I asked NE in July and September, about their role in the Bowland gull cull and I did again in early November. This time I got a sensible answer about whether I would get an answer eventually. Such is how we now measure responses from our statutory nature conservation organisation.
What I sent:
Further to my requests of 10 July and 5 September I ask for the following information:
Has NE consented culling of Lesser Black-backed Gull in the Bowland Fells SSSI for this year?
Was an appropriate assessment made of the impact on the conservation interest of the Bowland Fells SPA before any consent was issued?
Please may I see the appropriate assessment if it exists?
Your previous responses have said that an investigation is ongoing – but have not indicated when it may be concluded nor made any promise to reply to this enquiry when the information is available. You’ve had plenty of time to conclude an investigation by now.
What I got back a week later:
Thank you for your email.
I have been in contact with the Area Team and they have confirmed that the investigation is ongoing and moving to its final stages. Although a timescale cannot be confirmed at this point in time.
They will respond to your questions once the investigation is concluded.
Dr Therese Coffey is the junior minister at Defra. Now that Gavin Gamble’s e-petition in favour of banning driven grouse shooting has passed 10,000 signatures Dr Coffey will need to sign off a government response.
Yesterday the e-petition passed 11,000 signatures; tomorrow Dr Coffey will have kept Gavin Gamble waiting for two weeks for a response.
In order that she does not make Defra look even more foolish than they do already I am providing a reading list for the minister to inform her response.
Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and put Dr Coffey on the spot.
Dr Coffey must be thinking hard about about this response – she’s certainly taking her time. Is Nobel House ringing to the sound of her yelling at civil servants ‘No – give me something more exciting for our response! I want people to think I know something about nature conservation’.
I wonder whether Dr Coffey has noticed that the wildlife crime hotspots that are National Parks and AONBs are now coming out and owning the problem? We’ve had the Yorkshire Dales NP, The Peak District NP, the Nidderdale AONB and now the harrier-less Forest of Bowland AONB all expressing their dismay at the level of wildlife crime that is damaging their reputations. But these are largely toothless bodies who own the problem but you, minister, have to own the solutions.
Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and put Dr Coffey on the spot – the more signatures, the harder it is for Defra to do nothing.
The government response should:
- be published within 2 weeks of Gavin Gamble’s e-petition reaching 10,000 signatures – FAIL
- announce that vicarious liability for wildlife crimes will be introduced in England because of the unacceptably high levels of wildlife crime
- announce that Defra will ask the RSPB to come forward with proposals for licensing of shooting estates within a month and that Defra will respond to them by Christmas
- acknowledge the level of concern about driven grouse shooting which led to 123,077 signatures being gained last year for an absolute ban on this hobby (I’m not expecting Dr Coffey to say anything nicer than that about a ban)
- confirm that Defra is looking at removal of farming subsidies from grouse moors in its post-Brexit agricultural strategy
- confirm that the evidence for wider environmental damage of heather burning has increased recently and that this is an issue that government will address and that this will require widespread changes to grouse moor management (burning and draining)
- mention where the government is with dealing with the RSPB complaint to the EU over unsustainable moorland management due to grouse shooting practices
- acknowledge that the plight of the Hen Harrier has not improved in two breeding seasons since the Defra Hen Harrier plan was launched and that the grouse shooting industry has not cleaned up its act and is on a last warning
- announce that the details of the 15-year Natural England Hen Harrier study will be published by Christmas 2017 in a government report with further recommendations for Hen Harrier conservation
- acknowledge that wildlife crime applies to many other protected species other than the Hen Harrier
- announce that the National Capital Committee has been asked to compile a report on ecosystem services and grouse moor management
- announce a review of the economic costs and benefits of intensive grouse moor management will be carried out by independent academics and published by Christmas 2018.
The government response should not:
- say that funding of the NWCU is a sufficient response to combatting bird of prey persecution in the uplands (because nobody who knows has ever suggested such a thing)
- say or suggest that grouse shooting provides a nett economic benefit to the nation (because there are no such figures)
- suggest that the current Hen Harrier Action Plan is remotely fit for purpose
- praise gamekeepers
- conflate benefits of all shooting (economic or environmental) with benefits of grouse shooting (because it makes the government department and/or its ministers look either stupid or biased)
There are lots of people telling me that I shouldn’t expect too much from Michael Gove because he is a politician. I had noticed that Mr Gove is a politician! And it is because he is an ambitious politician who needs to impress the electorate and his colleagues to advance his political career that I do trust him a bit. I trust him to want to make a good impression and to be bright enough, active enough, and indeed brave enough, to realise that means he actually has to do some good in the world to help create that impression.
So, I will continue to praise him when he says or does the right things, and look forward to being able to slag him off roundly when he does bad things.
But the fact that in today’s Times, the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley (see here, here, here) is having a go at Michael Gove tells me that I am right to be cheered, a bit, by what Gove is saying and doing.
Whereas I wrote yesterday that Gove’s idea for an independent body to hold government to account is just what we need, and we could dispense with NE as a result and absorb its functions back into Defra, Matt Ridley says that NE is a fine and wonderful body which is doing all it need do. Matt loves NE because it is toothless and hopeless and he is scared of Gove’s independent body because it would find it difficult to be as hopeless. I would be happy for NE to be wound up because it is toothless and hopeless and would support a new start and a body which might hold government to account. Matt and I see the world in the same way but want different things – that’s what’s going on here.
The n-s-t Viscount Ridley (bro-in-law of Owen Paterson, remember) castigates Mr Gove, who has already achieved more for the environment than Paterson did in his Defra tenure, for embracing the ‘green blob’ but it is clear that listening to environmental experts, and ones who have charitable status rather than vested landed interests, is what Mr Gove has decided to do. That is quite wise of him, and rather than this being client-capture as Ridley claims, it is the exact opposite – it is Gove eschewing the vested interests of farmers and landowners like…well, like the n-s-t Viscount Ridley, and instead going for real advice.
And then, as I did yesterday, the n-s-t Viscount Ridley gets on to grouse shooting – just as an example of course! He’s a bit worried that the EU is going to give the UK a kicking over Walshaw Moor (is it possible that his bro-in-law might just possibly find that he gets some of the flak for this?) whereas I am rubbing my hands for when the day comes.
We will lose those bodies that will hold the UK to account over its environmental actions when Brexit happens (iih – if it happens) and that is exactly what some Brexiteers wanted all along – it was a part of why some people bought the Brexit idea. Natural England has never been and certainly now isn’t that body and it is completely fanciful to suggest that it is. Gove is right to propose a fully independent body to replace European institutions and to fill the governance gap.
Matt Ridley, Owen Paterson and others are irritated at the thought. Go Gove! I say.
Gavin Gamble’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is still waiting for a response from Defra. It now stands at 11,154 signatures.
Here are the leading constituencies so far – many of them are old friends (all with 50+ signatures):
- Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey, Drew Hendry MP, 85 signatures
- Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP, 69 signatures
- Calder Valley, Craig Whittaker, 65 signatures
- Ross, Skye and Lochaber, Ian Blackford MP, 63 signatures
- Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP, 64 signatures
- Sheffield Hallam, Jared O’Mara, 63 signatures
- Dumfries and Galloway, Alister Jack MP, 62 signatures
- Isle of Wight, Bob Seeley MP, 62 signatures
- Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield MP, 55 signatures
- Penrith and The Border, Rory Stewart MP, 53 signatures
- Argyll and Bute, Brendan O’Hara MP, 53 signatures
- High Peak, Ruth George MP, 53 signatures
Please sign here.
I’ll stick my neck out and predict a significant leap forward in the number of signatures by this time next week…
…although whether Barking will ever attract a signature remains to be seen.
Coral reefs – you can’t go wrong with coral reefs and I enjoyed this programme more than the two preceding ones. Why was that? I’m really not sure.
Manta rays, spawning groupers, another grouper working with an octopus to catch their prey and saddleback clown fish. All terrific. And all potentially to be lost from our planet within the lives of people born today.
I’m not sure what ‘half the world’s coral reefs are affected by bleaching’ actually means but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t mean that half of the Earth’s coral reef area is now bleached and dead. Sir David’s calming tones then told us that includes ‘since 2016, two thirds of the shallow-water corals of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef’ which didn’t make complete sense to me at the time (but see here), but it obviously doesn’t sound good. I snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef about a decade ago and I’m saddened that coral bleaching is rubbing out the colours that I saw there.
The programme was right to mention, and show, coral bleaching but it ended on a strangely upbeat note claiming that there was hope because ‘as long as some reefs survive, coral reefs can regenerate’ but it wasn’t clear why there was hope because there was no solution suggested for ocean warming. This felt like false hope to me.
Next week, programme 4 out of 7, it’s the open oceans. I’m already wondering what the message of the last programme will be.