business.
- spring 2018: Natural England agree a plan for a road across a protected blanket bog on a grouse moor and I challenge it successfully and Natural England change their advice from ‘approve’ to ‘object’. This is, to my mind, a shocking case which appears to approach corruption within Natural England. I think it was vitally important that we made this challenge. This was a proposal damaging to a highly protected area which Natural England had opposed before but apparently came to a shoddy deal with the landowner whilst looking over their shoulders at what DEFRA wanted.
- autumn 2018: Wild Justice formed, partly to carry out similar cases and based on Ruth Tingay’s experience of challenging (with Scottish raptor groups) SNH on its ‘let’s see what happens’ Raven cull.
- spring 2019: Wild Justice challenges general licences issued by Natural England and these are rapidly withdrawn and later DEFRA takes over licensing policy development (probably because Natural England has been cut to the bone and can’t do one of the jobs it exists to carry out). DEFRA carries out a serious consultation and a new licensing system should emerge this autumn. Wild Justice will take further legal action if we regard the new licences as seriously flawed after such a long ‘rethink’ by DEFRA.
- summer 2019: Wild Justice challenges the scale of release of non-native gamebirds on designated wildlife sites (which Natural England has responsibility to protect) and DEFRA concedes that there is an issue to be looked at. In Spring 2020, after little visible progress from DEFRA, Wild Justice dusts off the legal action and in June 2020 is granted permission for judicial review by October 2020.
- yesterday: Wild Justice launches legal action against Natural England’s licensing of free shooting of Badgers as part of the discredited DEFRA Badger cull.
Natural England and DEFRA both need to raise their game considerably and Wild Justice is very prepared to help them do this but as readers of the Wild Justice newsletter will know, Wild Justice is looking much more widely at a range of issues, not just in England and not just involving central government and one particular agency.
It’s interesting that since the creation of Wild Justice, Natural England has recruited a new Head of Legal and Governance and is now recruiting two more lawyers. Let’s hope that this enhanced capacity will be used to help Natural England do more for the natural environment rather than defend itself when it isn’t doing nearly enough.
Wild Justice’s challenge to Natural England on licensing of free shooting of Badgers can be seen here. The crowdfunder was launched yesterday afternoon and has already raised over £19,000. Thank you to all contributors.