Posts Tagged ‘danvm drainage commissioners’

When is a pond no longer a pond?

May 12, 2016

We oft hear of hedgerows and field ponds being an intrinsic part of the rural landscape.  Fishlake Parish in the Borough of Doncaster had many delightful such features.  Howes (1997) catalogued the decline of these features and we now mourn the passing of another ….

A pond such as this below in a quiet corner could assist alleviate the impact of flooding, it could be useful when biodiversity value of a land holding is assessed?

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Pond beginning to be infilled

Had this pond been checked for Great Crested Newts?  Had the local planning authority, that is to say Doncaster MBC, been asked about the presence of any protected species within the vicinity via their Local Records Centre?  Had the Environment Agency been contacted?

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Shows the same pond above filled with reclaimed soil from the nearby barrier bank

Crucially, had permission been sought for the use of barrier bank soil to infill it?  If so who was involved in any ‘discussion’? Had Danvm Drainage Commissioners as the Public Body responsible for drainage matters in the area been involved?

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Shows the barrier bank removal scar

What risk assessment had been undertaken which determined that there was no need for this bank in terms of flood management?  It seems wholly reasonable that given the low lying nature of the area that features were installed or created for a reason and if that was now redundant then it would receive approval from the appropriate authority for an alternative use?  Who was and who is now that appropriate authority or agency?

Does the landowner involved receive stewardship payments for the feature (ie the pond)?

The function of the IDBs is land drainage and their powers are through the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended), it is the Environment Agency who is responsible for flood prevention/alleviation/mitigation etc.

In the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins “Oh let there be left wildness and wet; long live the weeds and the wilderness yet”?

What will be left of a once pastoral landscape for the next generation, some would say it’s progress and for landowners to do as they wish with their own property?  As oft the case, much is underpinned with public funds.  IDBs receive significant sums via a levy collected through the local authority and there is reported to be an expectation of public benefit for those funds.  IDBs have Biodiversity Action Plans for their catchments, but these are often little more than words and tangible outputs from the expenditure is as scarce as field ponds?  The DDC website offers an array of BAPs, the relevant BAP Pond and Great Crested Newt Action Report (2014) simply details a survey of a couple of sites, not a catchment survey, and no actions so one might be forgiven for pondering the claim of BAP ‘implementation’?  Implementation would generally mean tangible activity post assessment?  Do the local IDBs have any biodiversity inventory relating to the areas managed by them, it would seem reasonable given that the management service provision would at least hold a baseline inventory of protected species as a minimum with periodic updates? Parallels could be drawn where nature conservation organisations (both charitable and statutory) do hold relevant data material to their management function of land and water courses?  How else can they deliver appropriate management without an asset register of key biodiversity interest?

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Low lying land in flood plains are a resource to alleviate the impact of increasing rainfall events? 

 

Resources down the drain(s)?

January 14, 2016

A recent article Government planning thousands of new homes in flood plains in The Ecologist assessed a ‘plan’ that seeks to build some 9000 new homes in floodplains ….

Mary Dhonau OBE, a flood campaigner, told Greenpeace: “No developer in their right mind would build a house in the middle of the river so why build it where we know the river will be when the floods come? It’s setting people up for misery. In the light of the appalling floods we’ve seen in Cumbria, coupled with the threat that climate change brings – it has never been more essential that new homes are not built where there is a risk of flooding.”

But the government are to fast track developments in flood zones.  Read the full article to learn how Greenpeace established the areas and the level of risk.  Readers may recall that we asked that you consider responding to the government consultation on proposed changes to the FoI legislation.  Had not Greenpeace been able to obtain important information, funded through the public purse in the first instance, then use this to establish risk then people unaware of an areas ‘potential’ would be left with a mess to sort out?  This is a prime example of why it is crucial that the FoI legislation is strengthened not weakened?

Let’s hope that the issue of floods and land use remain high on the medias agenda and that of conservation because it is evident that much public money will be spent, but …. will it deliver value for money?  Will it be predicated on robust science, or will those with vested interest endeavour to manipulate and manage the discussions to steer the outcomes favourable to their agendas?

See an interesting commentary on a recent parliamentary discussion via Standing up for nature likewise in a new nature blog.  Read the Hansard report on the debate.  Surely the debate is not simply food or floods, more it is about a holistic and strategic approach to land use?  Oh dear that’s probably too much for government to tackle in their short-term economic ‘outbursts’?

We have been relatively fortunate here in the Humberhead Levels, whilst we have experienced precipitation it has not been the ‘unprecedented’ scale much heralded in the media.  The image below shows an area in the Danvm Drainage Commissioner’s area, an area which saw a massively engineered solution to mining subsidence relatively recently ….

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Fishlake January 2016

It looks like Avery’s petition will pass another milestone tonight, but more signatures are needed to see upland land management more sympathetic to wildlife.

Ban driven grouse shooting

Draining …. & fracking …. updates?

February 15, 2015

We’ve still no news or useful updates on the hedge / tree works yet, beyond that is notification that ‘investigate immediately’ will now take 20 working days to provide a reply!  This approach begs the question of what kind of a response there might be if a member of the public noticed a damaged embankment or Pumping Station issues and were to report it?  The recent DDC Governance Audit Report makes recommendations about engaging with the public, but as a Chairman of a neighbouring Board’s sub-committee recently reminded his colleagues …. the Board receives recommendations but it does not have to act upon them (in fairness he did hint that a Board would need a good reason not to at least ‘note’ recommendations)!

There is, we offer, another option as to who might have undertaken the works?  If readers can think of others then please do let us know.

The Local Authority, Doncaster MBC in this situation as the site is at Fishlake, could have commissioned contractors to undertake the ‘management’ to ensure that the footpath is kept clear?

This lane, Wood Lane is notified as a “Restricted byway on signs at both Clough House Farm and Jubilee Bridge.   It would be a strange way to conduct business if such management works were carried out by any Public Body seeking to create lanes for off road vehicle use?  An enquiry was made of DMBC Public Rights of Way officers and a response is awaited.

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Additional images which show recent management activity along a drain (above) and the associated hedgerows on both sides of Wood Lane in Fishlake.  The image below also shows where a heavily tracked machine reversed across the track?

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Has the work been undertaken by a neighbouring landoowner who utilises the lane for access to land?  Readers are recommended to view the area via Google Earth.  This excellent tool, providing reasonably up to date aerial images (current Fishlake panel is 2008), clearly illustrates the state of the once extremely rich pastoral landscape and how in recent years the hedgerows have been removed to create larger fields and a mono-culture of prairiescape easily accessed by large agri-industrial machinery.  Despite the  transformation from rich wetland to a modern industrialised food factory there are still pockets which harbour interesting species just hanging on in fragmented habitats.  DMBC, like the DDC have created a plethora of documents which extol the virtues of such places, but despite the data the areas are still lost and the area ‘developed’ under the Planning System reformed by the current ConDem Government.  DMBC Habitat Action Plan for Ancient and Species Rich Hedgerows (2007) records in Section 3 the amount of the local resouce, it would be interesting to learn nearly eight years on how much has been lost?  It is highly likely that many miles will have been planted from public funds, but it will be many hundreds of years before they are of any real biodiversity value and that assumes that the Scarce Vapourer wingless female can make the journey without the requisite wildlife friendly corridors or perhaps the funded project to a local NGO might be to facilitate an ‘introduction’?

Is fracking good for us?

Water supplies, personal health, carbon targets, and naturally income from company shares &c.?

The other update which might be of interest to our readers is the recent publication by the Environmental Audit Committee the report which details the Environmental Risks of Fracking.  This work was commissioned by the Environmental Audit Committee .

The EAC undertook an inquiry on the risks from fracking operations in the UK, including potential risks to water supplies and water quality, emissions, habitats and biodiversity, and geological integrity; (b) necessary environmental safeguards, including through the planning/permitting system; and (c) the implications for our carbon emissions reduction obligations.

Too late?  The flood gates have been opened and the Tresspass Laws amended to accommodate big business plans?  See the various links below (with apologies if some have changed):  Whoiswho

 

 

Danvm Drainage Commissioners: best practice?

February 13, 2015

Readers are well able to judge for themselves if the images below illustrate examples of best practice management

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Whilst we’d not imagine that the works are those of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners themselves, that is to say actual Board members, is it perhaps contractors engaged and supervised by Shire Group of IDBs management services, or is it their workforce?

Interestingly, whilst trying to locate Shire Group Policies on hedgerow management a document ‘Hedgerows’ was located in Environment this BAP Guidance Note (neither dated nor authored) is commendable as it extols the virtues of hedgerows for wildlife, prevention of soil erosion etc.  It ‘aims’ to avoid ‘over-trimming’ and ‘Retain hedgerow trees’.

Shire Group oft recite adherence to best practice and they are to be commended for their insistence upon it, regularly informing meetings that they always ensure that contractors are briefed as to environmental issues when undertaking works.  An immediate investigation was promised ….

Shire Group management service Minutes often identify issues and the approach to resolution?  Shire Group of IDBs have Environment Committees, Environment Officers but ….

It might be that this ‘Guidance’ is aimed at other people to encourage them to look after the wonderful Inclosure Award hedgerows in the Fishlake and Sykehouse area?

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Some Inclosure hedgerows were lost to the massive engineering works deemed essential for the ‘Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme’ others have been lost as fields are amalgamated to accommodate modern farm machinery and a once pastoral landscape in a low lying natural wetland and flood plain is transformed to a productive prairescape, much of funded through agri-welfare payments and subsidies.

Keep on badgering away …. & Public Bodies; are they accountable?

February 6, 2015

On 3rd February The Guardian newspaper published a copy of the DEFRA TB Badger Policy Board Risk Review Register.

This document was drawn up by a board which included both DEFRA civil servants and senior NFU representatives. The board met in secret and its minutes were not published, yet it provided advice to DEFRA ministers on all the key risks concerning the implementation of a badger cull policy in England.

This document was only released following a Freedom of Information request by the Badger Trust and an extremely protracted battle with DEFRA in the Upper Tribunal, with the support of the Information Commissioner.

As you can see from the article, the badger cull policy was implemented despite the fact that it was considered to be highly costly to the tax payer, pose a real danger of spreading TB in cattle via perturbation and lead to a significant increase in badger persecution.

Despite previous written assurances, the Secretary of State for the Environment Liz Truss advised Dominic Dyer (CEO of the Badger Trust) last Thursday that she would no longer meet with the Badger Trust before the final dissolution of parliament at the end of March and the start of the general election campaign, (which, in the view of the Badger Trusts, is very likely to mark the end of her time as environment secretary).

Dyer reports further that the Prime Minister has personally intervened on this issue and we now have a meeting fixed for 2nd March 2015 with the DEFRA Secretary of State.

Dyer explained that the Badger Trust will have many key issues to address with Liz Truss at this meeting and we will keep the public informed of the outcome.

The Badger Cull Risk Register is both revealing and worrying at the same time, not least because of the lack of open and transparent conduct but also that at a time of cut backs it is deemed acceptable to cull badgers at a cost of £6.5m for the first two years with associated Policing costs adding a further £3.5m for the first year alone.  The Prime Minister, David Cameron, admitted that the badger cull policy was “probably the most unpopular policy I’m responsible for”.  Will it make a difference on 7 May?  Sadly it seems despite the current incumbents proclaiming ‘the greenest Government ever’ that the environment remains low on politician’s agendas despite the badger cull being one of the most popular topics in MPs ‘intrays’?

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‘Moor’ draining campaigning updates ….

Board meetings in secret, minutes not published, obstructive and incomplete/unsatisfactory responses to FoI requests (see badger item above) …. but it could almost have been an article about local Drainage Boards in the Doncaster district serviced by the Shire Group of IDBs? **  One might be forgiven for thinking that Public Bodies * are not accountable but just funded by the public purse?

Increasing Transparency, Efficiency, Accountability and Enabling Wider Public Value …. we can dream?  In the interim we have Danvm Drainage Commissioners Governance Audit 2014 still incomplete in terms of the DMBC Recommendations*** being actioned or implemented in full.  See also the Recommendations Status, Section D in the interim ‘reply’ particularly.   At the risk of being accused of satire, some of the entries are a ‘delight’ to read particularly if any reader has ever sat in as an observer at an Internal Drainage Board meeting?

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Recently, Shire Group of IDBs advised Doncaster East IDB that they should decline admission to Finance Committee sub-committee meetings and in the same letter failed to provide good reason beyond offering ‘no policy’, another contra guidance and contra DDC Governance Audit Recommendations but c’est la Doncaster area IDBs?  This same Board held a ‘Meeting Called by Chairman 9.7.2014’ and a side meeting immediately thereafter,  the minutes of the former eventually made public 18.11.2014 those of the ‘side meeting’ however …. when a request was made, the following reply was received:

With reference to your FOI request 9th January 2015,

1. There are no Minutes of the meeting following the Extraordinary Meeting 9.6.14.  [in case readers are confused …. the typographical error made by Shire Group of IDBs was later acknowledged.]

2. This was a private meeting.

3. This communication is not available to third parties.

Doncaster East IDB is a Public Body and funded through the public purse, see * above?  No minutes, private meeting, third parties – contra guidelines, contra best practice, contra recent Governance Audit 2014 on one of their other Doncaster Boards – accountability?

** The Forum takes an interest in the modus operandi of three Boards whose areas abut the principal peatlands in our area of geographical interest.  Other management services are available, other IDBs also operate in the Humberhead Levels.  See previous related blog posts ….

*** DMBC have made recommendations, however Appointed Members have reminded the Board that they are not obliged to accept recommendations or to implement them.  It was however interesting to note that DDC did accept the findings.  Whilst they endeavour to undertake improvements no timeframe is published for the Audit to be signed off.

 

 

 

 

IDB accountability part 2 …

January 28, 2015

We wrote yesterday of issues around Internal Drainage Boards and accessing information funded through the public purse, today we continue analysis of the workings of these Public Bodies.

This post poses the question, why has the governance of these amalgamated Boards taken so long to be established?  Even after two years as well as a Shadow Board operating before final amalgamation, it seems that there are policies and procedures still being written and sub-committees still being set up?

What also causes the Forum concern are the number of wetland habitats in the DEIDB area which are in unfavourable condition. More worrying is that there seems to be an inertia to address such issues, despite the establishment of an Environment Committee within the DEIDB, there appears little by way of tangible action?  Two such examples of inaction or neglect despite knowledge of the situation (and recorded in Board minutes) might be at Haxey Grange Fen (another site in decline and neglected by statutory Public Bodies) and Hatfield Chase Drains SSSI?

In 2007 the Forum undertook a survey of a number of these SSSI Drains and concluded that they were still declining, the findings of the survey was reported to both Natural England, the IDB and the Environment Agency at the time and a paper published in 2011 in Thorne & Hatfield Moors Papers Volume 8.

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The image shows North Engine Drain, a SSSI maintained by the Environment Agency. 

Wildlife friendly maintenance can be seen with vegetation cuts done on rotation. 

Regular readers might also recall that we have sought information about transparent governence through the WhatDoTheyKnow website, details of FoI requests to the DDC can be found and progress followed here. Doncaster East IDB here.

Are the Doncaster Boards management services delivering good governance are they mindful of procedure and open conduct where public funds are concerned? We would encourage all readers to take an interest in the work of local drainage boards, they are not just about drainage but biodiversity and water management which includes flood defence.  Why not attend Board meetings as a member of the public, observe conduct of those in public office …. sadly the public were excluded from the ‘extraordinary’ meeting of Board Chairs of 9 July 2014 and despite what the minutes record, the minutes of the second meeting are not yet released …. yes, we made a request hoping that they would be furnished in a timely manner having naively assumed that they were written almost immediately after those already posted (four months later on 18 November 2014) on the web for 9 July 2014. Our request made 9 January received the standard …. a reply in 20 days!  Watch this space for the outcome?

The next meetings, open to the public are those of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners on Friday 6 February 2015 at 9.30am, the meeting papers are available as a download via the Shire Group of IDBs but they do not provide the detail of the venue.  The next meeting scheduled for the Doncaster East IDB is to be held on Friday 13 February 2015 (generally an afternoon meeting) but there is no detail or papers yet available on the Shire Group of IDBs website.  The Clerk to both Boards can be contacted on 01302 337798.

Let’s hope we are able to report positive updates tomorrow, in the interim we are considering creating a database of the number of Freedom of Information requests made to Shire Group of IDBs management services relating to IDBs …. now, as we have previously mentioned the Forum observe three ‘local’ Boards but there are others this company currently provide services to, so watch this space?

To get a flavour of ‘neighbouring’ campaigners see:

Drainage Board Governance and Accountability

Management of the Board

With some fifteen FoIs identified on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, this lady is clearly a determined campaigner and a champion of accountable governance where public funds are concerned.

‘Moor’ public money down the drain?

January 26, 2015

Are IDBs accountable?  Who is in charge of them & who are they ultimately answerable to? 

It was hoped that today’s blog post would be a nature notes one, but sadly there seems to be a greater urgency for continuing to scrutinise the business  of local Public Bodies, again!

The Forum ‘observes’ three Internal Drainage Boards whose area abuts our geographical area of interest, notably Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI.  Ideally we would also observe the others but it is a matter of capacity as well as time.  The Boards currently observed are Black Drain Drainage Board, Danvm Drainage Commissioners and Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board.

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Close examination shows debris and death

Tomorrow we hope to show good practice in terms of wildlife friendly maintenance of drains.

It is interesting that members of the public have only relatively recently been allowed to observe main Board meetings whilst their sub-committees operate a ‘closed door’ policy, with the Environment Committee or Water Level Management (previously Maintenance) or Finance Committee are no-go areas to public scrutiny.  One might be forgiven for wondering why, particularly after the findings of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners Governance Audit published in October 2014?  Recommendations were made and published, some are deemed complete, some underway and some outstanding.  There appears to be no review date, so how long is a piece of string?  There is it seems a Task & Finish Group looking at the Governance Audit Report, perhaps they will provide an update at the forthcoming Board Meeting on Friday 6 February?  The Board Papers published on the website, indicate the day, date and time but omit the venue.  The Clerk to DDC can be contacted on 01302 337798.  Previous DDC meetings have been held in Epsom House at Adwick, Shire Group of IDBs offices.

It also seems that it is not just the Forum’s Executive have serious concerns about open and transparent conduct of IDBs as Public Bodies.  Examine the Meeting Papers for the forthcoming Board Meeting of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners of Friday 6 February 2015, note particularly the contents of Section 10.2 Complaints/Queries Complaint 1. 

Note then the minutes of a Doncaster East IDB meeting at which a DMBC senior officer from their legal department gave a presentation about conduct in Public Office (Nolan Principles post Caldicot & Wentlooge Audit in the Public Interest).  Openness transparency and good governance minute 2014.4

Openness transparency and good governance

2014.4.The Chair invited Roger Harvey to speak regarding declaration of interest and wider governance issues. RH confirmed DMBC had identified fundamental issues in connection with IDBs that required addressing. He had taken the key role for Board Members from the Environment Agency “Only do that which the Board is empowered to do by law” noting if anything was outside the terms of reference it was ultra vires, that is beyond Board power.  He advised the Board had a duty to safeguard public money, to operate economically, efficiently and effectively.  Individual members can be liable if they act in  an unreasonable way.  RH referred to the Nolan Principles of Public Life noting Members should lead by example.  He suggested if decisions are to be made within the law they must: 1. Regard all relevant considerations, 2. Use correct processes and procedure or subject the Board to challenge by Judicial Review, 3. Act prudently, 4. Use specific powers within the law, 5. Be proportionate and balanced, legitimate, objective and use the least intrusive means of addressing the aim sought, 6. Provide the best use of public funds.  He noted that Declarations of Interest were felt to be a delicate balance for land owning members however the test of whether a Member’s interest is greater than the rest of the people served by the Board is useful to have in mind.  He advised everything the Board does should be open to public scrutiny and the public should be able to attend all meetings held by the Board.  He advised the Board did not have to follow the advice of its professionals but must have very good reason s why it has not followed the advice of Officers.       

RH advised capital expenditure requires an audit trail and any capital expenditure must be for the benefit of Board District not a landowner. He advised DMBC was looking at how effective governance of IDBs is and warned a DMBC Scrutiny Committee could question Board members on decisions made.

KK confirmed he would like the public to attend meetings and ask questions to show transparency. It was agreed questions could be asked at the start of the meeting provided the question had been brought to the attention of the Clerk a week before the meeting to ensure answers could be provided. JB suggested documenting rules of public engagement, KK suggested the Clerk would circulate appropriate wording to Members but specific questions must be asked by the Public, not general comments and questions could not be repeated.

Perhaps an observer could be forgiven for interpreting that minute as a gentle advice, but it seems that neither the Board members or ‘professional advisers’ have taken any notice of it?  The meeting was in June 2014 and no sign of a door even ajar in terms of public observation of the Finance or Environment Committee? Similarly one might think that any question might receive an answer if submitted to the Clerk a week prior to a Board meeting?  Incidentally, Board meetings are not openly advertised and it is often difficult to establish detail, but a bit of Yorkshire tenacity has been known to yield results.

The Forum Executive have been trying to establish a paper trail to evidence due dilegence for appropriate procedural authority to spend by DEIDB and the their management service provision.  To assist this we applied to attend as observers the Finance Committee meeting of 12 January 2015 and guess what?  That’s right, we were declined however the Clerk informed us that “The Minutes of the Finance Committee meeting will be available to view in Board meeting papers”.  Now, forgive any scepticism but as no date was mentioned watch this space …. however the Executive do not accept any liability for anyone who holds their breath!  Other obscure replies include the Administrative Officer referring to Finance Committee minutes being available in Board meeting papers.

Doncaster East Meeting Papers 27 June 2014

6.2.2 Minutes of the Finance Committee Meeting

The Board have already approved the minutes of the last Finance Committee meeting held on 24 January 2014. The draft minutes of the meeting held on the 6 June 2014 are attached.

Guess what?  That’s right, they were not appended.   Despite a courteous request to the Clerk to provide them by return, the regular practice of treating as an FoI request gains the management service provision 20 more working days.

There’s one thing for certain, the two Boards used here to illustrate examples of practice cannot be accused of application of consistency?  On the one hand there’s lip service to opening up meetings and then there’s excuses regularly presented over the period post amalgamation in 2012.  IDBs are made up of Local Authority appointees and elected members (generally large agricultural landowners or their agents).

The three Boards the Forum ‘observe’ are all supported by the Shire Group of IDBs management service provision which in turn is funded through the public purse.

Hopefully we will have an update for readers tomorrow ….

‘Drain’ of public funds & accountability of Public Bodies?

January 19, 2015

Readers will recall the Forum Executive’s concern around the promotion by the Dun which was subsequently amalgamated into the Danvm Drainage Commissioners  (DDC) of a massive drainage scheme in the Fishlake area.  This project, the Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme was deemed essential to ensure that properties were safeguarded and agricultural land restored to a previous state.  Various drains were cited as regularly flooding and the subsidence was considered to exacerbate these issues ….

It would seem fair to suggest that it is moderately wet at the moment where precipitation can be seen standing particularly in low lying areas?  The image taken today shows a drain deemed essential to evacuate water rapidly.  Whilst it might lack photographic merit it does provide an example of an expensive heavily engineered drain promoted as essential on the back of bad floods and one seemingly not discharging much water at the moment, or even recently from the look of the vegetation growth in it?

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It is interesting to examine Old Maps and those in the local archives and then cross referenced by ‘field walks/site visits’ to see the number of what were originally open drains (best for rapid evacuation of water) culverted?  Then research these against the number of applications for culverting to either the local planning authority or the local Internal Drainage Board?  With ever changing weather patterns there is surely a need to ensure that all aspects are considered when it comes to the siting of housing in low lying areas and flood plains?  The Government is increasingly requiring cost benefit analysis for public expenditure as it seeks to reduce spend (currently £8 of benefit for every £1 spent), so inevitably there are choices to be made when it comes to assessing risk against flooding.

What has the Environment Agency’s National Assessment of Flood Risk got to do with a Mining Remediation Scheme?  The best analogy we can offer is to ask the question why should the water board talk to the electricity board and the gas board talk to the telecommunication company when they need to dig up the road to lay ‘infrastructure’ services?  That and to plead for application of best practice, communication and accountability?

Look at the width of the drain and then calculate the land take and the cost of this which ultimately is bourne by the public purse (through the Coal Authority) and look at the volume of water ….

This scheme was promoted by the DDC, who readers will recall were subject of a Governance Audit Report in October 2014.

A traffic light approach has been made by the management service provision to indicate completed, underway and outstanding.  This appendix (Current Recommendation Status) was included in the document at the time of publication and it would seem that throughout the audit investigation the management service provision were involved?  Despite the full Board having met subsequent to the publication of the Governance Audit Report we have been unable to locate any further progress reports.  The management service provision to the three local IDBs the Forum observe* is provided by Shire Group of IDBs.  Whilst the public are now permitted to attend ordinary meetings of the Board’s, they are declined admission to Committee meetings, Board papers are with-held and only minutes are eventually uploaded to the Shire Group website not the full series of Board papers.

One recent upload of minutes for meetings of the Black Drain DB held on 24 January 2013 and 27 June 2013 was not undertaken until 22 December 2014 and that was only activated by intervention, some eighteen months in the undertaking?  Such practice could hardly be described as timely and demonstrative of best practice governance?

Despite recommendations made by the DMBC Governance Audit Report of the DDC there appears to have been very little  implementation of many of those recommendations around transparency and public engagement, why not?  Why do IDBs appear to continue to resist open and transparent conduct of business funded through the public purse?  It is most unfortunate that the Forum Executive find themselves having to submit another Freedom of Information request via What Do They Know about legal advice around recovery of public funds.  As ever, simply an acknowledgement, indicating a response will be made no later than Friday 13 January 2014!   

Internal Drainage Board membership is made up of DMBC nominees and elected members (generally landowners or often their land agents).  IDBs are Public Bodies and as such regulated and subject to legislative compliance.

* The three Boards which the Forum Executive currently observe are the two mentioned above, that is to say the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, the Black Drain Drainage Board and the Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board.

 

 

‘Moor’ drainage of public funds?

January 15, 2015

Regular readers will be aware that our ‘motto’ Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, is a delightful legacy from the time of the late Stephen Warburton’s involvement with the Forum’s conservation campaigning which causes us to scrutinise the expenditure of public funds amongst other such governance related issues.

Readers may also be aware perhaps that SWW was, and the Forum still is, very involved with trying to hold Public Bodies to account in terms of open and transparent conduct of business.  Last year we reported on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners Governance Audit Report publication, an investigation triggered by a local resident who similarly believed in open and transparent accountability.

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Unfortunately there are now issues where the management service provision of the Doncaster East IDB, that is to say the Shire Group of IDBs are ignoring requests to provide documentation relating to procedural conduct.  The Executive are not seeking advance sight of draft reports, merely information about correct and appropriately authorised expenditure and formally recorded process.

More information and details of our request, which was ignored when submitted to the Board, can be found via the What Do They Know website.

An example of drain side slumping.  Heavy machinery compacted soil and inundation all illustrated here can cause such slumping.

Draining, badgering & harrier (ing) …. ‘moor’ calls for action?

November 24, 2014

DRAINING ….

Readers may recall that the Forum have an interest in the workings and particularly the open and transparent conduct of business by Internal Drainage Boards, public bodies who receive substantive funding through Special Levy collected by the Local Authorities.  Regular readers will also be aware that the Forum’s area of geographic interest is in the main, the peatlands of the Humberhead Levels, principally Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI.

Danvm Drainage Commissioners have recently been subject of a Governance Audit, the published report is hard to locate but to the determined it can be found on the Shire Group of IDBs website through the Danvm Drainage Commissioners page.

Linked to this Audit, an investigation into the modus operandi of the DDC, the Forum have also submitted a follow up Freedom of Information request to DMBC / DDC via the WhatDoTheyKnow website.  A response is advised as 4 December.  On the previous occasion we submitted a request, the refusal to release was five days overtime and further to the response we requested an Internal Review – we have heard nothing since!

The Shire Group of IDBs also provide management services to a number of other ‘Humberhead’ IDBs, including Doncaster East IDB and Black Drain Drainage Board.  Both Danvm DC and Doncaster East IDB were formed through amalgamation of a number of smaller boards in 2012, Black Drain DC is one of the last remaining smaller boards operating in the Humberhead Levels principally funded through the public purse.

The DDC Audit was not as damming perhaps as that which saw the demise of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Drainage Board, but it was a revelation of current practice of a recently formed amalgamation of smaller Boards.

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A Hatfield Chase drainage channel …. debris first noted 28 September, still there despite more recently mown drain sides.  This despite an understanding that there are inspections carried out ahead of regular maintenance works.

Late maintenance can cause slumping.

Late maintenance can cause slumping.

Land worked right up to drain sides, another example of Hatfield Chase ditches.

Land worked right up to drain sides, another example of Hatfield Chase ditches.

BADGERING AWAY STILL ….   

The Badger Trust is still very active, quite rightly in our opinion, with events and activities which are keeping the issue in the public domain.  If you have an interest in the issue and the views of those listed then click on their names and assuming that the technology co-operates you will be taken to a UTube video with some excellent statistics offered in relation to the failure by Defra to undertake science and monitoring to validate the Badger Cull policy.

Chris Packham       Dominic Dyer       Pete Martin     Adrian Coward

The crucial message is that as well as caring people should also DO.  So, as winter draws in and the General Election looms get the pens out or better still a series of emails or start or join a social media campaign and play a part in raising the profile of unecessary and expensive cruel acts devoid of any credible scientific foundation.    The Badger Trust and Birders Against Wildlife Crime  websites are excellent source of ideas.

 

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

The recent badger cull has reputedly cost in the region of £5,200 per badger, they must be moving the goalposts again?  Weren’t we told it would only be a few hundred pounds per animal when OPatz initiated the trial? 

 

Birders Against Wildlife Crime: Recognise, Record, Report‘Eyes in the Field’ Wildlife Crime Conference, Buxton, Derbyshire Saturday 21st March 2015 has an excellent line up of speakers – limited places so get on and book yours.

The call for making wildlife crime a performance measure for the Police will bring resources to the issue.  With the illegal persecution of birds of prey particularly Hen Harriers, it is difficult to gather evidence to secure a prosection so Dr Mark Avery has set up an epetition calling for the Banning of driven grouse shooting which he suggests would be more effective.  It has certainly been a blue touch paper in terms of igniting a concerted effort to raise the profile of nature conservation, long may the debate continue ….

How many will we see in the Humberhead Levels this winter? Image: Tim Melling

How many will we see in the Humberhead Levels this winter?
Image: Tim Melling

Raptor politics, another campaigning website is also a valuable source of information.

In the words of Ghandi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!

Greenblobpride

 

 

What Do They [Doncaster MBC] Know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

November 5, 2014

The Danvm Drainage Commissioners were subject of an Internal Audit of their Governance, the findings were eventually published by Doncaster MBC.  The Report (Ref.: DN-PL-13a-IN-E-DANVM) is not easily located, but the determined can eventually locate it under ‘news‘ on the Shire Group website.  Unfortunately the Shire Group of IDB website does not have a search facility so four clicks are needed to locate it, but that is only if you associate Governance / Audits with ‘news’.

The Executive are still analysing the 26 page document and in the interim have decided to submit another Freedom of Information Request to DMBC via the WhatDoTheyKnow website.  The website indicates that we will receive a response by 4 December.  Mmmh, the last time we submitted an FoI to DMBC, it was five days over its published time limit and still rejected and there has been no investigation as subsequently requested.

The Shire Group website has posted a notice on the DDC section which alerts interested parties that A meeting of the Board will be held 7th November 2014 at Shire Group of IDBs, Epsom House, Malton Way, Adwick le Street, Doncaster DN6 7FE commencing 9.30am”. 

The DDC is a public body and as such members of the public are able to attend the meetings as observers.  It would seem reasonable to assume that the Audit Report will be an agenda item as the Report was issued to the Commissioners on 9 October.  The Meeting Papers for the 7 November (some 60 pages) are available as a download via the DDC ‘news’ page. 

This is the first time that Meeting Papers have been made available from an IDB meeting, past endeavours to obtain Papers have met with resistence, Minutes have eventually been made available months later on the website so the Governance Audit has delivered one improvement thus far ….   As for any others, watch this space ….

 

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A recently engineered drain at Fishlake: part of the Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme.

Is this demonstrable best practice? 

The Danvm Drainage Commissioners & ‘moor’ badgering of politicians needed?

October 30, 2014

Open transparent conduct in public office – is it a thing of the past?

Readers might surmise from a recent post that we are in the process of scrutinising the recently published Danvm Drainage Commissioners Audit – Governance Audit 2014 undertaken by Doncaster MBC, they would be right.  What is interesting in itself is that they [DMBC] are effectively auditing themselves as Local Authorities (including DMBC) appoint the majority of the Commissioners (13 as oppossed to 12 elected members).  How is it that collectively the three Local Authority (Barnsley, Doncaster, Selby & Wakefield) appointees have missed the signs?   This Board is around 85% funded through Special Levy (public taxes).

We will update the blog with our analysis in due course, in the interim here are a few other updates which might be of interest to readers:

1.  On 27 October, MPs voted against tabled ammendments to allow constituents to sack their MPs.  See the 38 degree campaign website for more information and how to act if you feel that as constituents we should have a say.

2.  There are three days to stop investigations into MPs’ expenses being hidden from the public.  The consultation on whether to go ahead with these dodgy plans closes on Sunday.

IPSA, the independent watchdog in charge of MP finances, claims its main duty is to serve the interests of the public, not protect MPs. But so far it’s suggested giving MPs a 10% pay rise. And now it wants to hide when MPs’ expenses are being investigated.

The 2009 expenses scandal destroyed the public’s trust in politicians.  And it was the lack of transparency that led to it. These plans would be a huge step backwards. If we want to prevent MPs abusing expenses, this means keeping every part of expenses in the public eye.  We might be forgiven for asking if it [trust and respect] has yet returned?

IPSA says it wants to hear from the public. So together let’s make sure they know what we think?  Nearly 200,000 people have already signed a petition. If thousands email in now, when they look at the results in a few days’ time, they’ll hear one clear message: don’t make investigations into MPs’ expenses secret.

3.   TTIP is another capitalist ambition which will see us the UK taxpayer foot the bill if corporations are allowed to sue the UK government. The ConDem government are supporting this deal, but do they speak for the public? See the 38 degree website for more information on the issue and how you can act if you are oppossed to the ISDS component particularly.

Why would politicians want to hide facts?  If the expense is legitimate then what have they to hide?  If a trade deal is being negotiated then public interest should be paramount not capitalist profiteering.  Open transparent and principled politics, including at a European and international level ….  we can dream but in the interim we have effectively a two party system with periodic appearance of alternatives which people then fail to embrace for a whole raft of reasons often because they fear the party they don’t want getting in so they vote for the other ‘main’ party.  Until there is a change in legislation which requires politicians to represent their constituents rather than the party then we continue to waste our energy with an outdated and archaic system alledgedly a representative democracy?

 

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

Keep on BADGERING Government ….

Badger Trust disappointed by Court of Appeal decision against ensuring an independent referee. They call on the Secretary of State not to once more move the goalposts.

The Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on Wednesday in the matter of the Badger Trust’s appeal concerning the refusal of the Secretary of State to maintain an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) to oversee the monitoring and analysis of the results from the second year of the pilot culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire.

​The Trust had understood that the Secretary of State had promised that an IEP would oversee the monitoring and analysis of the results of the culls while she was still considering a wider roll out. However, although the IEP had concluded that the first year of the pilot culls had been an abject failure and therefore the Secretary of State rightly decided not to roll out culling more widely, she abandoned the use of an IEP for the second year of the pilot.

​The Trust challenged this decision on the basis that the Secretary of State’s promise amounted to an enforceable legitimate expectation and accordingly any decision to roll out more widely after the second year of the pilots would be unlawful. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, noting that the Government’s policy could be “said to be characterised by a tone of optimism as to the likely success of the pilot scheme in the first year.”

This optimism proved to be totally unfounded given the failure of the first year of the culls to achieve sufficient standards of effectiveness, humaneness and safety, despite the then Secretary of State’s premature announcement to the contrary. While the Trust respects the decision of the Court of Appeal as a matter of law, as a matter of policy, it calls upon the Secretary of State to confirm she will not roll out culls more widely given the failure of the pilot culls.

​Jeff Hayden, Financial Director and the Trust’s lead on the Judicial Review challenge said: “The current Secretary of State rightly has not jumped, as her predecessor did, to a premature conclusion regarding the result of the second year of the culls. However, if the leaked figures regarding effectiveness are correct, then contrary to the suggestions of the National Farmers’ Union, she cannot yet again move the goalposts, particularly when she has refused to have an independent referee.”

​“If the second year of the pilots has not met the standards determined by the Secretary of State, she must acknowledge that the pilots are a failure and culling cannot be rolled out more widely. Instead, DEFRA should commit to rigorous cattle control measures as employed in Wales where a reduction of 48% in bovine TB (bTB) has been achieved during the last five years. The small threat from badgers should be dealt with by vaccination rather than inhumane and ineffective slaughter.”

 

Greenblobpride

 

Whatever it is they [DMBC] know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, they don’t want to tell the public?

August 20, 2014

Readers were reminded on Monday about our Freedom of Information request to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council about an Internal Audit undertaken on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.

P1020692Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme: an example a project promoted by the Dun Drainage Commissioners and later their successors the Danvm DC.

DMBC had failed to comply with its own procedures.  Its own initial acknowledgement indicated a reply would be provided by 15 August, so five days overdue (or three if you accept the WhatDoTheyKnow website advice) and as there was no request for additional time we submitted a request for an Internal Review yesterday ….  today we receive an email update and a response was provided.

The FoI was made 19 July and it has taken until 20 August to “Refusal to Disclose Information” and then the reply describes it as the Danum Drainage Board.  It is now Danvm (note the spelling, a Board decision and one which DMBC were a party to) and they are the Drainage Commissioners, minor points maybe but this kind of inspection and performance is surely about attention to detail?

Notice under Section 17(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE INFORMATION

Decision:

After carefully considering your request, the Council has decided to refuse to disclose the information you have asked for under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Basis for decision:

This law allows us to refuse to disclose information through the Freedom of Information Act process which is “information intended for future publication”. This is called an “exemption”.

Anyway, in short they are not prepared to release the information funded through the public purse until the Clerks to the DDC have seen it first.  The local IDBs including the two ‘super-boards’ are serviced by the Shire-Group of IDBs.  Read the rest of the letter via the WhatDoTheyKnow website here.

Why they cannot also release it to enquirers on the same day is not clear, a sceptic might then be forgiven for thinking  that perhaps then the Clerk and Administrator to the DDC will elect to apply their procedure and to take a further 20 days to provide it – this is open and transparent government?

Internal Drainage Boards have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and some organisations involved in attempting to hold them to account would consider this to be long overdue.  Many receive substantive amounts of public funding by way of Special Levy.  It is only recently that all the Local Authority nominated appointees have begun to attend and take an active part in scrutinising the business and conduct of local IDBs.  The Audit of Accounts 2010 – 2011 of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB Report In the Public Interest makes quite astonishing reading …. is that of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners going to be a variation?

What would, in our opinion, have been prudent ahead of the amalgamations of the smaller localised IDBs in the area would have been thorough audits and appraisals in the public interest, but for some reason there does not appear to be rigorous application of best practice governance in this area.  If we revisit the analysis of the Defra encouraged amalgamations which created two large ‘super-boards’ in this area (Humberhead Levels) then we might be forgiven for asking why Defra the government agency responsible for Land Drainage did not require independent audit of each of the local boards as they were subsumed into the new arrangement?

So, will this DDC Audit Report see the light of day, will it be made available to the public?  Who will be found to be wanting?  Will there be any action if there is found to be any ‘issue(s)’?

Readers might recall the incident where a landowners lawful tenant caused damage to a SSSI on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, neither the Rural Paymants Agency nor Natural England acted to either recover public funds or investigate the impact on the special feature of the SSSI.  Austerity measures introduced across many public services and yet no recovery of public funds where there was clear breach of cross compliance &c.?

 

DMBC What Do They Know about Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

August 18, 2014

Regular readers may recall the post of 20 July when we reported submitting a Freedom of Information request through the website WhatDoTheyKnow.  Well the deadline for a response, according to the website is 18 August.  That’s today …. but I suppose that technically they have until midnight?

DMBC did respond quickly to confirm receipt of the enquiry

Dear Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum

Re: Request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Thank you for your request for information.

Your request has been passed to the Audit department. They will endeavour to search for any information held to provide you with a response as soon as is possible within 20 working days and in any case by the 15th August 2014.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Winn
Finance & Corporate Services,
Customer Services & ICT
Doncaster Council, Civic Office, Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3BU

So, absolutely nothing not even a request to extend the period of search.  What should we do next?  Given that DMBC indicated that we would receive a reply by 15 August, we have requested an internal review of this case and their handling of it.

Many Drainage Boards are archaic in their modus operandi, even those which have ‘modernised’ operate under some interesting governance regimes.  Examples of this can be found in the minutes which are sometimes made available on their websites.  Those for the DDC for example are located in ‘News’, ten sets are available with the earliest available are from 2012.

The Forum’s area of geographic interest is broadly speaking the Humberhead Levels and the Drainage Boards which operate around Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI and the peripheral wetlands include the Doncaster East IDB, the Black Drain DB and the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.  Members of the public are entitled to observe conduct of business by these boards as generally the majority of funding received by the boards is through Special Levy (public funds).

 

Thorne Moors A Botanical Survey …. hot off the press & available now

July 29, 2014

Well, at long last it’s in print!  The first ever checklist of the botanical interest of Thorne Moors.  To Ian McDonald who initiated the project well done, to Paul Buckland as Editor a massive thank you for seeing it through the process and into print!  Many have extended blood, sweat and in all probibility a few tears over this mammoth undertaking but it is now to others to judge ‘a book not by its cover but its content’?

A considerable tome, some 265 pages many in colour with some superb photographs of the flora (including the bryophytes) and habitats found on Thorne Moors NNR — a bargain at only a tenner!  That price is thanks to financial support from JBA Trust and Natural England and the Forum Executive deciding to make this publication more readily accessible to students, researchers and local community at an affordable price.

Copies can be obtained by sending a cheque made payable to Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum for either £15.75 (first class post) or £14.10 (second class post) to Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum (TMABS) PO Box 879, Thorne, Doncaster, DN8 5WU.  Copies will be sent in Mail Lite padded bags through the Royal Mail small parcel system.  We will acknowledge receipt of orders & payment and upon diaptch will obtain a proof of postage, if potential purchasers require a ‘signed for’ or ‘special delivery’ service then please contact execsec@thmcf.org to make the necessary arrangements.

TMABS front scan

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that the Forum submitted a FoI request in respect of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.   To update readers that Doncaster MBC has acknowledged receipt of our request for a copy of the DDC Audit Report.  Interestingly the notification asks you to update the status of the enquiry to indicate if the response contained useful information.  The reply was an acknowledgement of the enquiry, certainly not what we’d describe as a response, that will come in due course or more precisely “within 20 working days and in any case by the 15th August 2014”.

Readers can subscribe via WhatDoTheyKnow and follow the enquiry and already we have one such follower.

 

DMBC What Do They Know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

July 20, 2014

Readers may recall Forum involvement with a Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme around Fishlake, a delightful rural hamlet amidst a once much more substantive pastoral landscape.  It is sad to report that over the last couple of decades it has been evolving into an agri-industrialised landscape which has lost many hedgerows, dew ponds and other wildlife friendly corners as every inch is maximised for commercial return.  As smaller family farms struggle to survive many are forced to quit and they become subsumed into larger more economically viable units.

The Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme was promoted through the Danvm Drainage Commissioners and funded through the Coal Authority.

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Massively engineered drainage channels, missing wildlife friendly options are increasingly a feature of the agricultural landscape of today.

The Forum presented a case that this scheme was excessive in terms of loss of ancient hedgerows and as a result of local lobbying the scheme was amended slightly and less hedgerow lost.  What was not fully explored at the time, in our opinion, was a detailed cost benefit analysis in terms of public funds.

Internal Drainage Boards, archaic institutions whose membership comprises landowners (generally agricultural interests in this area) and Local Authority appointees.  In recent years many of the smaller Boards have amalgamated and the areas now covered are considerable in terms of acreage, or perhaps one should convert to the metric unit hectare.

There are three local Boards which the Forum take particular interest in are Black Drain DB, Danvm Drainage Commissioners and Doncaster East IDB.

Members of the public, the special levy payer are entitled to attend Board meetings as observers.  In recent years some of the Board papers have become public documents and some are available on the Shire Group of IDBs website.

WhatDoTheyKnow is a tool whereby members of the public can request information from statutory agencies and authorities.  The Forum has made such a request of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in the matter of the recent Audit of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.  Click here to see that request and follow its progress by subscribing to the website updates.

We are not anticipating that DMBC will release the Audit Report as we understand that there are issues around its findings, but we will keep readers posted of developments.

As an independent observer in some of these meetings I have heard more than once the reminder that IDBs must modernise and demonstrate public benefit, the shadow of  Caldicot & Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board Audit (2010 – 11)  hangs heavily in the background and as a reminder of accountability.

This report is issued in the public interest under Section 22 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004. I have issued this report to draw the public’s attention to a failure in governance arrangements and inadequacies in management and internal control at Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board. As a result of such failures the Drainage Board has, in my view, acted unlawfully on occasions.

I have concluded that the Drainage Board has not been governed and managed effectively for a number of years. I found that its governance framework was inadequate and some elements I would have expected to find within a robust governance framework were absent.

The findings of the above report might be somewhat astonishing, particularly to the public ?  Even now, to anyone trying to understand the complexities which still operate and who witness the conduct of members of these Boards, it is clear that there is still a way to go in terms of accountability and modernisation?  Hats of to those who have triggered the DDC Audit and here’s to reading the report in due course.

Democracy, accountability and Internal Drainage Boards ….

November 8, 2013

For over three hours this morning ‘democracy in action’ was observed.  The Danvm Drainage Commissioners held their annual meeting.

The public contribution in terms of funding this board’s operation is around 87%, but …. elected members have 12 seats and local authority appointments 13.

Quite a few of the nominated council representatives were missing despite the significance of the meeting.   The chair was appointed from the elected members and the vice chair is a Selby councillor.

It is astonishing to witness the conduct of business, people can nominate themselves and they can vote for themselves!  Only recently have conflicts of interest been recognised and members do now occasionally ‘declare an interest’ however they very rarely explain what that amounts to.  Today witnessed a worrying lack of understanding of legaslative requirements and a reluctance by some to comply with them particularly the environmental regulations.

The Danvm Drainage Commissioners like other local boards operating in the Humberhead Levels has been the subject of amalgamation (four smaller boards into a single one).  Representatives from the four local authorities of Doncaster, Selby, Barnsley and Wakefield attend.  Other members include individuals from the agri-industry sector and as large landowners beneficiaries from the pump drainage of the low lying lands in the district.

Numerous governments in recent times have sought to modernise these archaic institutions and whose rules by which they operate seem steeped in feudal and manorial history and tradition.  It is only in the last year or so that the minutes of some of the meetings have been made available.  Previously special arrangements had to be made to inspect documents in IDB offices which was not always easy.  On a positive note, the public are also now allowed to observe proceedings.  There were three members of the public at the DDC meeting, so here’s to more people taking a close interest in the activities of such Public Bodies.

Ahead of the normal business members were treated to a presentation by the Deputy Director of Doncaster MBCs Legal Services.  He explained that whilst he had not investigated the complaints made against the DDC in detail he did consider them to have some substance particularly in terms of board governance and quality of decisions.  In terms of effective governance it seemed that there might have been a situation where accusations of ultra vires had been levelled and this had yet to be resolved?  The officer took the members present through the Nolan Principles as they are the rules by which Public Bodies are expected to operate.  Members were also reminded of the outcome of investigations into the Caldicot and Wentloodge Levels IDB (audit of accounts 2010-11).  An astonishing state of affairs and almost unbelivable in the 21st Century?  See the BBC reporting of proceedings here via Democracy Live.  We understand that the C&WLIDB is no more, instead its functions and responsibilities have been transferred to Natural Resources Wales.

Has the time come for a variation to be conducted across the English boards?

It is clear that the land owners around the Humberhead Levels favour regular heavy maintenance of the smaller dikes to prevent local ponding or standing water whilst the local authorities and coal board representatives have concerns about flood allieviation and the protection of property function.

With limited income there has to be prioritisation and a balance between people, flood risk and farmland has to be achieved particularly as the public through the taxation system are by far the largest contributor.  Transparency in the public interest and open conduct of business unless good reason was called for was sought by the legal services officer.  A review of the complaints system, production of policies oustanding or missing should be undertaken.

There has been a degree of ‘modernisation’ over the last year or so but there is still a way to go.

The other IDBs who  operate in the Humberhead Levels and who the Forum observe the operations of are Black Drain (a small group retaining independence and not having amalgamated), the Doncaster East IDB (another relatively recent amalgamation of six smaller boards), Goole Fields and Reedness and Swinefleet IDBs.

Tween Bridge and Hatfield Chase board areas abut the peat bodies of Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI and their operations have the potential to impact upon the integrity of the Natura 2000 sites and these two boards were amalgamated into the Doncaster East IDB.

DDC are the supporting drainage board for the Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme which is now being implemented, the images shown illustrate the major engineering works currently being undertaken.  This scheme (previously reported in earlier posts) initially sought to remove nearly 1 km of ancient hedgerow and a number of mature trees.  Neither the Environment  Agency nor Natural England objected to that substantive loss of biodiversity.  However the Inspector found that the Forum’s argument had merit and we understand only 150m is now scheduled to be removed ….

P1020691

P1020692

A length of new drain cut alongside a biodiversity rich hedgerow and in an area of Fishlake known to support populations of rare and uncommon plants.  Despite assurances that drains would be engineered in such a way to benefit wildlife, these clearly followed the tradition of deep, steep with no shelf.  ADA and NE collaborated to produce The Drainage Channel Biodiversity Manual, (2008) but there seems no evidence of take up in the Fishlake drainage board area despite the area being flagged as an important biodiversity and landscape area by DMBC.  Another documents which assists understanding in terms of biodiversity duties include Guidance for Public Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty.  (2007)  Another succinct resume of duty has been produced by the Water Management Alliance and IDB members would do well to read the two page summary Nature Conservation Responsibilities of Internal Drainage Boards. 

IDBs derive their powers from the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended 1994) and where is clear in that it requires IDBs to “further the conservation” …. and this applies to land immaterial of any conservation designation attached to it.

P1020695

It is unclear why hedgerow has been removed from this stretch alongside the road.  The new drain can be seen at the back and the layer of sand with clay beneath is clearly visible.

As energy costs rise substantially the pumped drainage of this low lying area will become increasingly expensive (an estimate of 15% was mentioned at the meeting) then tax payers through the local authority representatives might begin to question who should receive the benefit.  Clearly there is a responsibility in regard of flood alleviation and protection of property but should agriculture receive additional funds through ‘subsidised’ drainage where there is no demonstrable public benefit?

Black Drain and Doncaster East IDBs are both scheduled to hold meetings next week, so …. watch this space?

Fishlake’s ever diminishing wildlife habitats

July 10, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite there being no threat of flooding or damage to property, in otherwords an over riding public interest requirement, routine management was carried out mid season and threatened rare species such as Stone Parsley.  A species known only from very few areas of South Yorkshire with the parishes of Fishlake and Sykehouse being regarded as the remaining haven for this very rare species considered by Wilmore et. al. (2011)* to be at its northern limit here in South Yorkshire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Sison amomum is a species of unimproved grasslands, hedgerows and verges and sadly is a declining species as areas are drained and improved for agriculture.   Like so many wildflowers once familiar across the countryside it is a casualty of ‘improvement’ and no amount of biodiversity building projects sees its return to lost habitats.  The connectivity and corridors described in Making Space for Nature don’t seem to have reached the Humberhead Levels despite various schemes to ‘Improve’ its Area for Nature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

We’ve reported on various occurences of hedgerow losses in the pastoral parishes around the village of Fishlake.  The most recent incident relates to management of wildflower verges by Internal Drainage Boards.  These Public Bodies have a duty under legislation to further biodiversity, not to destroy it.  These photographs which accompanied a complaint to the Danvm Drainage Commissioners illustrate the inappropriate management undertaken recently.  Apologies were offered to the complainant but campaigners might be forgiven for considering them empty and meaningless following assurances earlier in the year that a proper management regime had been produced by their professional ecologist.  A shame that there was yet another break down in communication which sadly re-enforces the view that n’owt changes on the ground and the carnage continues.

We had been hoping to post an update on the DMBC investigations involving unauthorised hedgerow removal, sadly no news yet but watch this space for updates.

We are also awaiting replies from Defra about the decission to accept proposals by the Danvm Drainage Commissioners to proceed with a hedgerow removal contra, in the view of the Executive and its legal advisors, to the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 and the Hatfield Thorne Fishlake Inclosure Award of 1825.  It is interesting to note that Defra did, in their decission notification advise the DDC to take legal advice themselves but it appears that they are relying upon a third party opinion rather than safeguarding the Board Membership which includes elected representatives (49% of vote for a 13% financial contribution) and special levy (taxpayers) Council appointments (51 % of vote for an 87% financial contribution).  Watch this space for updates as they become available.

* South Yorkshire Plant Atlas published by the YNU & YHEDT.

Follow the Forum’s FoI to Defra on hedgerow matters?

June 9, 2013

Some of you following this blog will be aware that as well as recording, surveying and monitoring the amazing natural history interest of the Humberhead Levels, the Forum has and will on occasions, when its Executive deem it necessary, take a ‘campaigning stance’ in such matters as hedgerow damage or removal.

We are currently awaiting responses to enquiries regarding alleged illegal removal of Enclosure Award hedgerows in the Parish of Fishlake.  Doncaster MBC as the local  planning authority are the ‘appropriate authority’ in this case.

P1010994

 

The Executive is also in correspondence with DEFRA about the procedure applied to an application for a drainage scheme in the same parish which would have seen nearly a kilometre of species rich ancient hedgerow removed along with substantive mature oak trees.  This scheme was only modified as a result of local challenge but it still seeks to destroy around 150 metres of ancient hedgerow.  Should we regard the saving over 800 metres as success and walk away?

The scheme was submitted by the local Danvm Drainage Commissioners (DDC) under Environmental Impact Assessment (Land Drainage Improvement Works) Regulations 1999 (as amended) (‘the Regulations’).  However, in the opinion of the Forum’s Executive and others the scheme failed to take due account of the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 and the Hatfield Thorne and Fishlake Enclosure Award of 1825 and its enabling Acts of 1801 and 1811.  Defra based its decision on EIA Regulations but pointed out to the DDC the existence of other extant legislation.

So, look up our questions here and here and follow progress, the deadline for the Defra response is 5 July.  Whilst not actually part of the current casework per se and described herein they do relate to the wider issue of erosion of environmental protection and accountability and they are research which will inform another ‘project’ which is currently at development stage.

Does it matter that the landscape character of the district continues to be changed from pastoral to agri-industrialised prairie scapes more akin to that of the neighbouring flatlands that can be seen as you travel north from Fishlake along the M62 and look eastwards?  Should developers and advocates of ‘improvements’ be bound by legislation or regulations?

P1020004

 

We reported on the State of Nature report recently, farmland losses are discussed and larger fields have had a significant impact on the loss of natural field boundaries, that is to say hedgerows which make a significant contribution to that biodiversity mass and hedgerows can act as corridors for colonisation further afield.   But,  despite protection and regulations governing hedgerow removal there are still those who seek to act out-with procedures and regulations.

Does it matter?  Are the pastoral landscapes doomed to be fondly described as a thing of the past, lowland haymeadows awash with a fabulous flora and associated invertebrate assemblage all but childhood memories consigned to natural historians academically penned obituaries in colourful tomes such as the just published Meadows by George Peterken (British Wildlife Publishing), no mention in there of Doncaster’s fritillaries, goldilocks or other such rarities still hanging on in forgotten corners.

 

120610 Rhinanthus  Sykehouse RM hrk 996

 


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Mark Avery

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

a new nature blog

I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

UK and Ireland Natural History Bloggers

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