Posts Tagged ‘defra’

Recent events, forget illegality let’s go for conflict resolution?

September 16, 2016

Day two of the Sheffield ‘Raptor’ Conference.  With apologies for the delay in this posting, in part caused by another exciting invertebrate discovery in the Humberhead Levels, more on that in due course!

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The Workstation and Showroom in Sheffield were the venue for the recent two day Raptor Conference.

It’s human nature perhaps to focus on one or perhaps two aspects of a problem?  As someone who was aware of raptor persecution, upland management issues around damage to peat through burning, increased run off potentially increasing flood risk downstream, increased costs associated with water quality, increased home and business insurance etc. I can appreciate the complexities, I can see a need for calm and considered discussion and solutions through consensus.

Where I struggle is the entrenched views that land ownership and land management for private benefit from the public purse should continue.  Public funds, and we are told every public service is facing continued cuts, then surely there is a need to evaluate returns on expenditure?

There are other websites now who have provided analysis of the presentations at the conference, Raptor Persecution UK have intermittently provided transcripts from some of the presentations.  These provide a useful resource to compare other reports elsewhere, which might be perceived as selective or subjective.  For sure, the conference has been applauded and admonished in equal measure.  What it did do was keep the debate about upland moorland management in the public arena and that can only be good as Government start to consider where ‘subsidies’ will be provided post Brexit and CAP ‘support’?

Speakers included Rhodri Thomas (Peak District National Park), Barry O’Donoghue (Eire National Parks & Wildlife Service), Tim Baynes (Scottish Land & Estates), Sonja Ludwig (Langholm Project) and Alan Fielding (contributor to the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework still to be published by Defra).

In terms of the introduction of Vicarious Liability in Scotland*,it transpires that SLE ‘did a lot of the work to put it in place’ in Scotland.  The first case involved a landowner who was not aware that the law had changed but in fairness the speaker did acknowledge that ‘ignorance is no excuse’.  Might the issue have been one of communication?  Who should have undertaken communication?  The Scottish Government certainly but Estates have a trade body so it would be strange if that trade body did not alert its membership and indeed the wider audience?  The introduction of VL in England is an option, it is unlikely to solve illegal persecution of raptors on sporting estates but it might be a measure which sends a signal that this Government is no longer prepared to tolerate increasing levels of wildlife crime?  *It [VL] is not available in England.

It was fascinating to hear an appeal for anecdotal science to be taken into account, an attempt was made to persuade the audience that land managers views should be regarded as valuable social science.  One couldn’t help but wonder if this was because some of the shooters ‘science’ had been found wanting?

Why are we still waiting for the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework update (previous was published in 2011)?  Fielding suggested that the numbers to be reported would be lower than anticipated.  He further tried to suggest that there was insufficient understanding of Hen Harrier ecology, something challenged by some of the audience.  Whilst all would probably accept the need for ongoing study it is evident that ‘conflict resolution’ has failed because the numbers continue to decline?  Those promoting themselves as being able to ‘fix it’ because they already have landowners ‘signed up’.  If public funds are to be used in any re-introduction in the south, or ‘brood management’ trials (supposedly when ‘a threshold’ of  breeding success has been reached then it seems reasonable to assume that any commission will be awarded through the usual open tender process?  There is also a potential conflict of interest for Natural England to consider as they would be responsible for the issuing of licenses, how would the support for the buzzard cull to protect commercial pheasant shoot be reconciled given the interests of commercial Red Grouse shooting?  Credibility might be an issue where they are pressured to co-operate with developers and land owners yet they are reputedly responsible for safeguarding protected species?

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Pause for thought along the route back to the car park, reason or radical measures?

Who will be the voice of reason and passion when he goes? Without agenda, personal gain, or fame? Just nature.

David Attenborough bringing the wild into heart of Sheffield. I’d love to hear his reasoned voice in grouse debate.

Reasoned voices have witnessed continued decline, conflict resolution has failed so what is the solution?  There is passion, passion and drive has brought debate and a raised profile of the associated issues, well done to all involved in the delivery of the Sheffield Raptors Conference.

If readers haven’t already signed the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting then they might consider doing so?  See also the series of short informative videos on “The Real Price of Grouse”.

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Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands – Land Management & Issues

September 9, 2016

Day One of the Sheffield Conference “Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands – Land Management & Issues” yielded an interesting selection of quotes across a range of speakers.

It has to be said that there was certainly selective quotes used by some to try to further their particular case(s), but ever the case when politics enters the arena at the expense of robust facts?  There were plenty of placatory sound bytes but also some excellent talks based on studies, so a collection of thought provoking offerings.  Tomorrow promises more but in the interim dear readers could you match the quotes to the speakers?

Day One speakers are listed at the bottom of this post.  Please note that I have not provided a quote from each, some speakers have more than one quote offered here and not all speakers are quoted.  Answers to execsec@thmcf.org 

“Love these moors with a passion”:  A member of the RSPB and who recognised the work of Moors for the future on the most degraded moorland [locally].  Mentioned the RSPBs withdrawal from the Hen Harrier Action Plan.  That the challenge is clear now and that whilst politicians prefer consensus, grouse shooting is now in the ‘last chance saloon’ and a precursor to any compromise is that the illegal killing has to stop.

Chris Packham was described as “talking out of his a**e” because of his view that it’s about the science.

“A junior keeper acting on his own” [referring to a recent pole trap incident].

“It was an utter disgrace” and “it really is despicable” [reference to illegal activity].

“Everything done to date had not produced anything” [reference to the decades of seeking consensus and compromise].

Referring to the southern re-introduction “sourced birds would not be from northern England but European and the programme would follow IUCN guidelines”.  

“Government has made it clear that it will not ban it [DGS], or licence it, but it will back the  Defra six point plan”.

“It’s a trial, [but only] when the threshold is reached”.

I did ask the Natural England representative (Policy) later what that threshold was, but …. guess what, so watch this space perhaps?

“A lot of moorland land managers are signed up all ready to be receptor moors, many would be honoured to have hen harriers on their land”.

Paid tribute to Mark Avery’s “Juggernaut”.

“Scotland are ahead of England as they have Vicarious Liability”.

“Vicarious Liability has so far not been allowed in England”. 

The fact that the Minister refusing to consider this option was himself a grouse moor owner might have been a factor in this issue?

Day One speakers:

Angela Smith MP, Steve Redpath (Uni. of Aberdeen), Stephen Murphy (NE), Adrian Jowitt (NE), Philip Merricks (H&OT), Pat Thompson (RSPB), Adam Smith (GWCT), Alan Charles (former Derbyshire PCC) and Mark Avery (Inglorious).

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Who should get the right to kill this?  A Hen Harrier to feed its young or shooters for a hobby?  Image (with permission): Tim Melling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First there was Brexit, now it’s Clexit?

August 10, 2016

Political agendas with a little p seem to be gathering traction since the UK voted to leave ‘Europe’?

Principally promoted by business who sought to divest regulation and constraints for an open market where trade deals would be easy and of course the UK tax payer would still be expected to subsidise private businesses (agri-industry, banking, pharmaceutical research etc.)?

There is now a group Clexit recently established – well, perhaps they’ve existed previously, but have now gone ‘public’?

According to Michael Gove MP (lead Brexit campaigner) and repeated by Dana Nuccitella, people in this country have had enough of experts.  Interestingly there are no statistics offered to support this, nor a study or report cited, so is this Ministerial spin?  Do politicians really believe what their script writers say?

Clexit calls for withdrawal from climate treaties, rejects the conclusions of 97% of climate science experts and 95% of economics experts.

So much for government saying policies would be evidence based?

People new to conservation campaigning ably capture the mood and the momentum which is gaining pace as we head towards the “notsoglorious 12th”.  Entry Level Naturalist, met Iolo Williams at her first ever HHD and little wonder she’s now engaged?

The 38 degree petition “BBC – Don’t sack Chris Packham” steadily gains support as the word spreads that the popular conservationist appears to be in the Countryside Alliance and shooter’s sights?  As this post goes to press the petition has in excess of 19,000 signatures in just three days.

Readers might recall that in June this year the National Trust served notice that the current shooting leases at Hope Woodlands and Park Hall in Derbyshire will end in April 2018.  This is a brave step and one which we must congratulate the NT under Dame Helen Ghosh‘s leadership.

That is an excellent start and we noticed recently that a local group, Friends of Derbyshire Moorlands have now acted in the interests of two other areas which are managed for grouse shooting benefit, perhaps you might take the time to read and consider their case, “No moor management for grouse-shooting on two National Trust estates in Derbyshire“?

Other petitions of potential interest:

Suspend Natural England licence to kill buzzards.  7,437 – approaching the level which requires a response from the relevant government department, yes….  Defra again!  Curiously it is Therese Coffey MP whose constituency which leads the petition in terms of contributing signatories, close behind is the ex-Defra Minister Rory Stewart’s constituency with Ian Liddell-Grainger MP a close third.  Can we help to boost the Humberhead Levels support?

Ban driven grouse shooting.  82,296 as we approach the “notsoglorious 12th” wouldn’t it be ironic if it were to reach the magic 100k on that date?  Realistically the following week – and just imagine the cheer going up from Rutland Water (Birdfair) if that were announced over the PA system?

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Please, readers let us know if there are any online petitions you think are worth while supporting and promoting through this blog?  Please bear in mind the aims and objectives of the Forum and relevant subject matter.

 

Defra; a disgrace?

August 6, 2016

Defra; a disgrace?

Many blog posts have been written by far more erudite scribes than I about the role and remit of the government department responsible for nature conservation.  Defra are also responsible for agriculture.  Some might see those two aspects as incompatible, others would seek the ideal where they work together for the best interests of the environment and the public interest.

Other examples of Defra failing to heed the public mood were the ‘forest sell off’ and particularly the debacle that was and continues to be the badger cull.  The science has been challenged, the significant costs are met from the public purse (estimated to be in the region of £6,775 per animal, with the BBC reporting in September 2015 that the cost had reached £16m) and yet appear to have made little impact?   Irrespective of robust science the new Minister is to carry on regardless?

The Hen Harrier [In]Action Plan and the associated failures to uphold the law in regard to illegal raptor persecution could be offered as another failure?  Its last thread of credibility was surely lost when the RSPB withdrew support for it?  Land management issues relating to the uplands where sporting interests receive public funds  and where management is reported to exacerbate flooding, water quality etc. is surely something which needs closer scrutiny?

We now have a situation where Natural England have granted a licence for a shooting estate to cull (up to 10) buzzards.  It is unlikely to come as any surprise to regular readers to be made aware of an epetition on the Parliament UK website calling for the suspension of that licence?  Background information on the matter can be found here along with some 175 comments!  Some readers will recall that back in 2012 a ‘trial’ was proposed, a subsequent public outcry saw a u-turn.

Patrick Barkham expresses a view on The Guardian’s website (444 comments) “With business interests being prioritised over wild birds, a deadly precedent has been set. The natural world is under assault and needs all our help”.  Sadly I don’t think business interest is restricted to avifauna but anything environmental which has the potential to impact upon the bottom line of their balance sheets?  However, we remain agnostics ….

Natural England is a Public Body and as such accountable to its public paymasters, but they have refused to release information so have failed the transparency test?  This sounds oh so familiar, it is a repeat of the badger cull saga.  It gives the public no faith in them as an agency of government, but then are government using them as a shield for the Ministers?

If pheasant shooting is seen as important then it seems reasonable that the thousands of birds adorning road side verges or mangled on busy roads should be ‘accountable’?  Such losses would form part of a ‘risk assessment’ and as such then they might be insured?  They are reared as a business enterprise, so if they cause damage or worse to motorists and passengers then it seems only reasonable and fair that their owner is accountable and claims allowed against them?
Dogs are now chipped and if they attack people then their owners face prosecution, pheasants can be ringed or tagged and ownership traced.  Other livestock reared as a business have ‘passports’ in order to track and trace their movements.  Why not game birds raised as a business enterprise?  As we understand the present situation they are deemed to be wild birds once released from their rearing pens.  How can this artificially high population be regarded as wild birds?  To then seek dispensation to maintain that artificially high population by culling birds of prey is reminiscent of a bygone era and Barkham provides interesting background around how one high court judge has caused British wildlife fear for its future.
So, if you like Barkham and others believe that this is the thin end of the wedge and will set a precedent then please consider signing Philippa Storey‘s epetition

Suspend Natural England licence to kill buzzards.

RSPB withdraws support for the Hen Harrier Action Plan!

July 25, 2016

There are various opinions as to why the RSPB supported the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan in the first place and now there are a number of assessments as to the very public withdrawl from it.

Irrespective of the reasoning for either scenario, they may well have, at a very fortuitous point in the calendar dealt a considerable blow to the new politicians at Defra?  Erudite as ever, Avery ponders Ms Coffey’s capability to pick up the pieces left by her departing colleagues.  He reminds us that as Ms Truss departed Defra she rejected the findings of the Lead Ammunition Group and it is certainly worth readers recapping on that ‘saga’ and easy enough to by using the links provided in Avery’s blog posts on the various ‘chapters’ which can be found via the menu on the right hand side of his blog under the heading ‘Lead’.  He also asks us to remember the speech by Theresa May about being on the side of the many rather than the powerful few? Here’s your chance to live up to those fine words. [May et. al.]

Martin Harper suggests that by their withdrawing support licensing is the only viable option.  Many conservationists never believed the [In]Action Plan had any chance of success, despite as Harper writes the RSPB played a full part in the production of Defra’s Hen Harrier Action Plan and despite disagreeing with certain points (notably brood management), welcomed its publication earlier this year.  The RSPB appears to be supporting licensing despite many believing and providing some case studies as to why it is unlikely to work.  Are they following the previous model …. “I’m generally very patient.  My natural preference is to build partnerships and work to make positive change from the inside with those who want to abide by the law and deliver progress.”  Laudable but the decline continues apace for the magnificent Hen Harrier and other raptors.

But, let’s celebrate this announcement and let’s keep the momentum up that this carnage in the uplands must stop.

Please spread the word, persuade friends, family , work colleagues and anyone who loves wild places and wild things to join Avery, Packham, Oddie et. al. to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting.

See other assessments of today’s announcement

RSPB humming Shania Twain

RSPB walks away from Hen Harrier Action Plan

And from the metaphoric horse’s mouth, via Martin Harper’s blog:

Why the RSPB is withdrawing support for the Hen Harrier Action Plan

Another useful site to offer friends in order that they can understand some of the background which has brought us to the current situation is Raptors Alive UK

For more information on events and gatherings this year across the country see details via HHD

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking News ….hope for Hen Harriers?

June 10, 2016
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Image: Tim Melling

We are delighted to report that the National Trust have evoked a break clause in a tenancy agreement and have given notice on a lease for driven grouse shooting in the Peak District National Park.

So, to borrow Raptor Persecution UKs words, the NT have gone from “zero to hero”.

The lease will terminate in 2018, some 22 months hence.  But, let Raptor Persecution UK, BAWC, Mark Avery, Chris Packaham and so many others who resolutely refuse to be intimidated enjoy the well deserved victory.  It is worth reading the comments on the post via the link below.

For more details on the story see Raptor Persecution UK post https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/national-trust-pulls-grouse-shooting-lease-in-peak-district-national-park/#comments

See also Raptor Politics

http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2016/06/10/national-trust-give-notice-to-rescind-grouse-shooting-lease-after-gamekeeper-deployed-decoy-hen-harrier-in-peak-district/

Other comments will be available on other websites such as that of the Moorland Association.

This story is sure to run, will the notice be challenged?  Will the BBC and other media cover the story? Watch this space as well the key campaigners websites.

Avery’s Ban Driven Grouse Shooting epetition is now at 41,216 – let’s keep pushing it to that all important 100,000 that will see Politicians ‘consider’ discussing it in Parliament.  Defra did eventually issue a response to the petition quite some time after it passed the 10,000 mark.  See the link below for that statement, the constituency map and to sign the petition

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

Apologies that we’ve had to include lengthy links but for some inexplicable reason the usual link option is not available …. now if one were minded towards conspiracy theories ….

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Diversions & Defra odds & sods….

April 17, 2016

This delightful Wheatear, recently arrived with us from Africa along with the other Spring migrants such as Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows already with us is looking a little puzzled perhaps?  Not quite sure which way to go but happy to have found a refueling station extremely rich in high quality Humberhead protein.

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Buddleia is often found high on buildings but this Yew takes some beating for tenacity and resilience – how much longer it will be able to reside on Periplaneta’s roof is another matter.

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‘Moor grousing’?

Thanks to readers who have signed the epetition to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting posted by Dr Mark Avery on the Government website.  It has long since passed the 10,000 signature requirement to receive a response from the appropriate Government Department.  Defra have missed the target (no pun intended) and we’ve all been Waiting for 24 days for a government response”.  In the interim, momentum is propelling the epetition to the target when we are told “At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament”.  Call me a skeptic but as ever there’s a caveat in that piece of ‘information’?  Just in case readers and are still considering the issues then if the loss of that fabulous ‘silver ghost’ from our local moors each winter isn’t sufficient motivation consider the land management issues and impact on flooding and water quality?  This evening signatories approach 28k so come on let’s help keep the momentum for change going ….

The Humberhead constituencies have provided, to date:

Brigg & Goole (Andrew Percy) 41.  Don Valley (Caroline Flint) 27.  Doncaster Central (Rosie Winterton) 25.  Doncaster North (Ed Miliband) 18.  Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) 17.

Another epetition on an equally contentious issue and discussed widely is Ban toxic lead ammunition. This epetition is similarly posted on the Government website by Rob Sheldon and has received support from a wide range of conservation NGOs.  It is underpinned by peer reviewed evidence and reported on by Mark Avery amongst others.  As far as we are aware the findings of the Lead Ammunition Group are still to be published, one might question why we are still waiting?  We have asked Ms Truss and received the anticipated excuses, that is to say it is not for Defra to publish the LAG Report but for the Group to ….. See the Lead Ammunition Group website, last updated July 2015.

The Humberhead constituencies have provided, to date:

Brigg & Goole (Andrew Percy) 29.  Don Valley (Caroline Flint) 21.  Doncaster Central (Rosie Winterton) 15.  Doncaster North (Ed Miliband) 18.  Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) 14.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BBC, badgers & tall stories?

March 2, 2016

Well, first of all the NFU so no real surprise there, then Defra whose failure to secure robust science on the issue and similar blinkered approach and stance on the [In]action in the uplands to safeguard raptors and most noticably the Hen Harrier but now it’s the turn of the BBC?

As license fee payers it would seem entirely reasonable to expect a balanced view of any topic aired?  Where there is robust science then it might be expected that this be put forward as part of any discussion?

The Ecologist’s headline Tall stories: BBC’s anti-science support for badger culling asks some awkward questions and these are then picked up by the Badger Trust who encourage members of the public to watch the first programme of the series Land of Hope and GloryLand of Hope and Glory to be broadcast this Friday (4 March) on BBC 2 at 9pm.

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Poor brock: a scapegoat for poor bio-security or a villan?

The Badger Trust  plan to write an open letter to the Director General of the BBC, Lord Hall, on Monday after the programme has been broadcast.  They also invite their members, supporters and the public to join them in highlighting their concerns through social media, so if you  share concerns then use the hashtag #bbcbias to deliver alternatives to the approach taken by the BBC.  They will be sending out a list of tweets that can be used throughout the day.

It is a shame, if the early indications of bias by the BBC are true, because such acts of demonstrable and one sided bias simply serve to indicate that the Corporation are out of touch and knowledgeable viewers then see the ‘brand’ as unreliable?  If it favours a particular group with bovine TB then where else has it failed in its reporting or investigations?  A topical ‘discussion’ at the moment given the recent revelations documented in Dame Janet’s investigation?  Equally of concern is that it does nothing to help the farmers case when people in possession of an understanding of the complexities and the science but who also have a love of badgers and of Somerset Brie?  What wins?

So let’s all of us watch on Friday evening, Land of hope and glory?  We can then decide for ourselves if the BBC offers balance or bias?  We can then consider what next we might each do or not?

Remember that  Hope was a Hen Harrier and ‘Inglorious’ an excellent expose, and a balanced one, of the ‘Conflicts in the uplands’ brought about by the management regimes designed to create habitat for Red Grouse. This management bias is to the detriment of some other wildlife and water management, in terms of quality for drinking and flood alleviation.

 

 

  

‘moor’ about?

February 19, 2016

The sun was shining, the skies were blue and the wilderness beckoned again, so Thursday saw another visit to a very wet landscape.  Dressing like an ‘onion’ with three pairs of socks easily kept the cold at bay.

A pair of delightful dumpy Stonechats were the first good birds of the day, colourful gems on a winter’s day.160218 Stonechat hrk 309

Feeding at the edge of the track and returning to a perch before repeating the exercise again an indication perhaps that there was plenty of suitable food for these seasonal specials.  Their ‘tchack’ call, reminiscent of stones being hit together, was heard frequently as the two birds worked their patch for food.  Stonechats are omnivorous and will search out seed and invertebrates both of which appear plentiful at the moment and is no doubt contributing much needed fuel for these delightful chats, with up to eight birds being logged on Thorne Moors recently.

The Marsh Harriers, two males quartered the moor flushing wildfowl and pheasant in their quest for smaller quarry.  A stunning Short-eared Owl appearing as the light waned, working the western periphery for small mammals able to escape the wet and relocate on the drier balks.

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Big skies, space to breath but just about every point of the compass is seeing the ring of steel tighten and destroy the atmospheric vista?  Conversely these metal monsters were ‘sold’ as a tourist attraction to which people would flock to see such iconic structures …. not forgetting the marketing spin of wind energy being free ?

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There is much discussion about an early season with the Blackthorn in flower already.  The first adders have been seen on both Hatfield and Thorne Moors, 10 February so ten days earlier than last year!  How long before we hear the first Chiffchaff and see the first Sand Martin, two of the early migrants?

Will the ‘silver ghosts’ who have graced our local lowland moors this winter return to their upland breeding moors and be able to successfully fledge young birds into the declining English population?  Whilst the politicians postulate the pros and cons of the UK remaining in the European Union, will 2016 see an outcome to the RSPBs complaint to the European Commission about the damage on Walshaw Moor?  The case is not just about Hen Harriers, but about management of upland moors and we might also remember that they are now extremely topical for their role in flood alleviation?

In the interim, let’s carry on enjoying the magic that the Hen Harrier brings on a cold winters day when, if we put in the hours scanning the far horizon and the extensive reed beds we can be rewarded with a glimpse of a charismatic bird who can for the winter months at least enjoy a safe haven here with us.  Get out there, experience the magic before the species is just a memory and another obituary in a natural history paper.  It was as recent as 2013 that the headlines reported imminent extinction as an English breeding bird, its status is still extremely tenuous.

The defra sponsored Joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population received mixed reviews and it was Mark Avery who summed it up as the ‘[In]action plan’.

 

 

 

Defra’s [In]action Plan for Hen Harrier recovery?

January 23, 2016

I was hoping to write a few words about Defra’s Action Plan when it was published recently, but I decided to comply with one of my New Year’s Resolutions and I spent the day on Thorne Moors instead.  The excursion lessened the variety of emotions the documents elicited, for a while ….

It was cold but who cares, the skies were clear and bright and the light just right for watching those magical ‘silver ghosts’ as they quarter the moor in search of a meal.  Also present was a female peregrine and Short-eared Owl, along with the usual supporting assemblage.

But it is the grey male with its white rump and black ink-dipped wing tips that generate emotions like wonder but also sadness as well as a degree of anger ….

To understand the ‘disquiet’ and disappointment about the “Joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population” then you need to read it.  An erudite analysis of the document has been written by Dr Mark Avery via his blog Standing up for nature 

It is interesting too to read the comments made via that blog about the RSPB membership of the Upland Stakeholder Group, that is to say as part of the stakeholder group who have published this [In]action plan.  The RSPB’s response to the Action Plan can be found via Martin Harper’s blog.

Hen Harriers breed on upland moors, many managed for grouse.  Leeds University through its EMBER project found issues of water quality etc. This winter has seen astonishing levels of flooding in areas which are downstream of these [mis]managed moorlands.  An epetition to ban driven grouse shooting achieved 33,615 signatures, the RSPB and the WTs collectively failed to get behind this petition and similarly the RSPB have yet to encourage its membership to sign the Ban toxic lead ammunition petition, why?

But, with flooding topical then we should encourage people in power, Ministers, MPs and others that upland moor management needs to be reviewed and where necessary undertaken for the public good not private profit?  Is it right that large estates cause damage and receive public funds as part of land subsidies?  Perhaps the issue of flooding will keep the management of upland moors and public subsidies in the public gaze?  Ministers were quick to be seen out in devastated areas dishing out sympathies and promises, but time will tell if their flood of promises manifest any tangible benefit to the public who suffered from the consequences of failure to take a holistic approach to flood management?

According to George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian  This flood was not only foretold – it was publicly subsidised.

 

 

 

Chainsaws reving up?

November 27, 2015

Does the news of cuts to Defra departments in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement 2015 come as a surprise to conservationists?  a new nature blog provides an analysis which is worth a read, entitled ‘Shifting Baselines’ it presented mental images of those badgers moving the goalposts again?

The view of disproportionate cuts to Natural England and the Environment Agency is an interesting prospect?  There is to be some £2bn to protect 300,000 houses from flooding …. per chance that any were built in a flood plain and if so why?  The relaxation of planning regulations could well see more of this kind of development which will need public bail out in bad weather events?  Selling off of family silver (public land) to fund house building (private) appears to be a favoured option still.

But what implications for cuts to NE and EA in this area and would we miss their presence?  Be careful what we wish for?  I suppose one should analyse the remit of an organisation, its raison d’etre?  Natural England, started out as the Nature Conservancy Council …. these days one might be forgiven for thinking they were a advisory service for commerce or a tourist management service offering franchises on country theme parks?

Readers may be interested in some of the latest vacancies with NE, Sustainable Development; Planning, Lead Adviser up to 17 roles in nine areas or Sustainable development, Wildlife Management Lead Adviser – up to 12 roles in nine areas? Excluding pensions these 29 posts come with a price tag of around £700,000. Add in pensions on costs, sick pay, perks &c. then little change from a million? I will leave other bloggers to provide an Eco-mical critique.

There used to be science staff, there used to be science undertaken in the ‘good old days’ …. clearly the organisation or perhaps its hierarchy sees its future with a different focus and one which fails to underpin decisions on evidence based science (eg badger cull)?  Conversely the new approach to science might be as Technical Information Notes?  When was the last time there was an advertisement for a science post?  Maybe it’s down to the big society or citizen science to plug the gap?  Readers may recall our work on Inkle Moor in 2012?

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Habitat creation (wader scrapes) as part of the Natural England contribution to the project,see also NE TIN109

140714 NE Wader scrapes IMAS background hrk 317

The Survey was a tri-partite collaboration and has its origins in 2011 when a funding application to defra was successful and secured from them around £10,000. The Forum contributed a further £5,000 from its own funds but the added value in kind saw the project deliver, at a conservative estimate, outcomes worth in excess of an estimated £115,000. On the back of the findings from the Survey, funds were then found by an independent conservation charity to purchase Inkle Moor so a ‘win win’ situation delivered by a collaborative endeavour?

Here’s to ‘moor’ ….

 

Focus on the disease not ‘scape goats’?

October 6, 2015

NATIONAL BADGER DAY : TUESDAY 6 OCTOBER 2015

Badger & mayweed

A report has been draw to our attention and is worthy perhaps of a wider audience, click on the heading below for the full version. 

Despite the continuing call for abandonment of the expensive cull the Government persist in wholesale slaughter, in parallel as reported recently they also seek to consult on the reform of cost protection for Judicial Review applications by the public or environmental organisations and charities.  The phrase ‘evidence-based’ seems to have lost favour when it comes to addressing inconvenient issues?

Cattle testing key to bovine TB control & how Wales achieved a major decline in bTB

The role of cattle testing is fundamental to the control of the disease.

Accurate diagnosis is crucial to identify disease and remove infected cattle to prevent the disease spreading. But the SICCT test used to diagnose infected cattle can miss up to 1 in 5, or about 20%, of infected animals.

This means that infected animals can still be present in the herd when movement restrictions are lifted and Officially Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status is regained

Because of this limited sensitivity, intensive and repeated testing is needed to identify, locate and remove infected animals to prevent them spreading the disease within the herd or to other herds.

In the Area Eradication Strategy(AES) of 1950’s & 60’s the number of reactors slaughtered was brought down in just 4 years from 25,571 in 1959, to 5,901 in 1963.

This reduction was achieved by using a high testing intensity applied across the UK, in conjunction with strict movement controls and tight bio-security.   In 1959 over 11 million tests were carried out.

With the AES of the 1950’s & 60’s, the high level of testing was maintained for many years, and by 1976 the number of reactors slaughtered because of the disease had fallen to 1,058

By 1982 the number of reactors slaughtered had fallen to 569, but still circa 2.5 million tests were being carried out

But between the late 1980’s and 2006 various changes to the testing regime led to the re-establishment of the disease due to:

  • Major reduction in testing intensity
  • The relaxation of movement controls
  • The move to 2, 3 and 4 yearly testing which failed to identify emerging disease
  • Outbreak of BSE which required re-stocking, which was carried out without any pre-movement testing, and often with cattle not under annual testing
  • The abandonment of testing during the FMD epidemic
  • Re-stocking post FMD with cattle that had missed their tests, without any pre-movement testing and which were also moved to areas of the country not under annual testing, therefore any infection present may not have been identified for a considerable period of time, and also allowed for significant onward transmission
  • The scaling back of testing generally which allowed un-identified infected cattle to be moved, traded, etc leading to an expansion in disease incidence

These changes in the testing regime resulted in an ever increasing spread of infection. By 2012, although the incidence of disease was much higher than during the AES, (37,000 reactors slaughtered) only just over 8 million tests were carried out.

So currently, despite a much higher incidence of disease now, (37,000 reactors in 2012) the number of tests still lags far below the level needed to identify and remove all infected cattle.

DEFRA’s response:       In the last 2 years Defra has begun to greatly increase the number, frequency and effectiveness of the testing regime by:

  • Increasing the areas of the country under annual testing
  • Using gamma interferon testing to supplement the SICCT test
  • Zero-tolerance of overdue tests
  • Greater use of severe interpretation of test results
  • Treating inconclusive reactors as confirmed cases

These measures are beginning to take effect, with the number of cattle slaughtered in 2013 14% below that for 2012.  In Wales, which moved to annual testing in 2008 and has tightened up its testing programme, the number of cattle slaughtered in 2013 was 34% down on the number slaughtered in 2012.   Wales has nearly halved the number of cattle slaughtered per annum since 2009; from 11,671 in 2009 to 6,102 in 2013. This represents a very significant reduction of 48% in just 4 years.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incidence-of-tuberculosis-tb-in-cattle-in-great-britain

In addition, other measures such as pre-movement testing, re-introduced in 2006 and 2007, have also identified infected cattle prior to movement and resulted in limiting the onward transmission of disease.

The level and frequency of testing, now introduced by Defra, is beginning to take effect, and should replicate the reduction in disease incidence as shown during the AES.

SICCT test limitations

Also Defra has recognised that the SICCT test (Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin test) has a variable sensitivity, which means that it can miss up to circa 20% of infected animals which are either in the early or late stages of disease.

This means that infected animals can still be present in the herd when movement restrictions are lifted and Officially Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status regained.

As a result Defra, has ramped up of the frequency of tests, increased the areas under annual testing and introduced gamma interferon testing as a supplementary test.

However, the limitations of the SICCT test do not appear to have been made clear to either farmers or those involved in the livestock industry. Indeed the NFU is silent on the matter in its advice to farmers.

Given the SICCT test limitations it is crucial to introduce and maintain high levels of testing across the country and ensure pre and post movement testing is carried out to identify, locate and remove latent infection before it can be passed on to other animals..

Such intensive testing regimes are onerous for the farming industry, but if the need for them could be carefully explained, then all involved would understand the need for these measures and how they will bring the disease under control.

Further information: including the AWG papers submitted to Defra, are available from: Animal Welfare Group, Co-ordinating Office: 3 The Common, Siddington, Cirencester, Glos GL7 6EY.   Tel: 01285 656812 / 01285 644319      Email janbayley@aol.com

The Government statistics available in Incidence of TB in cattle in Great Britain – statistical notice (data to June 2015) make interesting reading when considered against the revised costs of the cull (in excess of £16m or the equivalent of £6,775 per badger), one might ponder the value of the spend of public funds when there has been a demonstrable improvement in Wales through the adoption of an improved testing regime.  If better bio-security and vaccination were added to the tool kit as well, then a collaborative address would deliver better for both the dairy farmer and their customers as well as poor ‘brock’, a convenient scape goat?

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Back to Badgering : is £16m+ value for money?

September 19, 2015

Wednesday’s blog post talked of the newfangled thing called science (pers comm. CP).  Clearly the defra agencies and their Minister are not yet conversant with this evidence based approach?

Natural England have approved a cull licence in Dorset in addition to those already running for West Gloucestershire and West Somerset.  Apparently the applications were approved as the applications fulfilled all the criteria.  Natural England’s website appears to confirm that sufficient funds are in place to complete control operations, so does that means that no public funds will be spent on the continued culling in the two existing areas and the new Dorset licence area?  The ‘exercise’ thus far we understand is in the order of £16,777,000 which equates to around £6,775 per badger according to the Badger Trust.

In 2013 NE over ruled its own adviser to grant a licence to extend the Gloucestershire badger cull.  Four of nine NE Board members expressed severe reservations, particularly on the pivotal advice of the government’s chief veterinary officer (CVO) Nigel Gibbens. Wood said that advice was “the key” to the decision to extend.

During the meeting (23 October 2013), the minutes of which were obtained by the Guardian, Prof. MacDonald (NE ‘expert’ advice) said: “The CVO’s advice that killing further badgers would lead to better disease control is not easily reconciled with the evidence.” He added it was “hard to understand” how further trials could be licensed following the failure of the initial culls. Other board members agreed that the extension was likely to increase TB infections in cattle, with one noting “independent advice should have been sought”. The minutes record discussion of “the fact that it was difficult to predict what the disease control benefits would be”. In the end, the board voted narrowly to allow Wood to make the decision.

Readers may further recall that …. “If, as the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson stated in 2013, the badger cull is rolled out to over 40 areas of England the costs to the tax payer could easily exceed half a billion pounds.”  How then, with the state of the nation’s finance as it is, can this be justified?  No reasonable person lacks sympathies or understanding for the stress and problems faced by herds which are infected with bTB, but why is the English Government so incalcitrant when it comes to evidence based approach?

We read that farmers need to take consumers with them, they need to engage with the public about where food comes from so that they better understand the issues.  How is a conservationist to enjoy Somerset Brie when they know that badgers have been inhumanely slaughtered as part of the ‘production process’ of getting the product onto their plate?  Visit the news page of Stop the cull to see more detail of the issue.  Each of us effectively votes through our purse, across a wide range of ethical and moral issues and supermarkets are very sensitive to market share.

Fast forward two years, Natural England’s web page on GOV.UK clearly states that sufficient funds are in place to complete control operations.  We might read into that that the farmers, landowners or shooters will be funding the operation?  Conversely we might wonder if defra (or other department) through one of its agencies might have made available the next tranche of cash?

The Badger Trust’s recent press release in part here verbatim: “The Welsh Government’s approach has been far more successful by focusing on improved testing and movement controls in cattle. New incidents of bTB in Wales are down 28% with a 45% cut in the number of cattle being slaughtered. This leaves 94% of the Welsh herd now free of bTB, without culling any badgers.

“The public has a right to be outraged not only by the appalling waste of badgers’ lives but also the disgraceful squandering of tens of millions of pounds on a policy that will have no measureable impact on reducing bovine TB. If famers are worried about badgers then vaccinating them is not just more effective and humane, it’s also ten times cheaper than culling.”

We are reminded of Prof. John Bourne’s comment when he was the Chair of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bovine TB.  Watch his informative presentation at the Badger Trust’s AGM Seminar 2015.

“I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers”.

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Badgers suffer needlessly, are subject of digging, baiting and dog fighting and as if that isn’t enough they appear to be a particular target for the current Government and Natural England?

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‘Moor’ Inglorious & RBA poll on ‘brood management’.

August 27, 2015

Never mind ‘gripping yarns’, Inglorious is compelling reading and whilst I am not able to read it as quickly as some seem to have done according to Avery’s recent blog post it is perhaps because it is also motivational and prompts action as one reads the various chapters.

This is the kind of volume that is helpful to people who want to help but need encouragement and probably more importantly direction as well as a ready reference of easily digested facts and figures.  In combination with a talk by, or a discussion with the author then you have not only the inspiration, but motivation and a significant resource at your finger tips to be part of a collaborative ‘community’ campaign.

Inglorious front cover

This kind of community action is interesting because to a large extent it might be said to have arisen from inactivity or rather a robust challenge by the ‘conventional suspects’ to achieve or deliver a positive conservation success story?  Quick wins seem the preference these days and challenges are not for the faint hearted as they require dedication, tenacity, an effective and committed network as well as funding to fight the deep pockets of self interest?  It seems that those self proclaimed champions of conservation are constrained through funding related relationships, so should they act as a catalyst and or support infrastructure for this kind of community campaign?

It is against a similar kind of background that the Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum was created.  In our case it was through the peat issue, or rather the destruction of peatlands particularly those here at Thorne & Hatfield Moors.  The founding membership saw benefit in collaborative endeavours through an independent organisation able to act in a timely manner and with principle without recourse to copious committees and tedious policies and protocols.  The ability to think and act through an extensive and experienced network  as well as commissioning and publishing robust science brought credibility and a catalogue of campaign involvements and successes.

So back to the current conservation campaign, or at least one very high profile one which is the plight of the Hen Harrier and other persecuted raptors which appear to interfere with the ‘sporting interests’ of a relatively small number of people.  Avery offers an estimate in the region of around 15,000.

At the moment it seems that the Hawk & Owl Trust are promoting ‘brood management’ as a mechanism to try to find compromise and a way forward for Hen Harrier conservation in the uplands particularly.  Rare Bird Alert are running a poll which is seeking peoples views on the option, there is also the opportunity to add comments on the proposal.

HOT founded in 1969, markets itself as being dedicated to conserrving owls and birds of prey in the wild.  Interestingly their website also explains that they ‘create and manage nesting’ …. they appear to manage just three reserves in Norfolk, North York Moors and Somerset.  ‘The HOT say stop this illegal killing’.  It all seemed laudable but then their high profile President resigned ….

The epetition Ban driven grouse shooting is steadily but surely increasing numbers daily, potential signatories are informed that “Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which damages protected wildlife sites, increases water pollution, increases flood risk, increases greenhouse gas emissions and too often leads to the illegal killing of protected wildlife such as Hen Harriers”.   Can we help get it to the 100k by the end of the year, therein ensuring a discussion in Westminster about the issue?  It’s well past the first milestone of 10k and the reply from Defra is well overdue ….

A more in depth analysis, forensically researched and referenced with robust science is available …. in the form of ‘Inglorious’. Avery’s uncompromising style pulls no punches which is precisely what is needed as the patient endeavour to achieve compromise has, it must be said, failed miserably?   

 

Greenblobpride

 

 

 

 

Reflections on day(s) out …. road casualties & the taxing issue of grouse?

March 23, 2015

Spring is here, certainly as far as some of the wildlife is concerned.  Primroses are in flower in sheltered riverside woodland, Wild Arum leaves are well advanced and I even managed to find Lesser Celandine in flower, but the most unexpected observation of the day was a pair of Mandarin duck.

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If I’d been in a local park, perhaps then not totally unexpected, but along the River Wharfe?

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Other indicators of Spring were Grey Wagtails nest site prospecting, Dippers dashing up and down stream and Goosanders are paired.  The anticipated Kingfisher posed obligingly, albeit distantly after the usual fly past low over the water.

150323 Kingfisher hrk 889

Plenty of Oystercatchers also prospecting the rivers and a party of 16 on the banks of the Strid.  The evocative bubbling song of the Curlew is just a joy to hear and four Red Kites en route home was a wonderful sight too.  One of the birds was perched a top a large tree in someone’s roadside garden, now that some garden tick!   Sadly though the roads are littered with avian casualties …. pheasants!  That set me thinking about Saturday’s BAWC Conference again and an interesting point made by one of the speakers about Pheasants and taxation.

A bit of research and one could not help but wonder why the current state of confusion is allowed to persist. For example the definition of pheasant rearing, sounds simple enough?  Defra regard it as a ‘sporting activity’ or business. On the other hand HMRC regard it as an agricultural operation.

Customs has determined that pheasants are ‘commonly used as food for human consumption’ (VAT notice 701/37/94) and so pheasant rearing operations enjoy a zero VAT burden: they can reclaim any VAT that they pay on their outgoings and do not have to charge VAT when selling bulk consignments of their seven week old birds to shoot operators.

But while Customs & Excise considers the pheasant producers to be agricultural enterprises – thus freeing them from the standard VAT rate of 17.5% – the agriculture ministry (DEFRA) more often than not defines them as ‘primarily sporting’ businesses. This means that they are exempt from the basic welfare laws that apply to all other farmed animals. These include the 1968 Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. Nor do the relevant Welfare Codes apply.

As if that is not confusing enough the Valuation Agency Office, responsible for compiling business ratings sides with DEFRA rather than Customs & Excise in determining that pheasant producers are in the sporting rather than agricultural business.

This turns out to be bad news for the producers. For while farmers are exempt from paying business rates, virtually all other businesses – sporting included – are not.

Another important reason why pheasant producers have not been listed for business rates is that the industry has promoted the Customs & Excise line that rearing pheasants is an agricultural activity and therefore non-rateable.

DEFRA, the agriculture ministry, has contributed to the confusion over whether the pheasant industry is about food or sport. As we have seen, it exempts pheasant rearing from the farm welfare laws because such businesses are ‘primarily sporting’. Yet it recently awarded the industry a financial grant of £150,000 to help market ‘game’ on the grounds that pheasant meat is ‘a quality agricultural product’ (16 March 2002 letter from Elliot Morley to Animal Aid). It is worth noting here that neither game rearing nor shooting are included in the definition of agriculture in the Town and Country Planning Acts.

One might be forgiven for wondering if all this could be reviewed and revised that there would be clarity and potentially more revenue into Government coffers?

The ongoing persecution of raptors and notably the plight of our magnificent ‘skydancer’ is causing scrutiny of wider business interests than might otherwise have been the case had the shooting industry sorted itself out?  We accept that to gain concensus amongst any group of people can be nigh on impossible but the incalcitrance evident in some quarters can only fuel determination for accountability across the piece?

Pheasants like grouse and other game are shot, they are often marketted as healthy and organic yet they can have been fed medicated grit and shot with lead pellets. A report by the Food Standards Agency explained anyone who frequently eats game shot with lead should cut back on their consumption but pregnant women and small children are particularly vulnerable.

According to the FSA, eating lead can harm the developing brain and has been linked to lower IQ in children while adults can suffer from kidney and heart problems.

Mark Avery has recently had reason to enter into correspondence about the health benefits of game, notably and perhaps not surprisingly grouse.  It would seem that his forthcoming “Inglorious” might make interesting and maybe even uncomfortable reading in due course?

Dare we contemplate researching the financing of moorland managed for grouse …. ?

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For Peat’s Sake, draining issues and badgers again?

March 11, 2015

Drainage related updates

We reported on a severely ‘managed’ hedgerow out at Fishlake and pondered the culprit.  Generally hedgerows are maintained on rotation but it seems that this hedgerow has been subject to two bouts in the last twelve months.  Quite apart from the impact on the wildlife it will have a financial implication and we have yet to receive a rationale for the action based on demonstrable need.  If there is spare money in an Internal Drainage Board budget then is it not better spent improving the hedgerow by way of traditional laying or gapping up where damage has seen loss of thorn or of trees?  Surely maintenance programmes are drawn up to ensure best value and demonstrable best practice?  The Public Body, that is to say in this instance the Internal Drainage Board, which operates in this area is the Danvm Drainage CommissionersDDC were recently subject to a Governance Audit.  Perhaps an assessment or 360 degree appraisal of impact upon the natural environment from their management operations might be the next?

It transpires that the hedgerow was subject to this ‘management’ by virtue of “access requirement” …. “a visit on 2 February identified the need for further hedge cutting works along Wood Lane Drain.  Hedgerow cutting was required to allow safe access for plant and machinery to maintain this primary Ordinary Watercourse.  A return to site is to be undertaken with chainsaws.  Should access permit in future we will encourage the use of chainsaws on larger branches in the first instance.”

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Quite a worrying response, as this lane will have prescribed dimensions by virtue of the Hatfield, Thorne & Fishlake Inclosure Act of 1811 & Award of 1825.  Is it not incumbent upon Public Bodies to ensure that biodiversity is accommodated when undertaking ‘management’ works?  There is after all a requirement to ‘further’ biodiversity contained within the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended 1994) where it clearly states that Boards must “further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservation of the flora,  fauna and geological  or physiographical features of special interest”.  So …. how does this balance with the illustrated evidence reported?

How long before the management technique illustrated above will open the door and invite ‘access’ like that illustrated below?

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Readers may recall that the Executive submitted a FoI request to the Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board involving documents which would have provided proof of process of a payment through the Shire Group Finance System.  This request for release of documents has been refused.

Badgering upate

An abridged version of a Badger Trust release GLOUCESTERSHIRE BADGER GROUP SAY GLOSCON FAILED TO ACHIEVE EVEN HALF THEIR TARGET IN 2014 CULL for the complete article click here

The Gloucestershire Badger Group (GBG) welcomed the announcement by Natural England that the NFU’s subsidiary cull contractor Gloscon may be stripped of their licence to cull this year. This threat follows the failure of Gloscon to achieve even half their target of 615 badgers in last year’s cull.

The government and NFU have tried to blame the cull’s failure on protester activities and ‘intimidation’, but Gloucester Constabulary were quick to rebut this, stating that only three arrests had been made during the last cull and they were all part of a single incident.

“We know from the police that a significant number of cull operatives have had their firearms licences amended to prevent them taking part in future culling as a result of breaches of safety or licence protocols,” continues Tony Dean (Chairman of GBG).

Badger campaigners are equally dismissive of recent claims about the cull’s impact on bovine TB (bTB) by pro-cull vet Roger Blowey, farmer David Grifiths and NFU President Meurig Raymond. “They are clutching at straws,” says Peter Martin, who was involved in the peaceful protests during the cull and has recently become a member of the Gloucestershire Badger Group. “Analysis of Defra’s own figures shows a sustained general trend downwards in bTB across many English counties, including those that have seen no culling of badgers. These same figures show a direct link between increased cattle testing over the last six years and significant reductions in rates of bTB.”

“Most of the cattle in Gloucestershire will not have been tested again since the end of the cull, so it is simply not possible to state whether it has had any effect on bTB rates, an observation confirmed recently by the government’s own Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens. Equally, the fact none of the culled badgers was ever tested for bTB shows that the whole process of culling is not only unscientific but being conducted ‘blind’.

“The area of Gloucestershire actually culled is simply too small to make any difference to cattle bTB,” continues Peter Martin, “of the 274 badgers they managed to kill, existing scientific research tells us only 1.6% will have been infectious, which equates to less than five badgers. How could that possibly be linked to a reduction in bTB across the county?”

Badger Trust CEO Dominic Dyer said: “The NFU are becoming increasingly isolated as more and more people distance themselves from this disastrous policy. Even their spokesman Andrew Guest complained on BBC Radio’s Farming Today that it wasn’t possible to know how many badgers there are and how difficult they are to kill at night. But the biggest clue for us is that the Environment Secretary Liz Truss was conspicuously non-committal on the government’s plans for the cull when pressed at our meeting in Whitehall on 3rd March 2015. We can’t help wondering now if she already knew that Natural England could be about to pull the plug on the whole sorry enterprise.”

& for peat’s sake?

Readers might recall the discovery of bags of Westland’s ‘Peat Free’ multi purpose compost indicating that they were a mix of 50% peat and 50% West+ wood fibre. When we contacted Westland Horticulture they explained “During creation of new pack designs in late 2013 a ‘What is West+’ box part of this design, which on the rear of the pack describes the 50% West + and 50% peat base formula for the rest of the GroSure range was mistakenly applied to this product. The error was rectified in early 2014, and packs now show the correct information that this product contains no peat.”

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So, we wonder why is stock out there in 2015 clearly continuing to confuse customers? To avoid potential brand damage and confidence why did Westland not issue a product recall or provide stickers to retailers to place on the old stock?

When we raised this, Westland further explained “You are correct that there will be a limited number of older packs out in the market. Unfortunately once they have left our premises we can’t control what retailers do with product or how they rotate their stocks. There are no safety concerns about the product which would require a product recall from the market. The product is peat-free as stated on the main / front label of the packaging and our name, address, phone number and email address are printed on the packaging should any consumer wish to contact us if they are confused by the packaging. Our technical team is available to answer these questions in normal office hours and we try to respond immediately to any communication received during this time.”

Should we take a commercial peat mining company at face value, one who offers no apology or stick with companies who we know to produce only peat free composts?  Prior to this correspondence we’d taken a view that if one did not give peat mining companies the benefit of the doubt by purchasing their peat free alternative that we would not persuade them to switch and develop a more environmentally responsible product, one which was sustainable and left peat to sequester carbon and provide a habitat for wildlife.  Thompson & Morgan have recently increased peat content in one of their products, many of the other compost producers are still using high peat content 40% up to 90% so clearly the ‘voluntary’ approach to being peat free by 2020 is another green target which is going to be missed?

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There are still some excellent peat free products available, drop us a line if you locate others. 

BADGER TRUST updates: meeting with Liz Truss & call on NFU to stop misleading the public over the impact of badger culling.

March 5, 2015

Keep on badgering away campaigners …. recent Badger Trust updates as circulated by the Trust

Representatives of the Badger Trust met with the DEFRA Secretary of State on 3 March 2015 and described the meeting as very useful and at which there was a frank exchange of views on the following key issues:

Cull Roll Out

We [the BT] pressed the Secretary of State (SoS) to confirm plans for roll out post May 7th, should Tories return to office.

SoS was not willing to commit herself on this issue, other than to say culling would remain part of the TB reduction strategy.

We pointed out that any plans for cull roll out must involve full consultation with all key stakeholders and a financial impact assessment.

We also discussed the need to engage local communities, the police and local authorities in this process.

We also raised concerns over Natural England (NE) and DEFRA officials being involved in recent farm meetings held in the South West, to discuss extension of the culls.

We also pointed out that Gloucestershire had fallen well short of its cull targets and even the Chief Vet had confirmed it was a border line decision if this pilot area should continue.

Since leaving the meeting, we have received confirmation from NE via our solicitor at Bindmans that the Gloucestershire cull licence could be revoked, due to failures by the cull contractors. We have used this information in follow up media interviews.

Misleading information from vets and NFU on the impact of culling (see section in blue at the bottom of this post) 

We did raise serous concerns about the misleading information on the impact of the badger culls coming from Roger Blowey and the NFU.

We pointed out that any move by Ministers to give credibility to these reports would undermine public confidence in the cull policy further and call into question the integrity of DEFRA and its science based policy process.

We also drew attention to a recent statement by the Chief Vet, that any reductions in bovine TB was due to cattle measures not badger culling or vaccination.

SoS did not make any effort to support the Roger Blowey or NFU claims, but she would not commit to getting Nigel Gibbens to issue a further statement on this issue.

We will follow this request up in writing following the meeting.

Testing badgers for TB

We criticised SoS for not ensuring badgers culled were tested for TB.

We also pointed out that European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had confirmed 232 dead badgers were tested in the UK in 2013 for an EU wide survey. Test results showed an infection rate just over 15% in line with RBCT data.

SoS seemed to have little knowledge of the EFSA survey, but her officials were clearly uncomfortable with us bringing up this issue and they stated the test data could have come from Northern Ireland.

We confirmed we would follow up in writing with a request for more information on the EFSA data including if any of the badgers used came from the cull zones.

We also criticised Owen Paterson for making claims that badgers had a TB disease rate of 40% plus and called on the SoS to ensure any future culls would involve full testing of badgers for TB.

SoS did not give any assurance on this issue, but it’s clear the low level of disease in badgers is causing concern in DEFRA & we will keep pressing on this issue.

TB rates in England

We discussed at some length the picture emerging of falling TB rates in England as a result of tightening of cattle measures.

We also went over some of the historical policy mistakes which had led to the increase in TB over the last 15 years, particularly restocking after foot and mouth.

SoS showed a worrying lack of awareness in this area and a willingness to keep playing the Ireland and New Zealand card to support culling.

We used the meeting to take apart the justification for culling based on the New Zealand and Ireland experiences and left the SoS with key data showing how cattle measures were working (compiled by Jan Bailey).

Annual Testing

We pressed hard on the growing support for annual testing of cattle for TB in England, not only from wildlife groups but also vet, farm and landowning organisations.

We said the NFU excuse that this is too costly, does not hold water after the tax payer has spent £15 million plus on the culls to date.

SoS listened with interest and her officials confirmed a further tightening of test measures was being considered, but they did not go as far as to say this would involve Annual Testing across all of England.

We will continue to press this issue following the meeting, as we are clearly making progress in this area.

Badger Vaccination

We said we were pleased that the SoS had recognised the value of badger vaccination as a tool in reducing the spread of TB in badgers.

We pointed out that the Badger Trust was working with farmers and landowners across the country to increase the level of badger vaccination.

We gave our broad support to the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, but pointed out that we expected key Badger Trust vaccination projects in areas such as Derbyshire and Cheshire to receive funding under the scheme.

SoS showed a willingness to ensure this would be the case and we will follow up with DEFRA officials following the meeting.

Badger Persecution

We finished the meeting by referring to the DEFRA Risk Registers we recently obtained via the High Court.

We pointed out that officials and Ministers knew that the cull policy had a high risk of increasing badger persecution.

We made it clear to SoS that we had most definitely seen a significant increase in badgers being illegally killed and badger setts destroyed by landowners and farmers since the culls started.

SoS made it clear that she condemned all wildlife crime and agreed with her officials to issue some form of statement on this issue following the meeting.

Wider views on the meeting

The Secretary of State seemed nervous and at times not on top of her brief.

Nigel Gibbens the Chief Vet was very noticeable by his absence.

The only officials present were her Private Secretary and representatives from the legal and TB policy units.

The Secretary of State took the unusual step of saying at the start of the meeting it would be considered private and off the record.

On walking down Whitehall earlier I nearly bumped into Liz Truss as she headed into Downing Street. I can only think the call for radio silence on the meeting came from the Prime Minister himself.

We gave no commitment not to share the discussions in the media (particularly as ITV & BBC were waiting to film interviews on steps of DEFRA after meeting).

Media Coverage

We have had extensive media coverage following the meeting with interviews on ITV West, BBC South East, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Sussex and in the national & regional press.

Conclusion

We were never going to see a U Turn in the cull policy as a result of this meeting.

However we put the Secretary of State under significant pressure and we made a very strong case for why the cull policy should be halted.

We showed we had the majority of the public, scientists and even politicians on our side.

We knew our facts and we were no doubt better briefed and had a clearer understanding of TB policy than the Secretary of State who is responsible for its implementation.

We made some useful progress on the need for tighter cattle testing controls, more badger vaccination and a stronger response from the Government on badger persecution and wildlife crime.

We also left no one in any doubt that cattle not badgers are the key factor in TB spread.

Badger Trust can be very proud of the fact we are the only wildlife or conservation NGO to have such a meeting with either Owen Paterson or Liz Truss in last 4 years

Our [BT] campaigning, lobbying & legal challenges have taken us to a place many much larger and better funded NGO’s have not been able to reach.

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Badger Trust calls on NFU to stop misleading the public over the impact of badger culling

Ahead of a meeting with the Environment Secretary Liz Truss on the 3 March, the Badger Trust has called on the National Farmers’ Union to stop misleading the public by making claims over the impact of badger culling on TB rates in cattle in the Gloucestershire and Somerset cull zones, which have no scientific foundation and are not supported by Government data from the pilot badger culls.

At the NFU Annual Conference in Birmingham on Tuesday 24 February, the NFU President Meurig Raymond stated: “I want to stress that in the two pilot areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire we are already seeing that TB incidence on farms has declined. Not just by a small amount either, in the Somerset Pilot area TB incidence on farms has decreased from 34% to 11% compared with two years’ ago”.

He then went on to say: “just two days’ ago, one of our Gloucestershire members was given the fantastic news that his farm is now clear of TB for the first time in 11 years. He is very clear that the only thing that’s changed on his farm is that we are now doing something to control the disease in wildlife”.

When making these statements the NFU President at no point confirmed that it was far more likely these reductions in TB (which have also been seen outside of the cull zones) were due to tighter testing, movement and biosecurity controls forced on the UK farming sector by the European Commission in 2012. He also made no mention of the fact that DEFRA have not released any data on the pilot culls to support any claims about the impact of badger culling on TB rates in cattle.

In responding to the claims by the NFU, the CEO of the Badger Trust said:

“Nigel Gibbens, the DEFRA Chief Veterinary Officer, recently stated that: “the fall in TB outbreaks in cattle herds, cannot be attributed either to the pilot culls or in Wales to their badger vaccination programme. It is to do with continued strengthening of the cattle measures”.

“Meurig Raymond seems to have forgotten these important facts when it comes to his NFU conference speech.

“The Badger Trust would never make any claims about the impact of badger vaccination without scientific evidence to back it up and we expect the NFU to do the same, when it comes to making claims about the impact of badger culling.

“We must deal in facts not fiction when it comes to assessing the impact of the badger culls on lowering bovine TB. When it comes to real facts the case against the badger cull policy is damning.

“Approximately £15 million has been spent killing 2476 badgers to date (£6058 a badger). None of these culled badgers were tested for TB, but data from a Government-led scientific trial and results from badgers tested by DEFRA in 2013 for the European Food Safety Authority, indicate a disease rate no higher than 15%.

“Many of these badgers were shot by poorly trained marksmen with no effective monitoring and took up to 10 to 15 minutes to die a long painful death by multiple gunshot wounds.

“This is despite the fact that the DEFRA Chief Scientist Ian Boyd confirmed at an NFU TB conference in November 2014, that the transmission rate of TB from badgers to cattle is less than 6%. The key route of infection is cattle to cattle transfer.”

The above two pieces are taken from BT press release sand assuming that the facts and statistics cited are accurate then it seems astonishing that a well respected industry spokesgroup would seek to promulgate unsubstantiated statements?  Many of the public at the moment are wise to ‘political’ PR so it would seem far better if any party in a discussion were to ensure provision of all the facts to secure credibility?

Why doesn’t Defra want to talk about ‘dirty waters’?

March 4, 2015

Why doesn’t Defra want to talk about ‘dirty waters’?

Charles Clover made no apologies in his Sunday Times piece at the weekend, he simply stated the facts of the matter as he had researched them which in short, drew him to conclude that “There is still a lot of untreated sewage in our rivers and coastal waters that nobody wants to talk about.”

We would not particularly expect readers to be surprised to learn that the standards for river water is lower than for beaches, but Clover informs us that there are still some around 30,000 outfalls which discharge raw sewage across England and Wales.

To add insult to injury …. water quality standards only have to be met in the bathing season that is to say May 15 to September 30 in England and Wales, June 1 to September 15 in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  Outside that, information is scarce.  Groups such as Surfers Against Sewage consider that the lack of year-round information makes it impossible to identify outfalls that are discharging raw sewage too frequently.

Clover encourages us all to celebrate the recent victory in court of Fish Legal, a membership organisation for fishery interests, against United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and wait for it … yes, the government!  The water companies argued they were not covered by an obligation under European law to provide environmental information as they were private companies.  Not surprising perhaps as it would have some serious implications for them if they were required to comply with EU legislation?

The case took six years, cost Fish Legal around £150,000 and went to the European Court of Justice and back before a tribunal ruled that water companies are indeed public authorities because they retain powers of the old water authorities, such as digging up the roads to replace pipes.

The most outrageous thing about the case is that the water companies had the backing of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)?  We learn that apparently Defra did not want freedom of environmental information to apply to other utilities.  Perhaps we could be forgiven for questioning why?

Clover reminds us that Defra is the department that has allowed polluters of all kinds to self-regulate, to compile test results themselves and to act on them and he is generous to the ConDem Coalition Government as he suggests that it is fair enough as it needed to save money.  Whilst he goes on to say that …. the only way to check up on what is actually happening in the environment is to empower the public to ask questions and require these to be answered.  The only way to make private companies and Public Bodies, Authorities or Agencies is to make the requirement mandatory.  Wasn’t there something of a metaphoric st**k kicked up when politicians fiddled their expenses, we let them sort it out?  Did they?  Do we still let the provarication continue?

Why the secrecy? I suspect because the answers might give water companies and civil servants anything but a quiet life. Daylight will be the best disinfectant of our rivers and coasts, and if Defra or the water companies are even contemplating appealing against last week’s tribunal decision they should hang their heads in shame?

A sceptic might be forgiven for mentioning the likelihood of an appeal?  The implications for water companies makes it likely?  Is this another one of those irritating cases where the ‘green blobs’ and Europe get together to ensure that people can enjoy the rivers, whether their water supplies come from them, they wild swim in them or they simply provide quality habitat for a range of wildlife?

Greenblobpride

Well done to all involved in this challenge, a critical mass of ‘community’ collaboration funding legal action to benefit all …. well perhaps not utility company share holders?  Will that mean an increase in water bills here in Yorkshire?

‘Moor’ badgerings, ‘hare’ we go again and spiders?

January 18, 2015

The BBC reports that Ministers and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) believe culling badgers will curb TB in cattle.  Ms Truss, the Minister claimed the government’s “comprehensive strategy” was supported by leading vets. 

But protesters have claimed independent monitoring has been dropped and attempted to have the cull halted at the High Court.

The move was rejected by judges, after which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We have always been clear that the independent expert panel’s role was to oversee the six-week pilots in the first year of the culls only.

“This year we have made changes to monitor effectiveness and humaneness and the culls will be independently audited.”

An independent report by the expert panel into the first year of culls found that “controlled shooting” of free-running badgers could not deliver the level of culling needed to lower TB cases in cattle and was not humane.

Try as we might we are unable to offer any link to any science which underpins the Minister or the NFUs ‘belief’.  Having said that one might reason you don’t actually need evidence, let alone allow it to be peer reviewed to ‘believe’?  What motivates Ministers?  The abiding memory for many will be the u-turn on the ‘independent monitoring’ of the culls?  Like so many promises made by politicians, it seems to have fallen by the wayside once the spotlight had been distracted towards other topical issues?

150118 Dug sett  hrk 761

What really saddens us here in the Doncaster area,  which is as far as we are aware a bTB free zone, is the systematic destruction of badger setts.  Whilst it was pleasant to spend the afternoon in the field so to speak, it was far from pleasant to witness the loss of another sett in the district.  The sett on agricultural land, accessed via quiet country lanes with locked barriers, was also in view of distant properties.  A large sett with a number of active entrance holes had been well and truly dug.  Even the hardened badger workers were quite shocked at the sheer extent of the ‘diggers’ activity.

What was apparent was the length of time the ‘diggers’ would have been at the site to have dug at least seven of the holes and one of them to considerable depth.  What surprised me but was readily explained by one of the group was the absence of badgers, or parts thereof!  Apparently a live badger for baiting and the associated gambling is worth around £800!  So, it followed that they would have carted off as many as they could.  That in itself would have been a particularly interesting logistical operation and one requiring a team of  strong individuals, cages and in all likelihood a vehicle.  No one saw a thing?

What really hit home as well, was the inhumanity that had to be inherent in the individuals engaged in such activity.  The sows would either be heavily pregnant at this time of year or they would have recently given birth.  If the ‘diggers’ didn’t reach a sow then the chances are such that the stress level would cause her to either abort or to kill the cubs.

The loss of this group pushes the ‘Doncaster’ population to the brink of extinction.  As groups are lost to areas, any remaining become isolated and weakened by inbreeding as there are no neighbouring groups to recruit from or to join.  Brock an iconic mammal of the quintessential British Countryside could be lost to us in a couple of years or so in the Doncaster area if the current persecution rate continues.

The other aspect which was quite noticable was the damage to the agricultural land, albeit in the main, the headland.  However the digging had clearly encroached onto land which would in due course be worked by large and expensive machinery.  The site had been left a mess and the landowner was left with reparation of his land to return it to a safe state, in order to work it, come time to harvest the crop.

Whilst badgers might elicit mixed feelings across the spectrum of emotions, such activity is against the law and it certainly appears to constitute tresspass aggravated by possible criminal damage.  Factor in the local ‘intel’ that gangs of criminals are working rural areas, it seems reasonable that there could be benefit from collaborative working?

Please if anyone sees anything suspicious, then please do report it to the police via 101 or to the South Yorkshire Badger Group.  Please, remember it is important to report the crime to the proper authorities as soon as possible. If calling the police (in an emergency use 999, otherwise use 101) ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer (WCO) and make sure to get an Incident Report number.

An excellent site which makes much useful information available is Birders Against Wildlife Crime.  They have an excellent ‘motto’ Recognise, Record & Report!  Similarly the Badger Trust website has regular updates on the situation and Government stance.

Greenblobpride

ePetitioning for protection from persecution (aka ‘campaign corner’):

Mountain Hares are killed in large numbers on grouse moors because they carry ticks that might affect Red Grouse numbers. The shooting industry doesn’t want Red Grouse to die of tick-borne diseases – instead they want them to die by being shot by paying customers on grouse moors.  Much other wildlife is an inconvenient presence including Mountain Hares and raptors, notably Hen Harriers.

This epetition asks Scottish Natural Heritage to protect this native species from persecution from the shooting industry.  SNH is concerned about this issue but has only asked for voluntary restraint from grouse shooting.  We struggle to recollect voluntary codes or guidelines which have worked, two examples which spring to mind and might illustrate that suggestion are the reduction of peat in growing media and MPs sorting out their own expenses?
Buglife, an excellent wildlife charity, is asking for support for a tiny spider only known to live in a couple of sites in the world – one of which maybe destroyed by house building.  A planning enquiry starts next week so any signatures gained by this epetition will help to demonstrate public support for thisapparently insignificant spider (size isn’t everything in nature).  Whilst the epetition is about a rare spider, the bigger issue appears to be that of a planning system which is in such of a ‘pickle’?
Then this really is just in case …. you don’t know that there is an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting that has stirred things up quite a bit over the last few months. It passed the 20,000 signature mark before Christmas and every further signature is valuable in the run-in to the general election campaign.

Campaigning, what’s the alternative?

December 10, 2014

The Rally for Nature went to Westminster on Tuesday, at the end of the shooting season for Red Grouse, and it was by all accounts a successful event and reported by Mark Avery in his Standing up for Nature blog.

Martin Harper, Conservation Director RSPB also comments on the state of SSSIs  analysing Defra’s 72 page Biodiversity 2020: a strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services Indicators summary December 2014 which makes pretty depressing reading.  Effectively it echoes the 2013 State of Nature Report.  The Govt. answer – to cite the £7.5m worth of Nature Improvement AreasMonitoring of the outcomes are provided by Natural England, but generic rather than specific in the nature of any detail.

Avery also celebrates the creation of an infographic which challenges an earlier one by the Moorland Association and BASC which extolled the virtues of the ‘inglorious 12th’, the latter has we understand been referred to the Advertising Standards Agency.

FRACKING: For, against or still an agnostic?

Despite the chilly wind there was a reasonable turn out last night to the Haxey Memorial Hall, where the local premier showing of “The Dash for Gas” was ‘enjoyed’ by around sixty people gathered to learn about the benefits of fracking.  The film itself, in my humble opinion presented a reasonable and balanced case.  It was just a shame that previous attempts to get industry advocates to allay local fears has repeatedly failed as many there were keen to hear both sides of the scientific case that provided assurances of safety, no impact upon water supply or to human health or that of the natural environment.

The following planning applications have already been passed for exploratory drilling.  Depending upon outcomes a fracking application may follow.

Planning permissions to site a rig for an appraisal bore hole with associated works and equipment COMPOSITE ENERGY

Cottage Farm, Crowle, DN17 4BH

Land to the north of the A161, Eastoft Road, Crowle, DN17 4LR

Pasture Lane, Amcotts, DN17 4AW

Temple Gardens, Land to north of, Off King Edward Street, Belton

Haldenby Hall, Track adjacent to, access road to Haldenby Hall, Luddington, DN17 4QU

Access Road to North Moor from White House, Land to the southeast of Pilfrey Bridge, Althorpe, Keadby, DN17 4DH

Land North West of, North Street, West Butterwick

Planning permission for the construction of a temporary wellsite for drilling of an exploratory bore hole with associated structures and works EGDON RESOURCES

Lodge Farm, Clapp Gate, Broughton and Appleby, DN15 0DB

Help us keep the local community network updated:

Check out areas under investigation for exploration (or exploitation?) near you, do drop us a line with your findings and updates

Check out any Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) near you …. locate Recent Licences through a Department of Energy & Climate Change Energy Portal.

LOCAL GROUPS

Frack Free Lincs

H.E.Y. Frack Off is another local community group active in Hull & East Yorkshire

Frack Free South Yorkshire  

Frack Free Gainsborough

 

 

 

Greenblobpride

Politics, fracking & a Rally for Nature?

December 4, 2014

Those of you not travelling to London next Tuesday, 9 December to take part in the Rally for Nature are offered an alternative option for an evening out ….

Haxey Fracking Poster

 

With around 150 days or so left until the 2015 General Election there is still time to contact MPs and indeed Ministers and their Shadows to establish where they stand on various environmental issues?  Not sure who your MP is, then it’s time to find out via They Work For You? The website programme uses the Royal Mail postcode software, so unfortunately it is not always accurate.  Certainly not in rural communities, on a par with the quality of rural broadband provision perhaps?

One might wonder if any party is interested in the shopping list of starters for 10 below?   Which party, if any, have any similar variations in their draft Manifestos?  They seem reasonable, but perhaps some might be deemed controversial in upland areas of the country?

Ensure the protection given to  our wildlife through the EU Birds and Habitats Directives is strengthened not watered down or lost. 

Make wildlife crime a reportable offence and introduce vicarious liability for wildlife crime, to ensure that protected species like the Hen Harrier are not driven to extinction as a breeding species in this country.

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

Ban lead ammunition further to Quito agreement (supported by UK as part of EU delegation).

Ban driven grouse shooting, there is now evidence that water bills are increased as a result of heather burning as well as other damage consequential of intensive moorland management for red grouse.  

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Commit to addressing the issue of bovine TB in cattle through a vaccination programme of cattle and badger and the introduction of measures to ensure improved biosecurity.

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Reform of the planning system to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect SSSIs and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Ensure that agri-environment schemes deliver public benefit and provide value for money, seek reform of the CAP to ensure that the environment is not damaged for short term economic gain.  Ensure public funds do not subsidise environmentally damaging programmes, schemes and projects.

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Review the role of the various Defra agencies and Departments as it would appear that there may be some with conflicting interests even within organisations themselves?

Review the Marine Act with a view of extending protection of important areas.

Then there’s the issue of energy efficiency, energy conservation, waste reduction and recycling, politicians, bankers, big business, the NHS, ‘old fashioned’ values such as honesty, integrity and principles above political agendas (we can dream) ….

A recent description of life in Westminster village …. The weird and wonderful traditions that make it a cross between Hogwarts and a Gilbert and Sullivan Comic Opera?  The barracking and routine dishonesty?  The way the lobbyists for the energy companies and arms companies swan around, knowing they’ve practically bought the place?  Another view by a parliamentarian expressed was the desire (or was it intention) to get rid of “green crap”.

Greenblobpride

Perhaps we should try to see which party is nearest to the issues above, Voteforpolicies might provide a bit of insight until the various political party Manifestoes are made available for public scrutiny?  How do we make them accountable for breach of promise, otherwise it is all rhetoric?  The public we are told have lost faith and few trust politicians, but with the party system we suffer there is little wonder?

 

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

 

 

Defra’s in the news again ….

November 19, 2014

Defra Admits Only 6% of New TB Outbreaks Caused By Badgers, While TB Rates Continue to Drop Outside Cull Zones

Continuing reductions in the rate of bovine TB (bTB) in the south west of England – outside the badger cull zones – have been revealed, alongside a bombshell from Defra’s Chief Scientist who admitted this week that research says only 6% of new bTB outbreaks come directly from badgers.

At a TB conference hosted by the National Farmers’ Union on Monday, Professor Ian Boyd told farmers in no uncertain terms that it is cattle, not badgers, which are the key cause of the spread of bovine TB. To a hostile audience, he quoted from Imperial College research that says only 5.7% of TB infections in cattle were as a result of direct infection from badgers.

He also stated that bovine TB will never be completely eradicated and that more regular testing, improved TB tests and tighter movement controls were key to reducing the spread of the disease.

Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said “We welcome the DEFRA Chief Scientist’s statements at the NFU TB conference. Despite the howls of protest from some in the audience, it was absolutely critical that he laid the finger of blame for a majority of TB transmissions at cattle and not badgers.

It’s a great shame it has taken Ian Boyd four and a half years to accept the inconvenient truth. For too long he was willing to put politics above science and play the badger blame game. This has resulted in tens of millions of pounds of public money being wasted on a disastrous badger cull which has failed on scientific and humaneness grounds. Hopefully this means that at last the Government is moving its focus to the livestock industry where the long term solution to bovine TB reduction lies, rather than the pointless destruction of our precious wildlife.”

New bTB figures are also showing evidence that a focus on cattle, not badgers, is the way to beat the disease. Most of the West region of England was moved to annual and pre-movement testing in 2010/11. This is a policy which tends to lead to an initial spike in the number of animals slaughtered for TB, as more are found to be carrying the disease due to increased testing, followed by a drop in the figures as the benefit of removing the sick animals kicks in.

Figures show:

• A drop of 12% in the number of bTB cattle slaughtered in the West Region from 2012 to 2013 (prior to the badger culls taking place)

• A drop of 14% in the same area between Jan and August 2014

The West Region covers the whole of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Avon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcs, Warwickshire, West Midlands and the Isles of Scilly.

Meanwhile in Wales, where the focus has been on cattle measures, not badger culling, for five years, bTB rates continue to fall:

• The number of new herd incidents (39) reported this month is the lowest ever recorded in any month since 2008.

• The number of cattle slaughtered (264) this month is the lowest ever recorded in any month since 2008.

Dominic Dyer added: “These reductions clearly show that an increased testing intensity is working in removing infected animals and reducing the rate of onward transmission and new infections. While everyone has been focusing on badger culling, they’ve missed the fact that over the last 20 months there has been a steady decline of the disease in the West Region.

“The UK government seemed reluctant to bring in more frequent and better testing in England, but it’s clearly paying off. While we need to be careful of making short-term judgments based on statistics, the drop in bTB rates in the West is becoming clear, as it’s been happening for 20 months, not just this year as is being claimed. The focus on cattle, as is also being shown dramatically in Wales, is paying off, and that’s where we must continue to concentrate our effort.

“Any claim that the badger cull is having an impact on these figures cannot be taken seriously, as the cull zones are a tiny part of the whole area. The NFU has dismissed claims that the vaccination of badgers in Wales has had an impact on the reduction of TB rates there, because the area is too small, and it’s too soon for it to have had an effect. Exactly the same goes for the cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire – any impact on bTB will not be shown in these figures – this is a success of cattle-based measures, pure and simple.”

After Ian Boyd’s statement on Monday, the NFU have called for the management of bTB to be taken out of the political arena, with an independent body in charge of the policy. Dominic Dyer said:

“We agree that the UK’s bTB policy should be non-political, but it’s ironic that the NFU are calling for this now that the government seem to be disagreeing with them. We’ve said all along that beating bTB must be based on science, not on politics. But bTB policy impacts on a lot of people, not just farmers – a case in point is the £10 million price tag to the tax payer for the 2013 cull. So anyone making the decisions should be accountable to the British public.”

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

The suggestion of an ‘Independent body’, what a wonderful idea but one might be forgiven for asking why the Independent Expert Panel was ‘sacked’ or why the offer for a 2014 one was also declined by Defra?  A wider remit independent body might also be encouraged to look at lack lustre biosecurity measures which cause innumerable issues, the clean up of which is oft passed to the public purse rather than those actually responsible?  The idea of accountability to the public would also be a laudable ambition, but that would also need to apply to the politicians who are courted by capitalism and who sadly appear bereft of care or concern for the natural environment beyond its usefulness as a resource.

Greenblobpride

 

Defra has confirmed a case of avian flu in a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire.

On 16 November Defra confirmed a case of avian flu (bird flu) in a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire. The strain has now been confirmed as H5N8, which is a very low risk to human health and no risk to the food chain.

Reminiscences of Ministers eating burgers?  Images of politicians eating duck pate produced from these birds at agri-industry PR events then?

Selective reporting by Defra again …. this time on the true cost of 2013 badger cull

November 16, 2014

Leaked figures from Defra published on Friday last week have revealed the cost of the 2013 badger cull – but missed out £3.5 million spent on policing the operation.

Badger & mayweed

The front page of Friday’s Daily Telegraph reported that each badger killed during last year’s cull cost £3000, with 1,879 badgers being killed at the cost of £6.3 million. However, a glaring omission from the figures is the £3.5m cost of policing the cull. When this is added on, the cost per badger is actually £5,200.

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust and Policy Advisor Care for the Wild, said: “If every badger killed last year cost the taxpayer£3000, that would be a horrendous waste of money on a policy that leading scientists say won’t work. But the reality is that every badger killed actually cost £5,200 – and that is simply beyond belief.

“The government claim they have to do something as bovine TB costs the country a lot of money, and they say that ‘doing nothing is not an option’. But just over the border in Wales, they have looked at the problem, thoroughly tested their cattle so they really understand how many actually have the illness, and brought in more frequent testing and better movement controls. By doing that, they have brought down the number of cattle slaughtered for bTB by 48% in five years. Wales has a policy that is far from doing nothing, and is actually working. England has a policy that is inhumane, unscientific and is throwing money down the drain.”

The cost of policing was included in Defra’s cost/benefit analysis prior to the 2013 cull, so should clearly be included in the cost of the cull. Defra had to pay for the policing costs, charged to them from the Home Office, so the true cost of the cull is much higher than has been reported.

What is it about selective reporting by politicians …. anyone might be forgiven for remembering that there is a General Election in 171 days? What offers are there on the table from any political party with a credible record of open transparent conduct, are there any with principles who put people and the natural environment before profit?

Lest we forget that these trial culls are set to continue for a further two years, with no Independent Expert Panel to monitor the process …. did Cameron once assert to being the “Greenest Government ever”?  Then business and the establishment decided to get rid of “green …. ” and revert to “greenest never”.

Greenblobpride

 

 

EMBER …. Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River Basins

October 3, 2014

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the issue of grouse moors, Hen Harriers and campaigning to hold upland shooting estates to account through the launch by Dr Mark Avery of an online epetition to Ban driven grouse shooting.  Others are far ‘moor’ erudite and knowledgeable so I hope when I offer links to such blog posts or articles that readers find the information or critique useful and persuasive?  In keeping with that theme, we join with other campaigning conservationists to encourage you to read the recently released

Brown, L. E, Holden, J. and Palmer, S. M. (2014) Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins. Key findings from the EMBER project. University of Leeds.

Given that Government is funding quite a number of peat restoration projects, the findings of this report should give civil servants and Ministers serious cause for a rethink on funding for upland grouse moor management?

Controlled heather burning on Derbyshire grouse moors.   Paul Adams: Wikipedia Commons Licence.

Controlled heather burning on Derbyshire grouse moors.
Paul Adams: Wikipedia Commons Licence.

Of the fifteen key findings outlined in the report’s Executive Summary, we offer below a sample as ‘evidence’ that we believe that a serious review of the practice of heather burning should be undertaken and funding for estates which practice burning be similarly reviewed.

Prescribed burning on peatlands was shown to have clear effects on peat hydrology, peat chemistry and physical properties, river water chemistry and river biota.

Burning reduces the organic matter content of the upper peat layers.  The net result is that the peat is less able to retain imortant particles known as exchengeable cations.  In other words, the peat in burned sites is deprived of chemicals which are important for plant growth and for buffering acidic rainfall. 

Sphagnum is an important peat forming species.  Changes in the hydrological properties of the peat after fire make the peat less conducive to Sphagnum moss growth.

River flow in catchments where burning has taken place appears to be slightly more prone to higher peak flows during heavy rain.  However, this was not a conclusive finding.

Particulate organic matter (predominantly peat) deposits were increased up to four-fold in the bed sediments of burned rivers compared to unburned rivers. 

It is interesting additionally to note that the authors report that “while the area of burned moorland has increased in some areas of northern England significantly since 1995*, the implications for peatland soils, their hydrology and biogeochemistry, river flow regimes, water quality and biota remains poorly understood”.  *Yallop et. al. 2006.

Read the key findings here.

I’m not sure of who came up with the title to create the acronym, but they certainly seem to have a sense of humour.  How long will it be before the ashes settle for the final time on this archaic practice?  Was there a great a loss or inconvenience to the agri-industrialists after stubble burning was reviewed and banned?

So, if the epetition nears its target of 100,000 signatures by the end of the ‘window’ made available by this Government will the ConDems allow discussion in the ‘House’?

Perhaps there’s an opportunity here, sell tickets to raise funds for charity or better still to help finance independent scrutiny of grouse moors in receipt of public funds or maybe Hen Harrier monitoring?

Defra’s response to it achieving the 10,000 signature milestone was late and when it arrived it was somewhat lack lustre.  Avery’s analysis of it made far better reading, the kind of persuasive prose which should encourage others to expend a little effort and contribute energy to the campaign for change.  Critical mass can deliver conservation, the failed forestry sell of is perhaps an iconic example?

 

Defra …. fit for purpose following recent revised (again) bTB data?

September 14, 2014

Defra have recently released

Revisions to bovine TB statistics – September 2014

This two page document, is certainly worth scrutinising and makes quite astonishing reading with errors in Government reporting ranging from 27% to 233%.  Civil servants and Ministers might be tempted to blame IT systems but surely, ultimately it is they who were responsible for ensuring that at the start of the programme everything should have been beyond question and fit for purpose to evidence, openly and transparently, demonstrate robust methodology and professional delivery through humane practice with quality assurance in terms of reporting outcomes and outputs?  I suppose the words “should have” are sadly no longer applicable to Government Departments which are an inconvenience to the “higher politics” of political agendas influenced by industry advocates?

This is the most recent revision, released very quitely and something which appears to be an ongoing trend and something which raises the issue of a Government agency ability to provide accurate figures.  Perhaps this inability to accurately record data is one of the reasons that the new Minister Liz Truss has not reinstated the Independent Expert Panel?  No there is clear need for independence then one might reasonably expect their recall?

We can offer no better analysis that that provided by Miles King on his excellent blog posted today which concludes:

  • We obviously cannot believe anything Defra statistics say about the extent of Bovine TB breakdowns, or the trend in breakdowns.
  • Defra are trying to cover up their monumental statistical cock-up.
  • The very data used to justify the Badger Cull is so badly flawed that Natural England must reconsider whether the Cull can be allowed, given the rules that determine its legality.

One might wonder if a critical mass of correspondence were to make its way to Ministers and indeed local MPs on environmental issues then we might collectively bring about reform?

To that end I have written through my constituency MP to the Minister Liz Truss, I will keep you posted on any replies received.  If all readers were to do similar then perhaps …. just perhaps as a General Elections looms?

Thus far an expenditure of around £7.29m for just two areas and what has it achieved so far, flawed data, inhumane practice ….

The Wildlife Trusts and others are calling for more work to be done on vaccination programmes and the public have got behind that approach and made substantive donations to appeals.  Badger Vaccination Report 2011 – 13 clearly demonstrates an effective option which good science and logic would reason ought to be part of the tool kit operated to effect resolution of this problem?

Badger & mayweed

I recently tried to locate a copy of the 1997 Kreb’s Report , “Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers” via the Defra website only to learn that the full report was not available.  An executive summary page was available.  A sceptic might be forgiven for wondering why Defra would no longer wish to make that document publically available?  Their website does indicate that a full report is available in the Defra library, it does not indicate how one would obtain a copy!

Not to be deterred, Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers Report to the Rt Hon Dr Jack Cunningham MP  (1997) can still be located with persistence.

There is an epetition calling upon Liz Truss – call an immediate end to the badger cull, which readers might like to consider signing after they’ve penned some ‘poetic prose’ perhaps to their parliamentary representatives?  I suspect that sadly this petition may (no pun intended) go the same way as did Sir Brian’s, but that should not stop us campaigning?

Finally for this post …. to add the heartening news that the Badger Trust have been successful in their application to the High Court to appeal the Administrative Court decsion that the Minister Liz Truss and Natural England acted lawfully and that legitimate expectation was not binding upon the Minister or NE.

‘Moor grousing’ …. Defra answer …. at last

September 2, 2014

Red Grouse TM

The epetition created by Dr Mark Avery Ban driven grouse shooting has at long last received a reply of sorts from a nameless Defra bureaucrat.  It is provided verbatim below:

The e-petition ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’ signed by you recently reached 16,828 signatures and a response has been made to it.

As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response: It has been estimated that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide significant benefits for conservation. Shooting makes an important contribution to the rural economy. When carried out in accordance with the law, shooting for sport is a legitimate activity, and our position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities should they wish to do so. Landowners are free to manage wildlife on their land, provided it is carried out appropriately and legally, in accordance with any the relevant wildlife legislation. Hen Harriers It is encouraging to learn that there are four hen harrier nests this year which have chicks, given that in 2013 there were no known hen harrier fledglings in England. Some of these fledglings will be tracked with satellite tags we have funded. The Uplands Stakeholder Forum Hen Harrier Sub-group was set up in 2012 with senior representatives from organisations best placed to take action to address the decline in Hen Harriers. These include Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Parks Authority and the RSPB. Defra welcomes the involvement of all parties. The Sub-group has developed a draft Joint Action Plan containing a suite of complementary actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. We are working with Sub-group members to finalise the Plan. Illegal killing of birds of prey The killing of birds of prey is illegal, all wild birds being protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone who kills or injures a wild bird is committing an offence and could face jail if convicted. Bird of prey persecution is one of the six UK wildlife crime priorities. The England and Wales Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group leads on action to address these crimes through prevention, intelligence and enforcement activity. The National Wildlife Crime Unit gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey, providing assistance to police forces when required. Earlier this year the Government confirmed that the Home Office and Defra would together provide funding until 2016, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime. Alongside this, there have been successful conservation measures which have led to increases in buzzard, peregrine and red kite populations over the last two decades. Peatland In February 2013 we, along with the devolved administrations, made a statement of intent to protect and enhance the natural capital provided by peatlands in the UK. In September 2013 the Pilot Peatland Code was launched with the aim of promoting the restoration of UK peatland through business investment. It is intended that the Code will assure restoration delivers tangible benefits for climate change alongside other benefits such as restoring habitats for protected species and improving water quality. The last decade has seen increasing numbers of conservation initiatives (such as Nature Improvement Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest) many of which are focussed on peatland restoration in the UK. We are working with a wide range of partners on peatland restoration, including land owners and environmental NGOs. Rural Development Programme We are committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the English uplands, which are endowed with natural assets that are important for delivering a range of valuable “ecosystem services”, including food and fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for health and wellbeing. We will be investing over £3 billion in agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship and its successor) in the next Rural Development Programme 2015-2020. Addressing loss of biodiversity will be a priority for the new Programme. In addition funding will look to maximise opportunities to deliver biodiversity, water quality and flooding benefits together. Defra is working with a wide range of interests to finalise scheme details in good time for 2015. This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

View the response to the e-petition

Thanks,

HM Government e-petitions http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/

140818 Middlemoor butt hrk 430

Do readers think it actually addresses the issue?  There are some excellent comments made about it on Avery’s blog post.  Unless I need to go to specsavers there is very little which provides any confidence that there is serious intent to tackle the crime.

The petition currently has 16,912 – help get it to 100,000 so that they have to discuss the issue in the Westminster village.

‘Moor’ badgering after Administrative Court rejects Badger Trust’s application?

August 31, 2014

Badger Trust court challenge rejected, but serious concerns remain over continuation of pilot culls

One might wonder what the atmosphere will be like at the Badger Trust Annual Meeting this coming week?  The gathering comes on the back of the reject rejection by the Administrative Court to permit the Trust to move to JR Natural England and the Minister Liz Truss.

Badger & mayweed

On 29 August the Administrative Court handed down its judgment in Badger Trust’s judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision to continue the pilot culls without independent oversight.

In line with the precautionary approach adopted by the Secretary of State during the development and implementation of the policy, Badger Trust had understood from statements made by her predecessors that an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) would oversee, and analyse the results from, the pilot culls until a final decision was made on whether or not to roll out the culls to other areas.

However, despite the IEP finding [seven reports] that the first year of the pilot culls failed (by a significant margin) to achieve appropriate standards of both effectiveness and humaneness, the Secretary of State decided to continue the pilot culls with a view to a future roll-out, but without independent oversight to ensure such standards can actually be met. The Badger Trust therefore brought proceedings to prevent the Secretary of State from breaking her promise.

The Administrative Court has today found that, as a matter of law, the Secretary of State’s assurances did not amount to an enforceable legitimate expectation. However, the Court also rejected the Secretary of State’s attempt to argue that if there was a legitimate expectation she had properly considered whether she could resile from it.

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust, commented:

“The Trust is considering its options in respect of an appeal against the Court’s decision. However, this judgment does not detract from the serious public concerns over the continuation of the cull, including the most recent leaks regarding potentially unlawful and unsafe activity undertaken by culling contractors during the 2013 culls. Given the indisputable failure of the 2013 culls, the still unresolved issues regarding safety and the significant uncertainty over the numbers of badgers to be killed in 2014, the only sensible option for the Secretary of State is to call a halt to these pilots, and the potentially unnecessary and inhumane deaths of hundreds of badgers.

“However, if she is not willing to do so, we call on Ms Truss to reinstate the IEP. As Counsel for the Trust, David Wolfe QC, observed during the hearing, the Secretary of State is not just moving the goal posts, but has banished the independent referee from the pitch. Whatever happens during the second year of the culls, in the absence of the IEP, it will be impossible to trust any findings supporting a wider roll out, not least because this is already clearly the preferred option of the Secretary of State.”

 

A case might be made that such a decision simply evidences that politicians are not particularly honourable when it comes to ‘promises’ and reasonable expactations of ‘normal’ people.  Why would a Government not want to monitor with robust science the impact and outcomes of trials?  The 2013 culls were a failure, the evidence coming out of Wales recently is demonstrating more efficient and cost effective options, so one might be forgiven for asking what on earth is actually behind the politicians motivation and why are they so obstinately sett in their ways?

As this post is being written the Badger Trust will be holding its annual conference at the University of Wales in Pontypridd from the 29th to 31st August.

The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales Professor Christianne Glossop, will be the opening speaker at a special session of the conference on the morning of Friday 29 August to focus on how the Welsh Government is tackling the bovine TB epidemic by a comprehensive approach including annual testing of cattle, strict biosecurity measures, movement control and a badger vaccination programme, with a longer term objective to also implement the use of TB cattle vaccines. This opening session will be attended by representatives from Badger Trust groups, conservationists and wildlife organisations and landowners and farmers.

By holding the event in Wales the Badger Trust is aiming to focus attention on the alternative strategy of the Welsh Government for eradicating bovine TB without culling badgers. This strategy is proving increasingly successful with the latest statistics collated by DEFRA showing an 18% drop in new Bovine TB incidents in cattle in Wales over the last 12 months to May 2014, the lowest level for six years.

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

Moving goalposts and independent referees …. is democracy is at risk when there is no accountability nor credible science applied to decisions made (reputedly on the public’s behalf)?  

 

 

Badgering Defra & Natural England

August 21, 2014

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

The Badger Trust are to be congratulated ….

Badger Trust High Court legal challenge over monitoring of badger cull

The Badger Trust will be in the High Court on Thursday 21 August for a Judicial Review challenge against the DEFRA Secretary of State Liz Truss and Natural England on the Government’s highly controversial badger cull policy.

The Judicial Review will argue that Liz Truss and Natural England have unlawfully failed to put in place any Independent Expert Panel for the continued culling of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2014. The Trust contends that the use of such a Panel to oversee the design of data collection, its analysis and interpretation was promised by the Secretary of State. Without such a panel, there can be no proper assessment of the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the culling operation, something that would be needed before any lawful decision could be taken to continue with further culls around the country.

The Badger Trust legal challenge has received strong support from some members of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) set up by the Government to monitor the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the badger culls carried out in 2013.

Commenting on the Judicial Review challenge, Professor Tim Coulson a member of the IEP who has confirmed his support for the challenge, said:

“The Independent Expert Panel’s report states clearly the rationale for ensuring that independent monitoring and the use of the statistically robust sample sizes and analytical methods, as used in the 2013 culls, are followed in further culling exercises. If this scientific advice is ignored then the data collected during the proposed 2014 culls will be insufficiently reliable for assessment of humaneness and effectiveness. This means that farmers, veterinarians and scientists intimately involved in controlling bovine TB will be denied the information necessary to allow them to assess whether the IEP’s recommended changes to the culling process have corrected the failings identified by the pilot culls.”

Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild commented on the Judicial Review challenge saying:

“The refusal of the DEFRA Secretary of State to put in place any independent monitoring of the badger culls due to commence in Gloucestershire and Somerset over the next few weeks, against the advice of the Independent Expert Panel which DEFRA set up, is a national disgrace.

“The caring, compassionate British public will not remain silent whilst NFU contract gunmen move through our countryside at night shooting badgers with rifles and shotguns despite serious concerns regarding the levels of training, monitoring and scrutiny. We know from recent reports in the Sunday Times that contractors employed by both the NFU and Animal Health Veterinary Laboratory Agency were alleged to have regularly breached operating procedures by falsifying hair trap data, stalking badgers outside designated cull zone areas and using firearms in a way that put public safety at risk.

“I am very pleased to see that we have strong support from members of the Independent Expert Panel for the Judicial Review challenge brought by Badger Trust.

“We expect to see hundreds of people outside the High Court during the hearing on Thursday supporting the challenge, for what could be one of the largest wildlife protection protests in its history.”

Supplementary snippets ….

Coincidentally The Wildlife Trusts have just published their Badger Vaccination Progress Report 2011 – 13 and this in conjunction with the findings of the IEP puts another metaphoric nail in the coffin of the ‘cull’ argument?

Natural England appear to be failing the nation’s wildlife and special places? They dropped the case against the Walshaw Estate and made an astonishing agreement which effectively funds grouse moor management. Thankfully the RSPB have subsequently taken the case to Europe.  Their ‘Briefings’ of October 2012 and March 2014 can be found here and here.

Why is it that NE appear to fail to ensure robust science where badger culling is pushed through?

In 1997 their predecessors (English Nature) were described in a WWF Report as “A Muzzled Watchdog”, they morphed to become Natural England and one wonders what of the future for them with an ever changing climate around government attitude to environmmental conservation and wildlife?

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.?

 

Hen Harrier Day aftermath & badger marches

August 11, 2014

Well, it looked wet up at the Derwent Dam in the Peak District but apparently all attending appeared to consider it well worth the effort. Well done to all the 570 who turned out to evidence public fury over the continuing illegal persecution of raptors.

Hen Harrier Day 2014 has certainly provoked a media campaign by the likes of the Moorland Association, whose claims were quite astonishing and it was a great shame that the BBC reporter hadn’t the committment to test Ms Anderson’s assertions that driven grouse moors are great for HHs. Having said that they would be perhaps, except for the issue of criminals at work or play on those same driven grouse moorlands?  Therein lay the failure of Faith Wilkinson, or that of her script writer?  Chris Packham did the campaign proud, no lies no selective reporting …. judge for yourself here.  An excellent analogy was made by the Shadow Minister Barry Gardiner who described the area as a Bermuda Triangle for Hen Harriers.  Charlie Moores BAWC called for it to stop now, not eventually if the draft Hen Harrier Recovery Plan ever materialises …. seven years in the gestation, the egg is addled from so much rhetoric and hot air?

Mark Avery in his Standing up for nature blog, comments on Jim Dixon the Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park’s writing in Saturday morning’s Times newspaper that “…a bird that has a proven disruptive influence on wild grouse exists uneasily with raising large bags of grouse for sport. The naturalists will be angry tomorrow, but it’s hard to see anger doing any practical good for hen harriers. Enlightened moorland owners and a new generation of keepers who show respect for nature hold the future of this special bird in their hands‘” as being presumptious and suggestive of an “unnecessarily understanding of the criminal activities that have reduced hen harriers to such low numbers in the English uplands, and unnecessarily dismissive of the views of the people whose taxes pay for the National Park activities.”  As Avery further mentions, Dixon’s comment must surely be in a personal capacity?  One thing is for sure …. the epetition signatures slowly creep towards the target 100,000 today there are 13,487 a significant increase on the last day or so.

 

Hen-Harrier-Day-lg

 

 

BADGERING MATTERS?

Sadly to stay on the topic of animal persecution …. Paterson departed calling environmentalists “Green blobs” but it seems that his successor Liz Truss MP is carrying on the ConDem persecution of badgers regardless.  The Badger Trust are appealing to people to support and join us for the Colchester March Against The Badger Cull this Saturday, 16th August 2014.

This march is the last to be held before Badger Trust takes DEFRA to judicial review on 21st August and could also be the last before killing resumes in Somerset and Gloucestershire this year. As always, your attendance is extremely appreciated and important in making these events a success. Please bring family, friends, buggies, dogs, all welcome.

The organisers ask that everyone assemble at 1pm at Colchester Castle, Castle Park, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1TJ. Guest speakers include Dominic Dyer CEO of Badger Trust& Policy Advisor for Care For The Wild, Adrian Coward of Somerset Badger Group and Sarah Geller, Wildlife Campaigner.

colchester2

 

It’s not exactly on our doorstep, but it is a peaceful protest in support of protecting an iconic species of the quintissential English countryside.  If readers are unable to get then perhaps they could be persuaded to circulate the appeal and notification to their friends, family and network contacts.  Poor brock deserves fair hearing of robust science but there are those in power who seem to disguard what doesn’t suit their case?

Readers might be minded also to consider writing to their MPs, to the new Minister Liz Truss MP to ask for a rethink?

Hen Harriers and badgers, to see either or both are truly memorable and magical moments, they deserve a future.  Help us make sure that future generations too can experience those same magical moments.

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Keep on ‘badgering’ …. DEFRA found to be acting outwith the public interest?

August 6, 2014

We are pleased to be able to update readers of the latest in the long running saga of badger culling, we are grateful to the Badger Trust and South Yorkshire Badger Group for sharing this with us.

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Public interest found to be in favour of disclosure of secret badger cull policy documents

On 31st July 2014 the Upper Tribunal held that it was “not persuaded” by DEFRA’s justifications for withholding key badger culling policy documents.

In May 2012, the Badger Trust requested documents relating to the controversial development of the Government’s badger cull policy in 2010. Unknown to the Badger Trust, these documents related to the involvement of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) on a secret project board set up to explore essential aspects of the Government’s policy. DEFRA refused to disclose the Risk and Issue Logs (RILs), which demonstrate the project board’s hidden assessment of the risks associated with developing a farmer-led badger cull prior to the Minister’s decision on introducing the policy.

In June 2013, the Information Commissioner ordered DEFRA to disclose the RILs, finding that the public interest test favoured disclosure. DEFRA appealed to the First-tier Tribunal. The case was exceptionally transferred directly to the Upper Tribunal where it was vigorously defended by the Information Commissioner together with the Badger Trust.

Following two days of evidence and submissions at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Tribunal indicated that it was unconvinced by any of DEFRA’s public interest arguments to justify withholding the RILs. Full judgment will be handed down in due course. There will also be a further hearing around late October 2014 to address important wider issues to clarify the legal exceptions relied on by DEFRA to keep the Board’s assessment of the risks under wraps.

This places the Badger Trust at the forefront of potentially ground-breaking developments in environmental information law, which will assist other NGOs like themselves to ensure greater transparency and scrutiny of controversial environmental decision-making within Government.

Jeff Hayden, Financial Director and the Trust’s lead on judicial challenge, who attended the two-day hearing, said:
“The Badger Trust was unremitting and determined in challenging DEFRA’s refusal and today’s finding is a complete vindication for all its hard-work. Our legal advisors, Bindmans LLP, have again proved an invaluable partner in our battle to protect badgers. We deeply regret that we have been unable to save the 1,861 that were slaughtered in the 2013 trials.”

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust and Policy Adviser Care For The Wild, said:
“This is another important step forward in the Badger Trust’s on-going legal challenge to show that it is cattle, not badgers, that are at the root of the spread of bovine TB. Although the written judgment is awaited, the Tribunal Chairman, Mr Justice Charles, made it quite clear that DEFRA had not been justified in withholding these documents from the Badger Trust in 2012.”

Badger & mayweed

 

The moral of the story: when you know the cause is just then just keep on badgering and trust that the truth will out and become available for public scrutiny to the public who funded it in the first place.

The Farmers Weekly, a much read rural publication have also been forced to admit that a photograph they have often used was not one taken in the wild, but 25 years ago at a wildlife sanctuary and the activity it captured was highly unlikely ever to happen in the wild.   The complaint was upheld by the PCC, see here and here  

Another piece of pleasing news is that following a presentation made by SYBG, Doncaster MBC have agreed not to allow any badgers to be culled on local authority owned land, well done DMBC!  Sheffield CCwere the first to declare without any prompting, decisions are still awaited from Barnsley MBC and Rotherham MBC.  So any readers living in those boroughs might like to contact their local councillors and ask them to examine the science and guage the public mood for culling badgers perhaps?

Warning: the clip shown through the BRAVE website here is deeply distressing but the message still needs to be sent to Cameron and the continued unscientific, inhumane and barbaric blame mongers who obstinately refuse to listen to science, rationale reason and the public.  Disturbingly Paterson’s replacement Liz Truss has made it clear that she intends the cull programme to continue, a move swiftly lamented bt the oppossition.  In her first session at the dispatch box 48 hours after being appointed to Cabinet explained that after speaking with Defra scientific advisers she had decided to progress with the Government’s two culling pilots this autumn …. if readers are minded to write to Ms Truss then contact details can be found here (sadly they are via the Defra gate, but critical mass can be convincing).  Perhaps a timely reminder with just 273 days left to the next general election that Mr Cameron might like to receive correspondence about his ConDem environmental conservation performance ….

 

‘Moor’ B updates ….

July 2, 2014

BEES

Bees seem to keep hitting the headlines a lot recently, at the moment because there is a worry that David Cameron and Owen Paterson will overturn the EU ban on the use of neonictinoids.  The challenge has been led by Syngenta and a number of epetitions have been launched to send a message to politicians about the serious concerns posed by these toxic chemicals.

This morning hundreds of 38 Degrees members joined a host of campaign organisations to swarm on Downing Street to protect our bees.  David Cameron was meeting his cabinet to decide whether to allow banned bee killing pesticides to be used on fields across the UK.  Alongside 38 Degrees a huge range of campaign organisations came along, Buglife, Client Earth, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Natural Beekeeping Trust, Pesticide Action Network and the Soil Association all joined the campaign. Even Barry Gardiner MP (The Shadow Environment minister) join the ‘swarm’.  This is people power, this is critical mass collaborating to conserve and protect things people rather than corporations care about.

BADGERS

Of our beloved and beleaguered brock, with ‘apologies’ for the ’emotive’ langauge …. Miles King through his excellent blog “a new nature blog” has alerted us if we were not already aware that Farmers flout TB rules and campaign against loopholes which let TB spread

after he had analysed the recent (June 2014) Defra Bovine TB Information Note 02/14   Sadly, King draws a conclusion that the Tenant Farmers Association, chairman Stephen Wyrill considers trade to be more important than disease control, when it comes to tackling the disease in cattle.  Wyrill agreed that badgers should continue to be killed but that measures must respect the need to continue trading.

In a report by the Guardian today, new research published in the prestigious scientific journals Nature reports on National-scale research which heavily contradicts government’s badger policy and says that emphasis on cattle is only way to curb the bTB epidemic and that a mass cull of cattle not badgers is the only way to proceed.  The study was immediately rejected by farming minister George Eustice, who said a mass cull of cattle would kill the industry.  Surely, collectively we need solutions based on science not political point scoring, procrastination is costing lives of both badgers and cattle.

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Brook-Pollock, Roberts and Keeling present a dynamic stochastic spatial model for bovine TB in Great Britain.  The online paper provides an excellent selection of references and they are provided with their context.  The research concludes that “Very few of the control options tested have the potential to reverse the observed annual increase, with only intensive strategies such as whole-herd culling or additional national testing proving highly effective, whereas controls focused on a single transmission route are unlikely to be highly effective”.   As this research does not provide support for the continued cull, will the farming industry commission its own (if it has not already), will the Minister ‘carry on regardless’?

Both these ‘B’ issues bring to the fore the question of political impartiality and representativeness of the public who elected them (be it proactively or otherwise) and to who they are accountable?  However, when one examines how political parties are funded then the mire gets very mirky indeed?  Multinational corporations employ powerful and effective marketing companies who naturally advocate for vested interest and Westminster has some 1450 incumbents, some elected others not so accountable but all open to ‘discussion’ and why would they not be?  When ‘reason’ fails then there’s always the courts?

 

 

‘Moor’ conservation campaigns, contentious bloggers & National Pollinators Strategy updates ….

June 28, 2014

A number of recent occurences appear to re-enforce the accepted view that the environment is low (if at all) on the everage voters agenda.

BLOGGERS RAISING POTENTIALLY CONTENTIOUS ISSUES:

Miles King reported in his excellent blog “a new nature blog” further explained as the “Musings, ramblings and probably a few rants on politics, nature + the environment” reported recently about the Kennel Club challenging the Borough of London’s safeguarding of the Burnham Beeches, this was followed up today with one about the Angling Trust calling for Beavers to be shot and Defra evicting Beaver from the Otter!  I could perhaps understand anglers having issues with otters (after all they eat fish) but with a vegetarian species, the beaver?  Part of their lobbying activity is clearly to influence Natural England.  I do like the aspiration to commission independent research, when has vested interest ever made available funds for independent let alone robust science?  It is time perhaps that when this kind of proposal is made that the funds are passed to and managed by a third party and the science undertaken through a tender process or a selection criteria in which the commissioners take no part.  The science is delivered to the terms of reference or specifications.  Open, transparent and honesty would help provide credibility to any case presented to vested interests and that would also include ‘developers’ (housing, industrial etc. which are required to comply with the planning system recently streamlined to make it easier to ‘develop’ sites with commercial value at the expense of quality natural environment, landscape or conservation significance.

We would not propose to repeat the the stories behind these headlines, but to suggest that you read the articles for yourselves (by visiting the site through the links above). They are well balanced (in my opinion) and they understand the issues as well as the current situation descibed. What King points out very well is the fact that nature is losing out to recreational interest with political clout.

This is evident through the two aforementioned cases, in addition Mark Avery’s taking up the issue of the plight of the Hen Harrier in England, Chris Packham heading up the exposure of the Malta Massacre on Migration, and there are others but people risk their livelihoods if they take a stance.  I have to confess that I am neither an avid reader of the Times or someone especially interested in sport, but Simon Barnes has, apparently left the Times recently.  There have been suggestions that this may have been because of some sympathies with conservationists and has written articles which could be described as questioning?  Now, perhaps it’s a pure co-incidence but when I tried to open the link through to the Times article by Barnes Some of our grouses are beginning to be heard, it has a subscription offer ‘on top / blocking’ it.  Is it worth subscribing and then not continuing the payment explaining that as they sacked him, there’s no point continuing a subscription?  The Times became part of the News International [Corp] empire in 1981.

 

Setting aside politics and the media and returning to the NATURE NOTES notion and occasional purpose of this blog ….

The bird feeders are well and truly being used by the array of visiting families.  The male Great Spotted Woodpecker has started to appear again along with one of his offspring.  Blue, great and coal tits all voraciously attack the home made fat blocks, they seem to prefer these to bought ones which is hardly surprising as they have meal worms and all sorts of ‘luxury’ ingredients in as oppossed to commercial varieties.  Dunnocks skulk and collect the debris from the floor.  Tree and just one pair of house sparrows visit regularly.   Blackirds, robins, greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches too are plentiful.  One interesting observation lately has been the begging behaviour of the various finch species.  The chaffinch young move their head and shoulders from side to side in the hope that their parents will feed them, the goldfinch young by comparison stand still and flutter their wings, held at 90 degrees fast to beg their food!

A totally unexpected visitor and I think it’s a first for the ‘garden list’ was a Stock Dove a couple of days ago!  We get far too many woodpigeons, collared doves are plentiful but turtle or stock doves are rarities.  The corvids are well enough represented as well with jackdaws breeding in an owl box!  Magpies too have developed the art of raiding the fat blocks.  Our third black and white species the Pied Wagtail is a fairly regular visitor at the moment so perhaps they have bred nearby as well.

 

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Stock Dove

Image: Chris Cant.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

 

POLLINATORS STRATEGY UPDATE

Defra’s National Pollinator Strategy is progressing through the system, the parliamentary website reports:

The Committee intends to examine Defra’s ‘National Pollinator Strategy’ in the light of the Committee’s April 2013 report on Pollinators and Pesticides.

The Committee will look at the proposed relative roles of particular actors (Government, gardeners, industry, farmers, etc); whether the anticipated research is in the right areas, timely and sufficiently independent; the adequacy of the ‘priority actions’ identified; and the effectiveness of the envisaged Integrated Pest Management model.

So, how long will the industrial lobbyists be allowed to cause delays and put at jepordy the future of bumblebees, and other invertebrates essential to pollination because various industries are reliant upon commercial bumblebee breeding programmes?

The Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius

Red-tailed bumblebee.  Image: Keith Heywood.

But, the WI and others including FOE and Buglife are on the case and advocating for a precautionary approach that the EU pesticide ban remain until robust scientific research is able to provide suffient evidence upon which to review the situation.   The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was the tangible outcome of Dave Goulson after he moved to Stirling in 2006, the story behind the creation of the BBCT can be found in “A Sting in the Tale” (2013) and reviewed in a guest blog by Keith Heywood.  Its evolution reminded me a little of how the Eden Project developed.  From small acorns and conscientous critical mass ….

 

RECALL [MPs] DRAFT BILL

You might recall that the politicians engaged in a little bit of ‘kidology’ recently when the Queen’s speech announced that MPs could be recalled and that a draft bill was being prepared?  Then we all read the small print and it began to resemble the expense saga and how they were left to sort that out for themselves!  So, any other sceptics or should I say realists amongst readers might be interested in passing across your thoughts about the matter to 38 degrees?  On a positive note, might it be an indication that MPS might have been listening a little to voters and realised that they ought to make a start?

Beleagured Badgers in Somerset & Gloucestershire still, but no roll out elsewhere ….

April 4, 2014

At long last …. the Government, through Defra have published the Independent Expert Panel’s Report on the Pilot Badger Culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.  The Report  was presented to the Secretary of State Owen Paterson in March 2014.  It was apparently leaked ahead of the Parliamentary debate by the Backbench Business Committee through the Commons Select Committee on 13 March.  Pro-badger cull MPs boycott vote as Government loses 219 to 1, so will those who provaricated citing the need to read the findings now act to bring the debate back to Parliament and a free vote on whether or not more public money should be wasted on an inhumane and ineffective, unscientific cull?  Consider also the cost of the cull, per badger, and in times of cuts in public services – can we afford it when there are alternatives?

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By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Panel were appointed in 2012 and despite the findings of the Panel it appears that Owen Paterson still intends to continue the two pilot culls, only this time they will not be monitored.  This from a Minister who is reported to seek evidence based science.  This despite the cost per animal, this despite the IEP findings that the cull was inhumane and ineffective.  Perhaps a glimmer of hope on the horizon is the announcement that there is some £24.6m to be invested over the course of this parliament in the development of effective TB vaccines for both cattle and badgers.

The NFU are reported to be ‘bitterley disappointed’.  Surely they can appreciate the predicament that they are placing farmers who have ‘closed herds’ in, as well as those who practice good biosecurity?   Perhaps it is the role of such Unions generally to represent the masses rather than promote effective best practice?  This continued persecution of a much loved icon of the British countryside will not help the public perception of farmers who prefer to work with rather than persecute nature.  The agricultural welfare scheme (aka CAP) is not just there to subsidise monoculture across the countryside but to fund good environmental practice, and surely it is not beyond the wit of man as a scientist to develop and achieve an effective compromise?

What is perhaps aseonishing is the fact that the Minister does not deem it appropriate or necessary that there is a need for monitoring of the culls.  Prof Rosie Woodroffe of the  Institute of Zoology commented on that aspect: “I’m disappointed that this year’s culls will lack the independent oversight needed to provide confidence”.  A case could be made that this is a Goverment lacking in evidence based policy from a Minister and Department where such scince ought to be at the forefront of decisions? 

Another potential negative spin off consequential of the continuing cull  in Somerset and Gloucestershire, might be a drop in tourism – might the public think twice about visiting an area where its farmers do not value its wildlife?  Somerset Brie is delicious, it is a quality product that deserves our support, but for me at the moment at any rate there is a principle based on sound science and at the moment the Minister appears rather muddled?

bTB can be devastating, no one doubts that and there is understanding and sympathy for farmers who have lost herds to the disease. Generations of breeding over years whiped out in an instant.

Together, a collaborative coalition can achieve compromise, but continued culling is only likely to cause more problems than it resolves?

 

 

BEES still under pressure: eBay BEE ban, to BEE or not to BEE?

March 29, 2014

Readers will be used to our posts asking people to consider signing various epetitions, writing to MPs about topical environmental issues ….

Yesterday we posted an update on the plight of bees, we encouraged readers to submit responses to the Defra consultation on a pollinators strategy.

 

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Image: Bombus lucorum (White-tailed Bumble Bee) Copyright: Tim Melling.

Today, we report on the recent issue surrounding sales of the banned chemical imidacloprid through eBay38 degrees who are working with Buglife, and are asking account holders to contact eBay to point out the issue of illegal sales.   For a more detailed explanation see the 38 degree blog post of 28 March eBay: killing our bees AGAIN. 

If you have an eBay account then please consider asking eBay to ensure that all advertising of banned chemicals is taken down and any future advertising of such products is rejected.

Badgers, bees, buzzards …. ‘The State of Nature’?  Not doing too well at the moment it seems?  Astonishing when you consider that agri-industry is dependant upon pollinators?

 

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An excellent guest blog, by Rosemary Mason and Derek Thomas on the issue of neonicotinoids can be found on Mark Avery’s ‘Standing up for Nature’ and another appearing on the same topic by Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife.  An erudite analysis of the European debate on the banning is also provided by Mark Avery.

What is evident, is that a watchful eye is always needed and clearly one of the benefits of the wonderful www is the speed at which messages can be relayed, long live the community campaigners collaborative coalition …. a network not disimilar to hyphae that run as mycelium?

To BEE or not to BEE? There is a question to BEE answered?

March 28, 2014

Dasysyrphus albostriatus 2 Crowle Moor 12.5.13

We would hope that all readers are aware of the issues around problems for our bees, have Government woken up and listened to the concerns expressed and submitted by many experts and authorities?  If plants are not pollinated then the majority are likely to fail, a large proportion of commercial crops are pollinated by bees (others by flies, moths and even birds ) so they are essential in terms of food production.  To date the agri-industry chemical companies appear to have failed to convince conservationists that they value the diversity of bee species beyond industrialised breeding of colonies for commercial use.  Defra are seeking to consult on a Strategy to ‘safeguard and support’ pollinators, so ….

BUGLIFE, the invertebrate conservation charity have done much research (along with others) as well as raising public awareness to the issue.  Get Britain Buzzing: A Manifesto for Pollinators is a recent publication which is a worthwhile but not heavy read, it offers Buglife’s 7 principles and 27 actions to arrest the alarming decline in UK pollinator populationsIf Defra adopt these then there seems to be an opportunity to address the issue and reverse the decline. 

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Buglife are encouraging people to make submissions, the Forum’s Executive would endorse that appeal.  Collectively collaborative campaigning can achieve positive outcomes.  Buglife are also asking people to consider signing the partnership Bee Cause Petition which calls upon the Minister Lord de Mauley (Rupert Ponsonby) to take action to address the decline in bee numbers.

So, let’s hope that the critical mass of community activism can deliver a message that is heard in the Westminster village, that is to say that bees are a necessary and valuable natural asset, they make an astonishing financial contribution to the world economy so surely they deserve a safe natural environment in which to conduct their business which makes significant contribution to man’s existence?

Why [Defra] We Are Consulting

Defra is inviting views on the proposed Strategy from stakeholders through this public consultation. In particular, this is an opportunity to engage with a wider audience before we finalise the Strategy. It also provides a further opportunity for input from those organisations and groups who have already helped us over the last six months. The main purpose of this consultation is to gather further evidence and information to help finalise the details of the Strategy and to guide its implementation.

A consultation on the National Pollinator Strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England

We welcome your views and comments on the proposals. We would prefer you to give us your answers to the consultations questions using the online survey. If you are unable to do so, we will accept responses via email to the consultation mailbox: pollinatorstrategy@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Alternatively, postal responses should be addressed to:

National Pollinator Strategy Team, Room 11G35, Sand Hutton, York, YO41 1LZ

Responses should be received by 2nd May 2014.

The link below will take you to the ‘Citizen Space’ portal where verious documents can be downloaded from.  There is also the opportunity to submit On Line, ‘Give Us Your Views’ they say …. so, are the questions the right ones or are they chosen with another agenda?

A consultation on the National Pollinator Strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England

Reading matter:

Yale E360

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The budding hymenopterists amongst you would have realised that the image at the top of the post is not a bee but Dasysyrphus albostriatus, a hoverfly, so well done!

Causes for celebration?

March 16, 2014

It’s always nice to receive good news or positive outcomes and to be able to congratulate people on achieving best conservation outcomes:

The Badger saga: there was a Backbench Business Committee debate on Thursday 13 March in the ‘House’, see here to watch the debate or to download the transcript.  It is interesting to observe the proceedings and ‘performaces’,  one might be minded to agree that the Independant Expert Panel (IEP) report should have been made available ahead of the debate (as oppossed to being leaked on the day) in order that all MPs could read and understand all the significant findings.  219 to one MPs voted to halt the cull, many justified abstention by indicating that the final IEP Report was required ahead of a debate.  In the interim of the awaited IEP Report, perhaps they should read a few statistics provided by ‘Team Badger’?   The outcome of the debate is not binding upon the Government and thus far the ConDems have carried on in just that manner,  ConDem’ing wildlife and the environment to an uncertain future by clearing away red tape they see as inhibiting development.  What is perhaps equally worrying is a Government who appears deaf to the masses?  Fifty Shades of Grayling a guest blog by Carol Day was another damming view on the Government’s ‘green credentials’ and featured on the well read Standing up for Nature site operated by Mark Avery.   Another recent critique he featured was subsequent to a magazine interview with Dave Webster, CEO of Natural England, entitled What would you have liked to have asked?  it too receives a number of interesting comments. 

It is unfortunate that the Defra website  does not contain up to date information which raises the issue of open and transparent reporting by a Government Department perhaps?  The Defra website then directs you to GOV.UK website for more information, but that only brings you to the end of last year in terms of the IEP.  GOV.UK also provides details of the membership of the IEP.  It is understood and reported in the media that the Minister, Owen Paterson has at long last received the IEP Report, so hopefully it will not be too long before its findings will be made public.  The BBC (television station not Parliamentary Committee) reports that Badger culls were ‘ineffective and failed humaneness test’.

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Badger by Tatterdemalion.   Image courtesy of Flickr – Creative Commons license.

A number of email updates were received reporting upon the success of the collaborative coalition to save The Sanctuary a Derby CC Local Nature Reserve.  This was an excellent outcome not only for the wildlife of the site but also that it demonstrated what can be achieved by a collective collaboration of community conservationists.  It is understood that Derby CC press release concludes with this quite stinging comment ‘Derbyshire Wildlife Trust continues to have a service level agreement with the Council to provide expert advice on matters related to the natural environment.  Their compliance with this agreement will now be formally reviewed, and if found to be in breach, the appropriate legal action will be taken’.  It raises the issue of ‘paymasters’ requiring unchallenged compliance and co-operation otherwise potential loss of revenue to anyone with the audacity to challenge?  That was perhaps one of the benefits of forming a collaborative coalition, and was the rationale behind the Forum’s governance model.  There are an array of interesting comments posted, clearly and understandably local conservationists are not planning on complacency and will remain vigilent, long may the network deliver and where statute fails may they be held to account?

It was also pleasing to note that the Open Spaces Society have submitted a objection to the land swop at Beverley.  A timely reminder perhaps that one of the guest speakers at the Forum’s forthcoming Annual Meeting is Emeritus Professor Barbara English who will give a presentation on Beverley Pastures, the natural history and campaigning perspective will be provided by Kieran Sheehan. 

The IUCN have recently produced a glossy PR brochure on UK Peatland Restoration.   A number of geographically diverse case studies are offered but for the analysts of associated costs then there is disappointment and likewise perhaps the superficial reporting but nevertheless it delivers something we (conservation) often fail to celebrate, so well done!  Aimed for the layman rather than the scientist, one might see the benefit of having sufficient printed / CD to provide all 650 MPs in Westminster with a copy?

Ancient woodlands to offer new project opportunities?

January 4, 2014

We asked the question, would 2014 bring challenges or opportunities, well it appears that another is already on the horizon?

It seems like the biodiversity offsetting much loved by developers and their advocates and supporters could, under new proposals outlined by Owen Patterson offer massive opportunities …. 100 new trees to be planted for the loss of each ancient one.

Just think of the jobs created by such projects, mouth-watering numbers of zero-hour contracts to be managed by some quasi quango or key stakeholder?  Or, perhaps they’re expecting ‘Big Society’ to step in and undertake the mitigation delivery?

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Ancient woodland on the island of Inchmahone, Lake of Menteith, Scotland.  Eileen Henderson.  Via Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Times  articles published today, all allude to Mr Paterson admitting that this generation would lose out from loss, but the BBC rushed to the Minister’s rescue with PR spin “It is “highly unlikely” ancient woodland would be destroyed under new plans to speed up the planning process, the government has insisted.”   The Daily Mail hints at green rebellion, wow …. bring it on, long overdue!  Some comments on the media websites publishing the articles are well worth reading, some ask all the right questions so hopefully the debate will continue and perhaps it will now bring better focus on the real purpose behind biodiversity offsetting and ecosystem service audits etc.?

If some of the ancient woodland in this country dates back to the 1600s how can it be replaced in one generation?  We wonder how they propose to mitigate for the invertebrate fauna associated with ancient woodlands, can any readers direct us to that information?  If not then perhaps the champion of this scheme?  I wonder if the Minister or his civil servants in Defra have heard of the saprophytic index used to assess wooodland invertebrate fauna?  I wonder if such fauna registers on their radar or in the eco-system service evaluation manual?  It is all very well to offer that “People will say that’s no good for our generation but, over the long term, that is an enormous increase in the number of trees”, but where will newly planted tree saplings acquire their obligate micro-fauna from?  Around 13% of our native invertebrate animal and fungus species have life cycles making them dependent on the dead wood environment at some stage during their development*.  In total, almost 5,000 British species are known to be associated with deadwood, how will this be accommodated within the Minister’s plans?  A new mini industry, breeding and translocating species around the UK to order?

Fallen tree in Denny Wood, New Forest.  Jim Champion.  Via Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

Already the Woodland Trust and FoE have spoken out about it, but where are the rest?

Is this latest proposal a result of Paterson’s predecessors failure to sell off the forests?  If the public won’t allow the sale of their land and assets then we’ll make them available to developers by relaxing red-tape?

Do you have a view?  Does the environment matter, do we in modern day Britain need a healthy and diverse natural environment?

*http://www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/urban/ecorecord/bap/html/deadwda.htm

 

Brownfields, greenfields, NNRs & what of the future?

November 3, 2013

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A packed hall in the Whisby Nature Park Education Centre saw around 70 delegates listening intently to a range of speakers delivering Buglife’s second Brownfield Conference on Halloween (31 October).

Presentations from the eight speakers included interesting case studies which illustrated a wide range of work, from industry to Buglife’s own Stepping Stones project.

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A typical industrial site, although this is the Cemex cement factory at South Ferriby in North Lincolnshire.

For me it was the planning dimension and the interaction of Defra agencies, particularly Natural England which raises concerns.  In terms of planning, brownfield has traditionally been the preferred option over greenfield for develpment.  However, brownfield sites have been havens for many rare and threatened species hence a dilema for conservationists as well as planners and not forgetting government.

Now that Natural England have a centralised ‘advice function’ (my words not their title per se), when a Local Planning Authority submits an application into the Defra agency, they have to make a response in a short timeframe, if they are short staffed with staff who are not aware of colleagues on the ground with local knowledge, so do not make contact with them to fully appreciate or understand the application and any nature conservation issues which might not be evident from a developers or consultants submission then there can be problems?  Developer friendly environmental consultants and there are many, create tomes of reports which generally fail to do any more than scratch the surface of the biodiversity interest of a site beyond rejurgitating copious text from statutory guidance or local development frameworks, perhaps a desk top search for data from natural history societies or Local Records Centres (who in turn rely on local naturalists), very rarely any fieldwork in an appropriate season.  Now that NE make available much of their planning and development advice on line and they also offer a Discretionary Advice Service so a money making consultancy by any other name, there appears to be very little consistent and meaningful communication or correspondence.

West Thurrock Marshes is an interesting case.  Despite the judgement going against Buglife it did accept that the NERC Act was an important consideration in such cases.  It also highlighted failings in the Biodiversity Duty, the court system, planning policy and SSSI system.

The presentation provided a synoptic overview of the work which can be found in “The state of brownfields in the Thames Gateway” in more detail, certainly worth a read.

We heard from industry representatives who had worked with conservation organisations and Defra agencies to create easily managed sites which provided suitable habitats for rare and threatened species.  There is clearly much useful work being undertaken, but is it sustainable and who will ensure its longevity in perpetuity?

Not surprisingly most of these sites generally exclude the public unlike NNRs many of which are failing to meet their favourable condition status monitoring targets.  So, there is a conundrum, local authorities are not always managing their country parks as the public might like by allowing bikes, horses and unleashed dogs so that could now be an option for NNRs instead?  Will these new industrial reserves become the future for habitats and species conservation?

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A view of Thorne Moors SSSI, a Natura 2000 site and a National Nature Reserve from Thorne colliery pit tip.

Natural England’s Senior Technical Adviser outlined the creation of an inventory of open mosaic habitats on previously developed land and whilst this is not the presentation itself it is broadly speaking very similar.  Anyone looking to prepare a case for conservation of a brownfield site is certainly recommended to read the OHM Survey Handbook  Similarly it is useful to understand the statutory agency definition of Open Mosaic Habitats from the UK BAP Priority Habitat Descriptions, although the BAP system is now defunct, it is still understood by many so remains useful until fully updated post ‘evolution’.

There were copies of Planning for Brownfield Biodiversity A Best Practice Guide in delegate packs, and as with many of their publications and reports a useful tool to any local campaigners trying to put together a submission about a local planning application.  Please note that the planning section is out of date, and Buglife report that an updated version will be available shortly.

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Thorne Colliery site, post demolition and illustrative of how quick nature heals scared landscapes.  See also an earlier blog post this year when a number of interesting species were discovered across the complex.

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Araneus marmoreus pyramidatus, the Humberhead Levels is a stronghold for both colour variants of this species.  The colliery site hosts a population of the species.

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Calluna vulgaris doing quite well on areas within the colliery complex.

The networking between the presentations, as often the case with such events was the useful bonus of attending a well run and informative conference, an enjoyable day.  Another refreshing aspect was that as an organisation their staff certainly did seem to ‘buzz’ and they invited delegates to contact them for advice and that’s not a common commodity these days.  Membership organisations are all too ready to take your money and hand out glossy PR but I can count on my fingers the number of organisations who actually do get down to grassroots and try to help empower or assist local casework.

So, well  done and thank you to the Buglife team!

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Doom & gloom or a call to arms?

August 31, 2013

It seems that it’s all doom and gloom at the moment, The State of Nature illustrates well the collective failure to redress the damage and the decline in habitats and species.  We read that Hen Harriers are predicted to become extinct in our lifetime and now the badger cull has started.

Mark Avery’s blog discusses the merits of on line petitions and the one most often cited is that calling for the licencing of upland grouse moors in an attempt to protect Hen Harriers, just in case you’ve not signed it then see here.  Currently there are 6,334 signatories, so what happened to those million voices for nature, similarly the 800,000, accepting of course that it’s highly likely there will be many who are members of both?

In terms of the badger cull which, as many of us will be aware of has already started, so again in case you’ve not signed the ‘directgov’ epetition then click on this link.  In terms of the ‘debate’ there is an amazing volume of blame laid at the door of the badger, yet there seems to be deafening silence from defra or the farming lobby about finding real solutions to the problem, that is to say other than culling badgers.  There are some excellent points made by readers of Mark Avery’s ‘Standing up for Nature’ blog, well made and anyone needing persuasion should read here.   Avery’s recent post ‘Bovine TB’ has attracted 54 comments, that’s quite some response which seems to infer that there’s been too much war mongering and too little science, some basic questions about the ‘intensification’ of beef and dairy farming have also come to the fore again.  The cartoon, in my humble opinion, sums up the state of the nation’s democracy – in general and not just the badger debate, politicians as a species – one wonders if their decline be missed, do we really need 650 as well as another 800 unelected?

These badger cull ‘trials’ are being conducted in Gloucestershire, so do we write to MPs, Ministers, the NFU, CLBA and the tourist boards indicating that we will no longer visit, purchase British beef, British milk and oh dear, that lovely Shropshire brie has to go as well – but let’s think positive: less calories so a healthier diet!  It’s somewhat extreme, rather too radical …. but, what else are we left with when approaching 300,000 voices are ignored?  Money talks and if the farm gate receipts fall then farmers might be persuaded to reconsider, or will they expect to be bailed out by the ‘welfare state’ (aka tax-payers)?  Should we suspend the Single Farm Payments used to support farmers in that area, after all how can they argue the case that they are the custodians of wildlife and the countryside?  I don’t know the answer, does anyone?  The arguments are emotive, highly charged and will still not be resolved by the shedding of badger blood.

We have to ask is the dire straights which the countryside finds itself in, the ongoing decline of once familiar species, a sorry barometer for the state of mankind in general?  Should we go along with the apathy or should we act to ensure that there is accountability and that history attributes accurately the facts of the matter?

Which if we may be forgiven for bringing another petition to readers attention, they say things come in threes?  So can we appeal to readers who haven’t yet signed the Forum’s petition STOP & RETHINK National Nature Reserves as Open Access Areas to consider doing so here. 

 

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Once ravaged for its peat, saved or so we thought …. is it destined to become a theme park now, no longer the idyllic tranquility local people treasure?

To those who have, a massive thank you and to those who have twittered or tweeted it or posted it on facebook ‘moor’ thanks.  We wondered what the response would be to our challenging the proposal of Open Access, it seemed contra to the conservation campaigning of the past.  We have been heartened by the many supportive comments posted on the 38 degree’s campaign petition.  This approach, by Natural England, is demonstrative of a failure to listen, to conduct business behind closed doors as well as compliance in terms of the Habitats Directive.  Senior Directors have failed to provide assurances that sufficient funds have been secured in perpetuity to monitor and manage for Likely Significant Effect.  Instead, it appears that it will come from core funds.  Does that mean that less will be spent on ensuring that National Nature Reserves, not just here at Thorne and Hatfield Moors, will slip into decline in terms of favourable condition status for their special interest features because funds are diverted for fences, gates, stiles, interpretation boards, picnic tables rather than management which will benefit habitat and species of nature conservation interest?

 I leave you all with a thought, borrowed from a report produced and downloadable at Common Cause

“What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakable, unforgettable, unshakable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents.”  Jay Griffiths.

 

 

Is “gardening” for wildlife an alternative to nature conservation?

August 4, 2013

I wonder, is gardening for wildlife a better option that trying to conserve habitats and species?  Is the challenge to stem the decline too much and should we simply build biodiversity instead, on land that the developers and agri-industrialists don’t want (for now)?

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We’ve heard much about the State of Nature published following collaboration by some 25 organisations.  Some pretty horrendous statistics were revealed.  In all probability it seems that they are only the tip of the iceberg?

The report catalogues the continuing failure of Government and NGOs to even stem the decline of our wildlife.  It looked at some 3,148 species (but a minute fraction of the nation’s wildlife species, ones that data is held on such that meaningful analysis can be had), 60% of these have declined over the last 50 years and 31% have declined strongly.  One in ten RDB species are at risk of extinction, if that’s true then Thorne and Hatfield are in for some hefty losses.  Conversely I’m sure there are some who would step up and offer to introduce some iconic alternatives which would be better suited to climate change or a country park regime and badge it as a community outreach project.

So, given that speakers at the conference admitted that in 2010 they had missed the targets of halting biodiversity decline, what will they now do?  Some wondered where they had gone wrong, clearly they’d not really been listening to the likes of Iolo Williams.  They’d been drifting along chasing funds for projects, delivering projects designed for building biodiversity – hand outs from developers mitigation.  Why has the challenge been dummed down, why did Natural England back off from taking the Walshaw case through as a compalint from Europe, why did the RSPB have to pick up the gauntlet?

Natural England happily sign off authorisations for badger culls, but they will not enforce reparation of damage to SSSIs.  Similarly the Rural Payments Agency refuse to investigate reports of damage insisting it is Natural England’s role to enforce.  It’s political ping pong – inactivity which might be likened to Nero fiddling whilst Rome burnt, or the ongoing decline of the UKs wildlife or SSSIs failing to reach favourable condition status.

Amongst the various responses of the ‘conservation agencies’ was the announcement of a(nother) meeting (sorry Iolo) – then the production in autumn of a challenge document and finally action will follow .  I’ve heard it all before and whilst I’m absolutely certain that those speaking mean well, perhaps if I may be forgiven for considering myself an unsung hero, but here in South Yorkshire I’m not prepared to hold my breath.  The 25 NGOs plan to repeat the event and reconvene in three years time, to talk maybe not about species recovery but what they’ve been doing about it – like Iolo I really hope they actually do DO something about the continuing decline which I see no sign of abating.

The Ghost Orchid Declaration produced in 2009 by Plantlife is an earlier call to arms, but it too like so many other variants from the spectacular array of special interest or focus groups pleads that agri-environment schemes are better targetted.

Apathy, avarice, competition between agri-industrialists and conservation play a significant part in the ongoing failure.  The Common Agricultural Policy and its subsidies to the fat cats of agri-industry (not farmers) who tell us they are the guardians of the countryside so should receive public money to deliver nature conservation.  Natural England appear to subscribe to that view because they continue to dole out extra support by way of HLS for otherwise unproductive corners of otherwise efficient businesses.  Defra programmes designed to encourage land owners to be green create improvement schemes for example where land owners are advised on how best to receive additional funds for short term involvement to create ‘corridors’ or pocket handkerchief ponds.  It might be suggested that the nations’ back gardens deliver better value for money but taxpayers are not recompensed, instead they appear to be expected to continue funding those who have played a significant role in the depletion of species.

Preventing a wasteful “double payment” for the same environmental activity from agri-environment schemes would at least be a start.  Monitoring for tangible outcomes through truly independent analysis might also begin to offer credibility.

As someone who used to be a member of approaching a score of organisations do I think they represent value for money?  If we read the future as suggested by Anna Bawden in the Guardian recently then its pretty bleak.  Mark Avery in his excellent blog is currently analysing NGO performance and there are some interesting comments made by his readers.

So, what of the future, what will be left for the next generation?  While you give thought to what you think should be done, I’ll offer a little grassroots activism news …. for those readers interested in invertebrates the Forum are shortly to present the findings of an invertebrate survey on a piece of peripheral lagg fen.  Thus far some 8,000 specimens of coleoptera alone have been deterined and amongst them some RDBs, some species are relocated classics as recorded by the old Victorian naturalists who made occasional visits to Thorne Moors (Hatfield Moors was less accessible).

 

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So, I hear you ask what does that prove (aside from quality habitat still exists at Thorne), well I offer that in the main the determination to get this project off the ground and then implemented was through the tenacity and committment of a handful of people – thank you to my colleagues and associates you know who you are.

It follows then (perhaps) that if we can deliver worthwhile projects then just think of the capacity of the NGOs and their statutory allies.  Better still bring on ‘moor’ local action?

Remember the words of Edmund Burke who said The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing and considered that Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.

Images: Martin Hammond & Helen Kirk.

Fishlake’s ever diminishing wildlife habitats

July 10, 2013

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

 

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EU and UK action on environment and climate change review

May 23, 2013

Readers of this blog may recall a post on recent endeavours to weaken environmental protection. The erosion appears to be continuing ….

Defra and DECC launch a consultation into EU action on the environment and climate change

The press release on Gov.UK explains that

Businesses and organisations are being asked for their views on European Union policies to find out whether being a part of the EU helps or hinders their work on the environment and climate change.

In the first review of its kind, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) have launched a consultation into EU action on the environment and climate change to ask how businesses, experts and individuals feel they impact on the UK. Charities, think tanks and businesses will have an opportunity to put forward their views.

The 12 week consultation is part of a wider review known as the Balance of Competences which was launched by the Foreign Secretary William Hague last July. Its aim is to take forward the Coalition commitment to examine the balance of power between the EU and the UK.

Groups will be asked about issues such as how far they think the UK might benefit from the EU taking more or less action on the environment and climate change and whether EU legislation provides the right balance between protecting the environment and the wider UK economic interest.

The consultation is open until 12 August 2013. The findings will be published next winter and will contribute to a national debate on the environment, climate change and the EU, but will not make specific policy recommendations.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey said:
“The Balance of Competences Review is an opportunity for people and interest groups from across the spectrum to have their say on how the action we take to tackle climate change in the EU and beyond impacts on the UK.”

“I would strongly urge people to take advantage of this opportunity, make their views known, and help inform this important national debate. I look forward to hearing the views of interested parties during the course of the Call for Evidence.”

If you click on another link it takes you through to the Call for Evidence, you begin to see the challenge emerging. Whatever our individual views are on the imperfections of the EU, its legislation has safeguarded internationally important wildlife sites as well as ensuring safe drinking water and other ‘essentials’ for improving the quality of our lives.

Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI would almost certainly have been dug up and sold as ‘multi purpose compost’, the sands and gravels extracted from under Hatfield Moors and then big holes in the ground are useful ….

It is clear that in many areas of environment policy the EU has been a key driver of progress within the UK. Air and water pollution, waste and recycling, the regulation of chemicals and pesticides and the protection of nature have all been progressed because of the EU, would a UK Government have taken such a stance when it is so clearly influenced by business? It is important to remember the good and positive benefits brought about by EU legilation.

So, can we as ‘citizens’ rise to the challenge, can individuals, groups and organisations rise to carpe diem? Can we take the opportunity and put forward ‘citizen science’ and evidence the need for parity and equality, for transparency and accountability when economics are valued more that quality of life and a healthy natural environment?

In the words of Edmund Burke “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little”.


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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.

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