The Well-read Naturalist

I’ve been remiss in checking what John Riutta, The Well-read Naturalist, has been reading and blogging about recently so this is a catch-up.

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison. John has beaten me to reviewing this new novel from Melissa Harrison.  But having read this review, and having met the author once (and smiled, sometimes laughed, at her tweets often) I shall be reading it soon.

And that is partly because of the quality of the four anthologies she produced a while back Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather by Tessa Boase. John liked this book and regards it as ‘truly eye-opening’.   That’s a relief as I would have had doubted my own similar view if he hadn’t liked it.

I’ll be putting together my ‘Books of 2018’ list soon.  I’m sure this will be in the shortlist.

See my review here. Here is John’s.

You: a natural history by William B. Irvine. .  This looks interesting – shall I review it?

Eye of the Shoal by Helen Scales. This is another book that I have been meaning to read and review – John has beaten me to this one too.  Sounds like it is worth a read.


Published last week

Spanish edition of Remarkable Birds.


Letter to my MP

Dear Mr Pursglove

Thank you for your letter, dated 28 September, in response to my emails.

I am grateful for your detailed reply although you didn’t actually answer my question of what you think of the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife which was what I asked.  Instead you sent me some information which you must think demonstrates that the previous coalition government did a good job for wildlife and the environment. Although the information you sent me was interesting it was neither convincing nor an adequate answer to my question.  I fully understand that MPs cannot be fully informed on every issue that concerns their constituents so I would be very grateful if you could seek the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’s response to these two questions:

  • when will Michael Gove meet Chris Packham to discuss the proposals in the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife?
  • which of the proposals in the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife will be adopted by the government in a revitalised approach to wildlife conservation?

I’ll now turn to your detailed comments on the environment – for which, may I repeat, I am grateful.

The Government’s 25-Year Plan to improve the environment is a skeletal approach to environmental action rather than a plan.  It needs an awful lot of flesh to be put on its rather bare bones and the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife is one contribution to that end from serious environmental experts and commentators (of which I am actually one).  At the time of the publication of the government Environment ‘Plan’ I wrote in my blogHowever, after reflection and a reasonably thorough reading, I don’t think the document is particularly impressive.  It’s certainly not a plan, at best it’s a plan for future plans, and at worst it’s a plan for future plans of plans.  It’s a start but it’s thin on what the government actually wants to achieve and that’s probably because it doesn’t really know.’.

I was interested to read what you sent me on renewables – I agree with the thrust of your comment: renewable energy is a source of income and important in helping the UK to meet its carbon reduction targets set by the Climate Change Act under the last Labour government. What is your personal position on renewable energy these days? I seem to remember you taking a decidedly climate change-sceptical position on this matter a few years ago. Can I take it that your position has moved a lot closer to mine on climate change and renewable energy, or is it simply that as a PPS to the Home Secretary you now have to reflect government policy rather than tell me honestly what you actually think as my MP?

I would be grateful if you could clarify what are the 150,000 acres (surely we should be using hectares these days?) of priority habitat that were created under the coalition government and how many of these acres (or hectares) were within our constituency of Corby or even in Northants?

You state that 11 million trees were planted in the 5-year period of the coalition government. I know 11 million sounds like a lot but there are around 3 billion (3000 million) trees in the UK so it’s a drop in the ocean.  And in any case, the planting of new forestry in England in the three years since the period you chose to tell me about, ie 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18, were the three lowest years since 1987. There have been media reports of this poor performance eg this in the Daily Telegraph of May last yearEngland plants so few trees that the entire year’s planting could have been done by three people’ so your example was selective, misleading and outdated and was clearly a poor example if you are seeking to convince me that the government has a great record on this matter.

We will see whether the National Pollinator Strategy has had the impacts that you predict over future years but those impacts are certainly not in the bag yet.

You mention the government progress with implementing the Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009 – a landmark piece of environmental legislation enacted by the last Labour government and whose implementation by your government has been glacially slow. This is yet another example of where the running was made by Labour and where the Conservatives fumbled the pass and dropped the ball.

I only point out these errors and failings in your government’s environmental record because you chose to select them, so presumably either you, or someone in Defra or someone in Conservative Party HQ think they are good examples to win me over.  They are not. Have you got any better examples you could provide, please?

They also demonstrate how greatly in need your party and government are in need of good ideas for environmental progress – which brings me back to the People’s Manifesto forWildlife and my request for you to ask Mr Gove the two questions above.

May I thank you for your response to my letter and I almost feel I should apologise for this long and somewhat combative reply, but I do read what you send me and if other Conservative MPs are sending out similar letters to their constituents then you had better get a new set of researchers.


Wuthering Moors 74 – lessons unlearned

I am grateful to several Natural England staff who have found ways to send me a document recently posted on the NE intranet, but written in March 2013, entitled Walshaw Moor Lessons Learned Action Plan.

Considering this document is over five years old, it is of mostly historic interest to very few people, however, there are a few amusing excerpts that I can share with you – at least they amused me.

I have read the document several times – well, I’ve started it several times  but I kept falling asleep before I got to the end.

Here are some rip-roaring bits of prose from it [and some sarcastic comments me in square brackets]:

  • The Executive Board noted the need for a plan to break out of the circle of confidentiality and perceived secrecy surrounding Walshaw and that strategic and cultural drivers needed to be addressed as well as attention to process. [it must be great to work in an organisation where this passes for communication]
  • Together these actions are intended to strengthen the processes and frameworks for managing high risk and complex cases by providing further clarity to staff for dealing with casework in a systematic and consistent way and greater transparency of key decisions made by senior managers.  [it was around here that I often felt my eyelids getting heavy]
  • Ownership of the Burning Group is unclear and needs defining [presumably a hot potato!]
  • The review identified the need for the wider implementation of the Project Management Standard, including ensuring the necessary leadership is in place; early and repeated risk analysis is carried out; and that a relationship and communication plan is in place. [Wake up!!]
  • Executive Board recognised the need for implementing the Risk and Issues Management Standard in all functions, especially those that are externally facing [did you join NE to conserve wildlife?]
  • Executive Board considered the challenge of instilling confidence in the evidence base whilst recognising that in some cases it is not robust and that a distinction needs to be made between evidence and its interpretation into advice [does that mean ‘we don’t know what we are talking about but we’d like the people we talk to to think we do’?]

This caught my eye – I’m not sure why…

We also continue to receive a number of detailed and specific requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations, requiring lengthy analyses and responses

I wonder whether this was ever resolved…

Executive Board identified that the consents in the Walshaw case (and others) were not adequate and that subsequent reviews had not rectified the situation

I wonder whether this was ever resolved…

Handling of the Walshaw case did not follow our own guidance on compliance and enforcement

And this one wasn’t fully resolved, was it?

We need to be on top of our handling of both consenting and the undertaking of HRA.

…because NE had to admit that its HRA of an agreement with Walshaw Moor Estate was unlawful.


Letter from my MP

I’m grateful to my MP, Tom Pursglove for his timely response to my emails inviting him to attend the People’s Walk for Wildlife and then asking him to have a look at the Manifesto for Wildlife.

The response shows that someone has put some time into constructing it, and that it’s not just a brush off, but it isn’t actually much of a response to the letter which I sent.

I was interested to see my MP talking about carbon emissions and the green economy – this is to be welcomed, particularly as he has always struck me as being on the climate change sceptic end of the party. And my view seems to be supported by his voting record where he has consistently voted against measures which would help to prevent climate change. So, has he changed his view or has he been given a paragraph to cut and paste into responses like this?

The paragraph about the record of the coalition government between 2010-15 is mostly interesting in how poor the examples look in terms of things to brag about. Is that it?  A tiny amount of money was spent on NIAs – and what did it achieve? 11 million trees were planted over 5 years – 11 million is a big number but how many trees are there in the UK? What difference did this make?  And how many were lost? What was the net change in tree numbers (see here)? The National Pollinator Strategy, as described here, hasn’t yet done anything, but it’s having a look at things. I am intrigued by claim that 150,000ha of priority habitat was created – I’m not sure where that comes from or quite what it means. I wonder whether Mr Pursglove does?

Marine conservation has progressed incredibly slowly under this government. Remember, all that stuff about MCZs was introduced by the last Labour government in the Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009. The coalition government only designated the first 27 sites in 2013 and then announced a further 23 sites in January 2016.  The execrable website claims that  further sites would be consulted upon in 2017 and designated in 2018 but the consultation happened this June, it will be quite some time before designation is completed and the proposals have big gaps in them as far as creating a robust network of marine protected areas is concerned.

Turning the page, I find this…

Yeh, right!

Top marks to Mr Pursglove for a speedy response, I bet he has been quicker off the mark than most MPs.  Has your MP replied to your letter yet?  When she or he does reply – let me know whether they have used the same phrases as mine did, please.

Pretty high marks to Mr Pursglove for a detailed response – this is not just a ‘thanks for your letter’ response – there is real substance contained in it.

However, the detail is unimpressive and the letter as a whole does not actually respond to what I asked in my letter to him. Now, you cannot, and I do not, expect my MP to be interested in everything in which I am interested, nor knowledgeable about the things that concern me; that would be unreasonable.

So, what to do?  I’ve written back to Mr Pursglove and I will post my response to him here at 6pm this evening.