Posts Tagged ‘Doncaster East IDB’

Did you hear a ‘gabble ratchet’ on All Fool’s Day?

April 2, 2016

Or a Goatsucker or Fern Owl perhaps?

Nightjar (PP)

“Bog birds and bugs” was the title of a talk given by Lucy Ryan, a masters student at the University of York to an enthralled audience at the Annual Meeting of the Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum held on 1 April 2016.

Lucy’s presentation which was supported by some superb images explained about the monitoring of the nightjar population on Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  This study had a pilot year on Hatfield Moors in 2015, but this coming season will see the study scaled up and undertaken on both Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  The three year study, funded for its first year by Natural England LIFE+ Project will look at the impact the management works undertaken by Natural England on the key species and interest feature of the European Natura 2000 Site.  The Water Level Management Plan being implemented by Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board is not undertaking any monitoring of impact post implementation, instead handing responsibility to Natural England?  These two major engineering projects costing in the region of £5.2m are currently being carried out on Thorne Moors are it is hoped will safeguard the site for its carbon sequestration capacity as well as its wildlife interest and as a natural wilderness for people to study and enjoy.

A second talk “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels” was given by Dr Paul Buckland who offered options as to the man-made and natural influences upon our local landscape.  With the aid of aerial photographs showing crop marks and more recent LIDAR images Dr Buckland took the audience through time to the present day and to a very different landscape to that historic wetland once present across the Humberhead Levels.

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After an excellent lunch provided by the Moorends Miners Welfare and Community Development Centre, intrepid explorers braved the dull weather and headed out along Broadbent Gate Moor, also known as Jones’ Cable to reach the tilting weir along the Southern Boundary Drain.

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As if on cue a Marsh Harrier flew overhead offering evidence of the wildlife interest of the site.  The number of sightings of this species has increased over recent years and this Natural England attribute to the wetter conditions they are creating across the site.  The cessation of industrial scale peat extraction at Thorne Moors also reduced disturbance for a period but increasing visitor numbers encouraged through Open Access has also seen new threats to rare breeding species and NE have had to close down parts of the site to protect them in recent years.

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To those who attended for the first time, after a series of great talks amidst great company about a great site …. see you again next year?

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Who started the drainage?

February 24, 2016

Common Lizard Crowle Moor 24.2.16

Adders on Thorne and Hatfield Moors on 10 February, now Common Lizard has been ‘turned over’ on Crowle Moors.  Image: Phil Lee.

Advance notification of some events for your diaries?

Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum’s Annual Meeting

Friday 1 April 2015

Indoor presentations on recent research work followed by a visit to Thorne Moors in the afternoon.

“Bog birds and bugs” by Lucy Ryan (York University) a masters student working on monitoring of the nightjar populations at Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI further to the implementation of the LIFE+ Project* managements works.

Dr Paul Buckland “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels”.

Anyone interested in attending the above presentations, which are open to the public should contact the execsec@thmcf.org

*Please note that the Forum is not aware of any monitoring work ongoing or planned which will look at the impact of the implementation of the Thorne Moors Water Level Management Plan by Doncaster East IDB and its management service providers JBA Consulting

WILDLIFE TRAINING WORKSHOP

20 May 2016  An introduction to  Auchenorrhyncha identification.

We are delighted to welcome back Jim Flanagan who will be the tutor for the second of our ‘bugs / hoppers’ identification workshops.  Places are limited and are rapidly being filled.  The first part will be an introduction to the Auchenorrhyncha  (leafhoppers, planthoppers, froghoppers, treehoppers & cicadas), the second part will involve a field trip and then a microscope session.  More details are available from execsec@thmcf.org

RAPTOR CONFERENCE

9 & 10 September 2016  Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands: Conservation, Land Management & Issues promises to be an excellent couple of days of presentations and a site visit.

This event is being organised by BaLHRI / BRG UKEconet and will be held at Sheffield Showroom & Workstation and further details are available via www.ukeconet.org and as a pdf

Raptors First Call November 2016 flier

The booking form can also be downloaded here and includes ‘early bird’ booking discounts.

Raptors booking form 9-10 Sept 2016 (ebd)

Networks: data & experienced experts?

February 21, 2016

Treeton was the venue for the annual South Yorkshire Natural History Day, organised and delivered by the Sorby Natural History Society.  It was, as usual, well attended with perhaps somewhere between seventy and eighty people.  A mixed or should one say ‘diverse’ bunch, and I could for a change be considered to have been one of the ‘middle aged’ attendees.  It was good to see and hear ‘youngsters’ taking up projects with enthusiasm.  It was particularly refreshing to hear one such speaker express appreciation about the help and support received from experienced experts in the Sorby NHS.  Would that more grant funded projects would adopt a similar philosophy.  When the hardened amongst us, who remember black and white televisions and a time when there were two hundred and forty pennies in a pound, drift back to those days of wanderings, of discoveries and of the difficulties involved in putting a name to the more unusual finds without the benefit of t’internet or digital images and emails one might be forgiven for wondering how it was the necessary field skills were acquired?

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Break time at South Yorkshire Natural History day, organised and facilitated by Sorby NHS in Treeton.

But, when youngsters seek out help then it is generally offered.  Sadly there are a few who seem to consider that it is a right, after all they paid their university fees ….

The Forum have been lucky, we have links with a number of academic institutions and are keen to encourage students to make links and are happy to help where we can.  Last year three such individuals benefited from our help and support.  This coming year another two have linked up with us and one is ongoing from 2015.

All these links, all this networking ought to build a cohesive network able to defend habitats and sites under threat?  All the recording going on should deliver robust evidence to safeguard sites from inappropriate development?

We pose the question, posed by many others as well, where does an aspiring amateur naturalist pass on their observations and records?  Melissa Harrison asked BBC Wildlife magazine readers in the January edition a similar question, she also raised the issue of  charities and organisations competing for data, our money etc.

Back to the destination of data issue …. which presupposes (a) they want to and that (b) they are accurate identifications.  Assuming that the second part is accommodated through making contact with local, regional or national experts in the case of difficult species and validation or determination achieved then what should the new amateur naturalist do next?  Chances are if they live in a town then there may well be a local group or natural history society.  There might be a regional or national one, but do you record by groups or by geographical area?  There are local records centres (LRCs) keen to take your data, it is after all worth money because they are obliged if run by the Local Authority to provide data searches to commercial enquirers.  Conversely there appears to be little data provided to LRCs by commercial consultants who like to promote themselves as ‘professionals’.  There are national recording schemes for many groups (dragonflies, moths, water beetles, spiders and many others).  There are schemes designed to feed into such as the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) which used cautiously can be a useful guide, there are citizen science schemes but all these rely on the amateur naturalists and perhaps a few ‘professionals’ to confirm identification or to actually determine the finds (often submitted as photographs).  There are many keen to act as ‘managers’ but too few keen to support that indefatigable army of amateur naturalists who actually deliver the raw data for the ‘professional’ managers to interpret.  At one time of day the government through various defra agencies collected data on a range of species and habitats.

The February issue of British Wildlife magazine has a though provoking paper “The increasing importance of monitoring wildlife responses to habitat management” (Fuller et. al.). 

A case could certainly be presented for some of that here in the Humberhead Levels?  Doncaster East IDB, are through their management service provision (JBA Consulting) implementing a £2.9m Water Level Management Plan on Thorne Moors.  Mid term through that, Natural England secured £2.3m to deliver a EU LIFE+ Project involving management works, engineering, community engagement and …. science and monitoring, one of the salaried posts was a monitoring officer, so there’s hope that substantive science will be delivered and monitoring put in place post projects to assess impact and changes on key habitats and species?

 

‘Moor’ rain needed if bogs are to be safeguarded?

August 31, 2015

According to a local weather site Doncaster Weather the local rainfall this year has been 257.2mm and the month’s 69.8mm with around 10mm falling today.  If the pattern is maintained then it looks like being a dry year, so not helpful in terms of the rewetting of Thorne & Hatfield Moors.  Perhaps we might see an increase in precipitation over the winter months?

Stunning stands of Calluna vulgaris, a plentiful end of season nectar source for bees as they prepare for winter.  Painted Lady were present on both Thorne & Hatfield Moors over the bank holiday weekend.  Image@ Martin Warne.

Stunning stands of Calluna vulgaris, a plentiful end of season nectar source for bees as they prepare for winter. Painted Lady were present on both Thorne & Hatfield Moors over the bank holiday weekend. Image@ Martin Warne.

There are two multi-million pound projects currently ‘restoring’ the sites.  Thorne Moors Water Level Management Plan, being implemented by Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board and the LIFE+ Project being delivered by Natural England.  One of the key outcomes of both projects is to safeguard the peat body in terms of its functioning as a carbon sink and its potential to continue sequestering carbon for future generations.  Both projects have the capacity to retain water on site rather than pump it off into the rivers and eventually out to the sea, similarly the rationale for the compartmentalisation across the sites was to facilitate easy movement of water to accommodate conservation management.  The WLMP clearly documents holding the water level at 10cm above the peat surface.  There are vast areas where this is clearly not the case, nor is the water even at the surface.

A recent visit to Hatfield Moors saw acres of desiccated sphagnum, and perhaps worse were the hundreds and more likely the thousands of seedling birch taking advantage of this situation.  Is this a consequence of the rainfall or is it because the management of the site has failed to address the associated risks of low rainfall and by ensuring that key areas are safeguarded?

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Desiccated sphagnum mat being colonised by birch seedlings, also a presence of common cotton grass a species with a preference for wet conditions.

Desiccated sphagnum mat being colonised by birch seedlings, also a presence of common cotton grass a species with a preference for wet conditions.

The Neolithic trackway discovered in 2004 is perhaps a prime example of a lost opportunity, what still remains buried but will be lost if allowed to continuing drying out?  One might ponder a different outcome had it been found ‘down south’?

The ‘ghosts’ of a past practice now feature as sculptures across the barren peatscapes, others still resistent and thus more evidence that the mineral extraction in these areas was down to basal peat layers above the mineral.  Most of the economically viable peat had been taken from Thorne Moors and much of Hatfield Moors by the end of the 20th Century.

Reminders of a lost record now feature as natural sculptures amid a regenerating wetland.

Reminders of a lost record now feature as natural sculptures amid a regenerating wetland.

 

A pine's last stand?

A pine’s last stand?

Ten Acre Lake on Hatfield Moors, a post mineral extraction legacy was in its early years an excellent site for breeding waders including Common Sandpiper in 1996.  In July 1995 it was also host for about a week to a Long-tailed Duck.  It has since then become much more overgrown with dense birch and Crassula helmsii on the water magin.  This invasive species was first reported in the late 80s and is now widespread across the water bodies of Hatfield Moors.

Ten Acre Lake, Hatfield Moors.

Ten Acre Lake, Hatfield Moors.

Across on neighbouring Thorne Moors, nature’s annual cycle continued to unfold with this Drinker Moth below captured egg laying.  Drinker moth is common on both Thorne & Hatfield Moors and is often encountered as a larva as it crosses grassy tracks.  Drinker Moths lay their eggs on a variety of grasses including Cock’s-foot, Annual Meadow-grass, Couch-grass, Reed Canary-grass and Purple Moor-grass.

Euthrix potatoria 66.01 / 1640. Image: Martin Warne.

Euthrix potatoria 66.01 / 1640.
Image: Martin Warne.

 

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

February 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenblobpride

‘Moor’ draining campaigning updates ….

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

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

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

With reference to your FOI request 9th January 2015,

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

2. This was a private meeting.

3. This communication is not available to third parties.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

IDB accountability part 2 …

January 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To get a flavour of ‘neighbouring’ campaigners see:

Drainage Board Governance and Accountability

Management of the Board

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

‘Moor’ public money down the drain?

January 26, 2015

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

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

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

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Close examination shows debris and death

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

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

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

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

Openness transparency and good governance

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

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

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

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

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

Doncaster East Meeting Papers 27 June 2014

6.2.2 Minutes of the Finance Committee Meeting

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

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

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

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

Hopefully we will have an update for readers tomorrow ….

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

January 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

‘Moor’ drainage of public funds?

January 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 24, 2014

DRAINING ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late maintenance can cause slumping.

Late maintenance can cause slumping.

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

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

BADGERING AWAY STILL ….   

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

Chris Packham       Dominic Dyer       Pete Martin     Adrian Coward

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

 

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

In the words of Ghandi:

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

Greenblobpride

 

 

DMBC What Do They Know about Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

August 18, 2014

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

DMBC did respond quickly to confirm receipt of the enquiry

Dear Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum

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

Thank you for your request for information.

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

Yours sincerely

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

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

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

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

 

DMBC What Do They Know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

July 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Mark Avery

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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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