Big Society and Small Government

Yesterday morning I was up early and doing my first Breeding Bird Survey visit of the year.  I started at 6am and it was all a bit dull weather-wise,  but by 730am the sun was out although the easterly wind was quite strong.

I’ve written before about how this volunteer/NGO/government agency/government partnership is a good example of Big Society in action.  People like me are saving the nation millions of pounds by volunteering to do this work – using my considerable expertise – there aren’t many people plucked off Rushden High Street who would have recognised that lesser whitethroat singing.

But the protection that that lesser whitethroat gets, and the regulation and funding that determine that the fields I walked around are full of winter wheat and oil seed rape, are not mine to influence very easily.  That is where government currently does intervene, and since it does, I’d like it to do it well and effectively and efficiently.

And that’s why I am so concerned about the Red Tape Challenge. Although the Cabinet Office and Defra seem to be having second thoughts on tearing up wildlife protection – or at least encouraging the general population to suggest that they tear it up – the (here and here) statements don’t look that reassuring to me.  If government realises that it has made a big mistake then it should say so clearly – hinting unclearly doesn’t really count.

My guess is that in an ill-considered flurry of enthusiasm for Small Government the Cabinet Office stuck up this Red Tape Challenge without consulting other government departments too much.  Or maybe they did consult but everyone is afraid of Francis Maude?  Either way, it isn’t the job of we the people to trust Government when it looks like it wants to do something wrong, says it quite fancies doing something wrong and then doesn’t correct this impression clearly.

Please remember those who are trying to do something about this:

The RSPB are still campaigning on it (hooray!).

Jonathon Porritt is on the right side (although he still hasn’t posted my comment on his blog – he’s probably on holiday (or maybe he just doesn’t care?)).

38 Degrees have now got to nearly 43,000 on their petition.

Butterfly Conservation now have something on their home page – well done! to them.

And, by the way, the collared dove I saw this morning, not the most exciting bird you might say, was the first I’ve seen on my BBS square.  Such are the pleasures of Big Society.


Guest blog – by ‘Mr White’

Dr Mark Avery – supporter of vulnerable creatures in the sporting field

by Mr White, ‘Reservoir Cats

Mark Avery, who ‘died’ on April 28th aged 53, spent the best years of his working life as Director of Conservation for the RSPB.

A public holiday has been declared in Norfolk to celebrate his loss. Arthur Balsam, Norfolk county councillor and keen country sports enthusiast said, “His departure is good news for Norfolk! From the lowliest gamekeeper to the jowliest arable monoculturalist, he won’t be mourned by any of us! We’ll be able to get back to farming entirely for profit and for the benefit of things we can shoot with impunity, like Pheasants, Red-legged Partridges, and Hen Harriers.”

The Rt. Honourable Tom Logan, a Songbird Survival spokesbaronet and landowner commented: “We’re delighted to see the back of him – now we can return to promoting the wanton use of pole-traps on our Norfolk estates with complete freedom.”

The Rt. Hon. Gentleman later retracted this statement for the benefit of Songbird Survival’s middle class English supporters, hastily adding, “What one actually meant to say was that we promote the judicious use of man-traps baited with kabanos sausage and Tyskie lager in Norwich’s suburbs, aimed to keep down the numbers of eastern European Johnny Foreigners stealing our British jobs. One certainly didn’t mean the calculated and illegal persecution of birds of prey. No, no! We don’t support that at all…”

Dr Avery’s loss is not universally celebrated. Enid Felcher, a staunch RSPB and Cat’s Protection League supporter from Cley said, “I’ll be so sorry to not hear him on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program urging me to care for my tits. But that won’t stop me loving my garden birds – every time one of my un-neutered pussies brings in a maimed Jenny Wren or Bobby Robin, I’ll remember Mark fondly.”

Stung by accusations that she and millions of other cat-owning, bird-loving, Daily Mail-reading spinsters were rather missing the point, Miss Felcher concluded, “Hypocritical? Isn’t that one of those nasty chemicals the farmers are spraying on their fields now the NFU say that food security is more important than biodiversity?

“The ******g tw*ts.”

And to see more of Mr White’s best work click here.


A couple of old pluggers

Mike McCarthy, the Environment Editor of the Independent newspaper, rarely slips up, but today he gives a ridiculous amount of space to writing about me in his Nature Notes column.   He’s very kind; and I see he is off for the next few weeks to write a book .

If Mike’s next book is anywhere as near as good as his last one  ‘Say goodbye to the cuckoo‘ then it will be well worth reading.

One good plug deserves another.


Shooting Times fails again

Shooting Times was held up and then weakened a long way out in yesterday’s 3:20 at Perth – of course it’s a horse, what did you think?  Oh you were thinking about the magazine, were you?  Well, maybe, if you were then you’ll be amused that Western Bound won that race easily.

I’ll be off to the USA for 6 weeks next week and you can follow that trip on this blog – if I can get the technology to work.

In mid June I’ll be back and blogging about UK conservation matters on topics such as: what the government is doing wrong (there’s bound to be something), why the Left is a bit rubbish on nature, the NFU, biofuels, farming, nature NGOs and their work, nature through the changing seasons, nature in the media and anything that is about the wonderful natural world around us.

But if there are particular issues you’d like to see covered then leave a comment here.

And please sign up for my monthly ‘newsblast’ which will give a more in-depth look at particular issues than can be done on a blog.  And to those of you who have already signed up to the ‘newsblast’ – thank you!  There are a lot of you already.


Bye bye RSPB

Today is my last day at work for the RSPB.  After just over 25 years I am moving on.

They have been a wonderful 25 years – I have so many stories from them I ought to write a book – now there’s an idea!

My successor is Martin Harper – formerly of Plantlife and Wildlife and Countryside Link – who has worked at the RSPB for 7 years.  He’s  a great guy and I wish him every success and happiness in the role.

I can’t leave a note saying ‘The money’s all gone’ – although I had a go at spending it – but there will, I’m sure, be a whole load of issues which will move forward quicker and better now I’m gone.  I had my own personal take on farming, raptor persecution, nature reserves, reintroductions, climate change etc and a new person heading up these issues will have their own take on them.  RSPB policy is set by our Council but within that policy framework staff have a lot of freedom on how they try to deliver the goods.  I had mine and Martin will have his.  Change is good.

And next week I am off for a 6 week trip – travelling from coast to coast in the USA watching birds, seeing scenery, meeting conservationists and having a break.  I hope that I’ll be able to make the technology work and that this blog will be, for that period, insights from a UK birder and conservationist abroad in the USA – Around the States in 40 days.