Even children find Natural England laughable

Natural England are hiring staff https://naturalenglandcareers.org.uk/

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.

Let’s recap:

  • 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  • spring 2019: Wild Justice challenges general licences issued by Natural England and these are rapidly withdrawn and later DEFRA takes over licensing policy development (probably because Natural England has been cut to the bone and can’t do one of the jobs it exists to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.

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16 Replies to “Even children find Natural England laughable”

  1. ‘....other wildlife NGOs have not taken legal action in the way that Wild Justice has.’
    Exactly so. When we hear NGOs complaining in the future of members leaving, of not enough funding coming in, they need to take a long hard look at WJ. I’m quite sure that we are not the only couple withdrawing funds from NGOs and giving to groups that will actually do something. The world is changing, the NGOs are getting left behind. They are not too big to fail and the government will not be looking to help them. They were sleeping on the job, now they are comatose.
    And you Mark are being very kind to your former employer. Yes you fought the HH meddling case together, but if my memory is correct, the RSPB only followed your lead.
    If three people can make the government take a second look, what could strong leadership at our NGOs have done over the past years.
    Whether you win or lose, you are holding to account, that’s why we support you.

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    1. I suppose I shouldn’t ask why this appeal is not on the Badger trust website. Mr Dyer?

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  2. "Natural England has recruited a new Head of Legal and Governance and is now recruiting two more lawyers."

    How about do your job properly, lawfully and in close accordance with your statutory remit? Then there would be fewer challenges, less need for lawyers and you could redirect their handsome salaries towards recruiting more staff that would know a buttercup from a dandelion, were they to be allowed outside or even (God forbid) anywhere near a SSSI.

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    1. Dominic - maybe they need those lawyers to make grouse moor managers do their stuff, or farmers, or industrialists?

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      1. You are clearly a 'glass half full' person, Mark! I would love you to be right!

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    2. It's impossible to get them out the office and onto this farm, unless we wave the cheque book about and offer a free lunch, then we get a stampede from the very top, not only from NE, but the rest of them.
      It’s a tough life – but I suppose someone has to do it!

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        1. Thomas, are you somewhere East of Newport, Isle of Wight , or am i barking up the wrong Honey Buzzard nest tree ?.

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    3. Do the adverts for lawyer vacancies contain the words 'wily' or 'sharp' by any chance?!

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    4. Dominic, I agree with what you say, or at least with why you say it. But as regards the recruitment of lawyers, I am ex-civil servant enough to suggest that it is probably quite hard to "do your job properly, lawfully and in close accordance with your statutory remit" without decent legal advice - especially if you have got out of the habit, as is all too evidently the case.
      I could understand a concern - you absolutely do not suggest it, but others might - that 'clever lawyers' might help NE to persist in failing to abide by the law. But, in my experience, it just doesn't work like that. Government lawyers may or may not be more fearless than the rest of us but they are bound by professional ethics. They are also not thanked for legal advice that proves to be flawed.
      It's a point Mark and others often make about those who dislike the Wild Justice challenges - the law is the law and flailing and posturing don't change it. Neither do 'clever lawyers'. I would much rather the cost of NE abiding by the law was secured by the recruitment of plainly needed additional legal advice than by us having to crowdfund the same outcomes time and again. If that's what's happening it is by far Wild Justice's biggest win.

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      1. Alan, we don’t disagree. I said ‘less need for lawyers’, not ‘no need’. My comment is about NE expanding and ‘upgrading’ its legal department (as it seems to be doing), if the reason for that is to help it defend itself against challenges (as it seems it might be). You and Mark have both alluded to the alternative possibility that it is to enable them to do their job better. I would love you to be right and yes that would be a fantastic result out of the pressure that WJ and others have brought to bear. But as for ‘it doesn’t work like that’, I’m afraid that my experiences are somewhat different. I do not suggest that lawyers and NE staff sit in a room and work out how they can get round legal provisions whilst cackling and rubbing their hands. Nor that day to day internal advice is deliberately skewed. But when NE do drop the ball, whether out of incompetence or as a predictable consequence of their evisceration by their Government masters, their legal team seems to adopt a ‘win at all costs’ mentality in any resulting challenge. I’ve seen NE witnesses advance ecological arguments that they clearly know themselves are BS; who’s encouraging them to do that?

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    5. Yes I quite agree Natural England are a laughing stock and a farce and have been for some time. There also seems to be little or no improvement under Mr Juniper and Ms Spain. As is said NEs main task is to act as a regulator and defender of nature not to come up with shoddy deals like brood meddling and saying next to nothing about the criminality associated with driven grouse shooting. Quite frankly I am slightly surprised that Mr Juniper and Ms Spain choose to continue in their posts. I would have thought that NEs performance and lack of improvement was a resigning matter.
      Having said all this we must not forget that the Tory Party’s sinister hand probably lies behind all this. Many Tories have hated NE for a long time and their aim has been to reduce the NE organisation to a puppet doing the bidding. In this respect they have largely succeeded but this is where Mr Juniper and Ms Spain must stand up for the independence of NE. They seem to me to be clearly failing to do this.

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  3. The head of legal is an expert on issues of ethnicity, inclusion and diversity.

    This is important.

    However, wildlife legislation is unfamiliar territory. Hope I’m wrong but I fear she may be somewhat overwhelmed.

    As for her boss, the director of corporate governance, he is not a lawyer, so I doubt if she’ll get the benefit of much experience from him.

    No wonder they’re recruiting for additional lawyers.

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  4. With a Board bulging with corporates what chance has nature conservation or the environment got?

    It's a shame but would we really miss them if they were culled? I suppose ministers and their advisers need a shield between them and the tenacity of those determined that justice will be delivered for our natural health service:)

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  5. I know nothing but surely the common sense thing to do is, rather than hire lawyers, invite Wild Justice as an advisor to look at the holes in their set up and find solutions.
    They appear to be applying the Feynman safe method i.e. ban the safe cracker from the safes rather than fix the safes.
    Of course there is the option that they don't want to fix anything, that is what i call corruption.

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  6. Boris Johnson's 'Build build build' speech the other day in which he complained about the delays and associated costs in building HS2 and lamented 'newt-counting' red tape as holding back house-building does not suggest to me that we are going to see a more wildlife-friendly change of heart from the government any time soon. In this climate, NE is going to experience ever more pressure from Downing Street to make the 'right' decisions (i.e. favouring commercial demands over the well-being of wildlife) and consequently it will be sadly necessary for WJ (and others??) to hold its feet to the fire for some while to come in order to ensure the law is actually upheld.

    Always the populist show-man, Johnson seems to be outdoing himself lately. What with his press-ups in the office antics and speeches like this one he only needs to propose to drain the Pontine Marshes for a full on impersonation of Il Duce!

    Likes(1)Dislikes(0)

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