Posts Tagged ‘english nature’

The ‘bogs’ salute The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP.

October 25, 2015

On 21 October 2015, the death of The Rt Hon Michael Meacher was announced.  So, what had Meacher to do with Thorne & Hatfield Moors?

Meacher 3 July 2002 WH pp

It is Meacher that we here at Thorne & Hatfield Moors have to thank that the sites are still here!  Whilst the ‘battle for the bogs’ started long before 1997 that year was a very significant one.  So much so that had English Nature and their hydrological report sponsors won the day, then we may not have been able to enjoy what remains of them today.  Undoubtably the natural environment has much to thank Meacher for, comments further to his obituary in the Guardian are very telling.

In July 1997 English Nature proposed to remove the protective status from parts of Thorne & Hatfield Moors.  The hydrological reports upon which the statutory agency based their recommendations were later established to have been provided by the peat producers!  Derek Langslow, the Chief Executive of English Nature at the time, a very brave man indeed as he ventured to a public meeting held in Thorne Grammar School to try to justify ENs proposal to a packed hall of around 400 people, or so the regional and national press reported.  I don’t recall his response to the question “who funded them [the hydrological reports]?” because the audience at that point were incensed …. the rest as they say is history as Meacher ‘suggested’ his agency to review their proposal.

Meacher & Brown 3 July 2002 pp

Meacher was then keynote speaker at our 2002 conference which celebrated the buy out of the extant planning consents.  The transcripts from “Peat – the way forward, a future for the UK’s peatlands”  are available as a download.   To hear a Government Minister describe local conservation campaigners as a ‘considerable force to be reckoned with’ caused a few chuckles amongst the audience that first day of the conference, his speech that day also shows an understanding and recognition of the part that local communities and activists can have in safeguarding their local areas.  We were fortunate also that Craig Bennett of FoE (second left, front row below)  raised the profile of the peat campaign to that of a corporate campaign.

Speaker Panel 4 July 2002 pp

Sadly one might ponder the possibilities of another of his ilk ….

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The image above shows Michael Meacher receiving an award for services to conservation when local bog-trotters travelled to London to make the presentation in October 2002.

Today we have Government Ministers calling anyone who cares about the natural environment ‘green blobs’.

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We have Ministers who sign off badger culls.  We have Government claiming to be an evidence based one but who then fail to commission science or ignore that which exists prefering ‘pr’ narrative?  We have Government Departments who fail to act and enforce legislation when local SSSIs are damaged, fail to comply with European Directives, fail to act when raptors are illegally persecuted …. the list is endless.

The record since Meacher was sacked (rumour has it because he listened to science and to folk in the know) speaks for itself?

Thorne and Hatfield Moors and the T&HM Conservation Forum mark his passing with great sadness but celebrate his achievements for ‘our moors’ and other areas such as the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Thank you ‘honourable gentleman’.

 

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Lest we forget the corporate carnage wrought by peat extraction ….

Ministerial Party on HM 3 July 2002 pp

Above: It is July 2002 and the Ministerial party look out across the ‘killing fields’ which if revisited today show nature’s capacity to heal industrial scale scars inflicted by industrial processes, but as we mark Meacher’s passing we mourn also for the lost record from the peat ‘Doomsday’ record of of climate change.

 

 

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Natural England & the future of SSSIs?

April 3, 2015

Mark Avery recently raised the issue of Natural England’s performance on SSSI notifications, and quite rightly so in our opinion.  Avery cites the West Pennines  as a case study: the site was surveyed by the Nature Conservancy Council back in 1991 but its successor body, English Nature, passed on the file to Natural England in 2007 and more surveys have been completed since 2012.  Local naturalists, many of whom helped collect the data, were hopeful that the site would be notified by December last year, but it wasn’t. It’s so easy to forget things at the tops of hills in the north of England.

Sadly a familiar scenario, locally we have Thorne and Hatfield MoorsThorne was first notified in 1970 under the 1949 Act and in 1986 under the 1981 Act.  Hatfield was first notified in 1954 under the 1949 Act and in 1982 under the 1981 Act.  The last revisions for the two sites was 1986 and 1988 respectively.  At each twist and turn it has been input from local naturalists and campaigners which has delivered statutory ‘protection’.  Throughout the whole of the periods detailed above the sites were subject of planning consents and were mined mercilessly for their peat.  Even when the planning consents were bought out in 2002 for some £17.3m + £1.32m and extraction on the majority of the Scotts (UK) Ltd holdings (gifted to the public in 1992, lease back agreement from English Nature in 1994) ceased around 2004 there has been no review resulting in any revision.

Avery’s example covers statutory inertia of around 24 years, here at Thorne and Hatfield ours can be traced back to 1989 so the lethargy here in South Yorkshire / East Riding / North Lincolnshire is some 26 years!  The Executive have written to Senior Managers in Natural England, the reply sadly fails to answer the questions asked.  One might be forgiven for wondering if the civil servants have been on the same training courses as politicians, that is to say how to avoid answering a question or how to use selective diversionary phrases?  The support staff are certainly familiar with the cut and paste technique and then incorporating with the ‘local NE staff contribution’ to give the appearance of a bespoke reply.

With far more eloquence Avery ‘challenges’ both the Executive Board (senior staff) and the ‘real’ (appointed through civil service appointment system) Board of Natural England to explain what they are about.  The Executive Board are using a bunch of unknown criteria in secret discussions in order to choose which qualifying sites should be allowed to progress to their deserved protection whilst the Board it might appear do not realise that SSSI notification is being ‘filtered’ and notification is being delayed and ‘prioritised’?

It would be interesting to consider why there appears to be a ‘DNR’ (do not resuscitate) instruction on the SSSI file?  Is it because the risk assessment lists too many issues that the lawyers / legal advice to the Executive have recommended the ‘procrastination’ tactics rehearsed in the letter Avery quotes?  Incidentally the same paragraphs are contained in the Forum’s response.  Is the issue one of the expense in consultations with landowners, is there fear of protracted legal wrangling (as happened here when European designations were being progressed), is it that NE no longer have the staff competencies, perhaps they have lost the files (that was what was claimed back in 1989 here)?

In 1997 “A muzzled watchdog” appeared and painted a bleak state of affairs around the delivery of nature conservation by English Nature.  That same parliamentary session a House of Commons sub-committee looked into the workings of English Nature.   In due course, despite dissatifaction reported of English Nature’s performance the NGOs rallied and secured an additional £6m for their budget so they could deliver their core outcomes.  Here were are again, some 17 years later and how the public body has metamorphosised, the most recent re-brand being Natural England?

It is interesting to read the comments on Avery’s well read post and recent critique of Natural England.  It’s not the first but it is a quite damming one, the case study used like ours here is one of either inertia or deliberate obfuscation or perhaps even both.  Irrespective it seems that the conservation campaign, like that for ‘Henry’ is calling for change.  Well respected figures from the conservation movement are beginning to speak out and openly criticise Natural England and their concerns are shared by many grassroots activists.  They have been described as ‘not fit for purpose’ at a recent conference and blog comments posted on Standing up for nature and others illustrate further examples of the ever evolving “toothless terrier”.   Even Tim Sands in his book The Wildlife in Trust reminds us that back in 1997 WWF reported in “A muzzled watchdog” that 45% of our SSSIs were still deteriorating “behind the smooth and professional facade of the restructured English Nature” and that there were “serious questions about the willingness of the new agency to stand up for nature in difficult and controvertial cases”.  What, if anything, has changed in the intervening 18 years?  NGOs are still having to pick up where statute stepped back from, a good contender for a recent cause celebre might perhaps be Wuthering Moors?  

Miles King’s ‘a new nature blog’ likewise raises concern about the government agency.  King’s research and  comment about the new Chairman of NE is certainly worthy of a read, likewise the post which informs us of the new Chief Executive of NE.

What in an ideal world would we like to see in an organisation charged with protection of the natural environment?  How would it be structured, what would an effective proactive organisation look like?  What governance would best ensure independence?  Where would the NNRs and forests and other public land be in the mix?  All these issues should be on the political agenda, but thus far deafening silence in the main from the major parties?

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If readers have similar case studies with supportive documentation then drop us a line via execsec@thmcf.org with a brief synopsis of the case.

 

Have you voted for BRITAIN’s NATIONAL BIRD yet?  Polling stops on May 6th!  Usual suspects and a few outsiders ….

With any election there is always a candidate that is billed as having an outside chance.  This beautiful raptor is a hot political potato as it is the most persecuted in the UK.  Shamefully, there is just one pair remaining in England – if Britain wants to back an underdog then the Hen Harrier is the one. 

Again, Avery explains well the logic and the benefit to nature conservation here. 

Beetling about …. “Reviews”

January 23, 2014

2013 saw a considerable volume of reports which catalogued the decline of species and habitat loss.

So, it is pleasing to report that another NERC commissioned Report has just been published.  A review of the scarce and threatened beetles of Great Britain NERC134 is now available as a download.  ISBN 978-1-78354-050-1.

The report’s foreword informs the reader that Natural England commission a range of reports from external contractors to provide evidence and advice to assist us in delivering our duties. The views in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Natural England.

It is good that these reports are produced, previously we understand that they were largely staff projects but times have changed as Natural England has ‘evolved’.  One might lament the haemorrhaging and departure of science, to be seemingly replaced by the new more recent priorities of engagement and access?

Further background rationale to the series is provided “Making good decisions to conserve species should primarily be based upon an objective process of determining the degree of threat to the survival of a species. The recognised international approach to undertaking this is by assigning the species to one of the IUCN threat categories.

The degree of threat is an interesting concept?  A case might be offered that such an assessment in itself might be subjective?

NERC134 was commissioned to update the threat status of beetles from the named families from work originally undertaken in 1987, 1992 and 1994 respectively using the IUCN methodology for assessing threat.  It is expected that further invertebrate status reviews will follow.”  Its Natural England Project Manager – Jon Webb, jon.webb@naturalengland.org.uk  With the Contractor –  Buglife (project management), and K.N.A. Alexander (author)

The report is published by Natural England under the Open Government Licence – OGLv2.0 for public sector information. “You” are encouraged to use, and reuse, information subject to certain conditions.  The Forum heartily endorses the concept of recycling, but alongside a plea for ongoing survey and monitoring.

Here’s to more such reports, but to re-iterate the need for site science to provide an understanding of change, losses and gains to inform management operations to deliver best practice for key habitats and the species dependant upon them.

For a list of other downloadable NERC Reports click here.

I just wonder how much notice the politicians who make decisions about our natural environment take of these reviews?  Or, conversely given some of the titles above, were they influential in their commissioning in order to assist the development of ‘projects’?

Reports 003, 013, 085, and 118 are certainly interesting topics for advisers on nature conservation to be commissioning as they appear to drift into other arenas out-with the organisational remit of when it was created, but evolution is a natural process …. the Nature Conservancy Council became English Nature and they evolved into the current Natural England in 2006 a hybrid which saw an amalgamation with the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency ….

 

Absent friends and conservation giants

January 19, 2014

It is ten years today since we lost one of the country’s most effective and erudite conservation campaigners

STEPHEN WESTOBY WARBURTON 

1950 – 2004

1997 SWW, DPH & PCB ms - Copy

The image above shows Stephen ready to present evidence to a House of Commons Committee in 1998.

Today, we pay both tribute to Stephen and review how we continue to champion his style and the principles he practiced.  We can do no better than to re-iterate the words of the late Pete Bowler here.  We would also encourage any student of conservation to read the “Appreciation” of Stephen which featured in Volume 7 of the Forum’s papers.

Stephen did not seek public praise, but he did believe and practice  engagment with local people and in so doing so often empowered them to make a difference in their ‘own backyards’.  Examples of his unselfish dedication could be The River Derwent Navigation case which went to the High Court in 1984, see here where it even made the pages of the esteemed British Birds magazine.  See also the the blog post of 31 December 2013 where we mention the 1999 Preston Under Scar High Court case here.  The immense workload for that case alone would have tested many, but in parallel much would have been taking place around the same time in which the proposed ‘Denotification of Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI’  was being promoted by English Nature.  Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment at the time announced his relief at ENs decision here.  One is left wondering what would have been Stephen’s 21st Century case load ….

Stephen possessed both a passion and a committment to champion conservation of the English landscape and the natural environment.  He would try to collaborate and co-operate but if those endeavours failed he would underpinned any challenge with science.  It is that same modus operandi by which the Forum operate.

Volume 7 of the Forum’s Papers pretty much summed up the profile and the legacy we endeavour to maintain.  “Without Stephen, the fight for Thorne and Hatfield Moors might have remained a local skirmish with officialdom.”   Stephen approved of the Forum – a small group, light on its feet, unencumbered by bureaucracy and unafraid to get on with the job.

The issue now, given Government, its civil servants, politicians of all parties and advocates of development at all costs breakneck quest to cut red tape, is how collectively conservation deals with this.  As we wrote in Volume 7  “We might know what we should do, but without Stephen’s intellectual honesty and clarity, we might have ignored it, chosen an easier path, and failed in the endeavour.  His memory serves to keep us on the right track.” 

So, here’s a call to arms to those who remember Stephen, to those who care about the natural environment and the landscape, to safegurad it for our children’s children in perpetuity.  Stephen knew the late Wm Bunting, a stalwart of the early days of the ‘battle for the bogs’ and who often took a view that conservation amounted to a simple ‘NO’ and meaning it.  Such a stand did not sit well even in the early days and most definitely does not sit well today, an era of off-setting and eco-sytem service mitigation etc.

We also note, with sadness, the passing in December of last year of his Mother, Marion Warburton.  Mrs Warburton was a lovely lady and to Sarah her daughter and family we offer renewed thanks for the contribution that the family made to nature conservation in so many spheres and contexts through Stephen.

Simply, thank you and we miss you Stephen.

Politics and environmental conservation

May 21, 2013

Whatever your views on the UK’s membership of the EU, it has to be said that there have been some landmark ECJ cases which are down to the Habitats Directive, the Aarhus Convention and the like.  Would those same victories have been secured in the UK courts?  It was thanks to the requirements of the Habitats Directive that the future of Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI, also Natura 2000 sites were secured.  That is not to say they are not still threatened but they are in theory better protected.

 

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There have been a number of reviews over the last couple of years which have seen erosion of protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest.  In March 2012 the UK Government published its Report of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review.

The Forum made a submission  to the subsequent consultation as did many environmental organisations.

Then in February 2013 there followed the Triennial Review of the Environment Agency and Natural England, this is seen by some as a variation on the aftermath of 1997 when the statutory protection agency was dubbed a “Muzzled Watchdog” as English Nature morphed into Natural England.  What will be the outcome of this latest review, the muzzle has been removed but are they now toothless?  See Mark Avery’s guest blog for 17 January if you think theat Defra agencies are effective.  See also A Summary of Stakeholders Views to try to work out what future for statutory environmental protection.  Another excellent erudite analysis by Carol Day is to be found in another of Mark’s guest blogs under “The UK and Environmental democracy – the Aarhus end of nowhere?” 

So, whilst there is much to concern us about EU membership, by leaving in a headlong fashion without first ensuring that the environment is not completely “culled” from the agenda, consider the salutory offerings of Friends of the Earth, who issued a recent press release, in it they suggest that ….

Abandoning UK membership of  the EU, or even a partial withdrawal, would pose a significant threat to our environment, Friends of the Earth warns today (Tuesday 14 May 2013).

A new Friends of the Earth briefing, published today, the Implications for UK Environmental Policy of a Vote to Exit the EU, written by Dr Charlotte Burns of the University of York – an expert in European Union environment policy and processes – says:

· UK membership of the EU has led to cleaner drinking water, cleaner bathing beaches and cleaner air and better protection of our wildlife;

· Frequent attempts by UK ministers to weaken progressive environmental policy at the European level suggests that there will be a weakening of the nation’s environmental policy if we are not subject to EU rules;

· A partial EU withdrawal (membership of the free-trade zone), the most popular option in recent poll of Conservative members earlier, would leave the UK covered by most EU environmental laws (which the UK would have no influence over) – but not all. For example the UK would not be covered by the Birds Directive, Bathing Waters Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Friends of  the Earth’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett said:

“UK withdrawal from the EU – partially or completely – could have an enormous  impact on our green and pleasant land.

“Our membership has led to cleaner drinking water, beaches and air and better protection for our wildlife.

“If we want to avoid a return to our reputation as the dirty man of Europe we must stay in the EU.”

Remember the words of Edmund Burke who offered that “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little”, factor in the rise of the internet tools such as online petitions and campaign blogs and you begin to contemplate the power of the collective ….

 

 

 


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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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