Posts Tagged ‘environment agency’

When is a pond no longer a pond?

May 12, 2016

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

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

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Pond beginning to be infilled

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

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

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

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Shows the barrier bank removal scar

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Vandalism or maintenance?

January 27, 2016

There was no fallen timber, no blockages preventing water flow but where Internal Drainage Board (IDB) machinery and maintenance are involved woe betide anything getting in their way?  There appeared to be no indication that pruning or removal of trees was required, no paint or tape were located to suggest that inspection had identified flow restriction or other maintenance requirement.

Internal Drainage Boards exist by virtue of the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended), they exist principally to undertake drainage of land, generally this is agricultural land but they also receive revenue from other property which may be in their catchment(s). In some areas Local Authorities collect these levies on their behalf and these are paid from revenue collected from council tax payers.

It is the EA who are responsible for flood defence and alleviation, with IDBs encouraged to co-operate in such matters.  Both the EA and IDBs are Public Bodies and as such, ‘reputedly’ accountable.  IDBs are required to take account of and indeed to promote biodiversity benefit ….

See the WLMA website and their guidance note where it clearly acknowledges that IDBs derive their powers from the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended by 1994 Act).  Section 12 of this Act states that in discharging its functions with relation to Land Drainage, the Boards must ‘further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservation of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest’.

Vandalism or maintenance perhaps, but biodiversity benefit?

On a positive note, this incidence is not on the scale of that in 2012, reported in 2013 via Standing up for nature?  But, is it another example of IDB governance practice and procedure or another ‘runaway digger driver’?

 

 

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

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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’ ….

 

The aftermath of the General Election: what will be the fall out? Starters for 10?

May 12, 2015

One of the very obvious issues around the recent election of MPs to Westminster is the bizarre fact that one party polled a little short of 1.5m votes to secure some 56 MPs, another party received approaching 4m votes yet only saw 1 MP take a seat in Westminster.  Is this right?

Setting aside the system allowing the above and irrespective of party politics what was very obvious in the run up to the General Election was the lack of mention of environmental issues by any of the major parties.  So, what future England’s green and pleasant lands?  What future for the wildlife reported as continuing to decline, what of the State of Nature for the foreseeable future?  Here we offer a few potential issues readers might consider ….

Recent concerns might be the proposed sell off of the national forest?  Some report that it continues by less direct routes.  Commentators have prersented the case that the ConDems under valued the Post Office and short changed the tax payers, so did that set the standard for the sell off of public land which is in all likelihood sure to be back on the agenda?

There is still the issue of National Nature Reserves (NNRs), they are percieved in some quarters as a drain on the public purse and there is a determination to secure revenue from them as they are not eligible for state assistance like charity owned nature reserves or privately owned mountain and moorland periodically available to the public through open access.  Will we see increased enthusiasm for ‘best examples’ to be transformed into country theme parks?  Irrespective of your views on this issue, there still remains the potential conflict of interest with Natural England as judge and jury in the matter of EIAs or Appropriate Assessments?

Further relaxing of the Planning System presumption in favour of development.  Again, the erstwhile statutory guardians of the nature conservation interest is also keen to promote its ‘Discretionary Advice Service’ to developers keen to avoid any constraints upon their commercial proposals.  This service, when you eventually locate it, hidden amongst the labyrinth that is GOV.UK offers pre-submission screening service.  Developers are required by virtue of legislation to consult NE where there may be impact upon European sites from their proposals.  Effectively therefore they have a read made supply of customers?  The staff of this ‘service’ have often ‘forgotten’ in our experience to consult with colleagues local to the sites which may be at risk and are the subject of commercial enquiries.  This seems somewhat short sighted as it may give rise to or cause issues later on.  Our most recent example would be the solar farm proposed for the brownfield site of Thorne Colliery.  Had there been inclusive consultation early on in the planning process then the development may not have hit the problems it subsequently encountered?

The above points perhaps raises the question of the future of Natural England, such that we have heard the question asked …. will they have one?  Might they be merged with the Environment Agency?  Might they be required to morph further and take better account of economic growth?  Perhaps they might undertake a review of the Birds and Habitat Directives in line with the desire within the EU to weaken wildlife legislation across Europe?  They could play a lead role in further weakening EIA and SEA under a wider review role to cut back on the “green c**p” which was reported to interfere with economic growth.

Natural England could preside again over the licencing of the next tranche of badger culls which are almost certain to be rolled out?

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Conversely they could remember that whilst the corporate entity might be considered a pawn in the political game, the staff in principle are defenders of the natural environment and the wildlife it is home to?  Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as they say, where will they turn?

If they (NE) or the RPA (mis) manage the Biodiversity Offsetting and Biodiversity Trading then they might be able to recycle their civil service jobs again? Will they undergo an expensive rebranding exercise?

Will they become a grant distributer to agri-industrialists by topping up the subsidies with agri-welfare payments?   They may continue to distribute crumbs as appeasement to the NGOs to ensure co-operation through project grants?  Hard pressed cash strapped NGOs will be stiffled further in terms of lobbying or challenging?

Could we see a blind eye continuing to be turned in regard to the persecution of wildlife, notably Hen Harriers on upland moors and other birds of prey and lest we forget poor brock: a scapegoat for poor biosecurity on livestock farms?

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Biodiversity 2020, well after publication of “The State of Nature” what more is there to be said?

Relaxed approach to implementation of cross compliance (we reported on ‘potential’ breach of cross compliance of in 2012 and the failure of both the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and NE to investigate and to act to recover public funds).

Introduction of GM crops?  Neonics given the go ahead?  Fracking rolled out across the UK, well the north certainly as it is being promoted as the new ‘power house’.

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Further curtailing of charities to lobby and stiffling or removing their ability to speak out and challenge policy making.  Freedom of speech, an outdated concept in the modern materialistic mayhem of market forces?

The list is endless, these are just a few potential options to consider?  The starter for 10 might well be the EU Referendum?  The rest will chug along and be ignored by the mainstream media who prefer to play out their own political programme?

There are a number of erudite analyses on potential environmental impact and whilst some commentators do have party afiliations they offer valid points.  Miles King, offers a greater ‘fall out’ list than ours and one which includes issues such as education and energy.  Happy Birthday too Miles, 240 posts over two years a very respectable offering and a fantastic 102,711 views!  This blog is a tad longer in the tooth, we started tentatively in December 2012 and thus far we’ve published some 237 posts but have not yet opened up the comment option, but we have received feedback via the execsec@thmcf.org email address.

Here’s to continued success for bloggers like King and lest we forget “Standing up for Nature” then there’s the fun ones like “The Ponking Chronicles”   Environmental conservation and wildlife needs champions to ‘challenge’ and in so doing create change for the greater good.

Greenblobpride

 

 

Fracking creeps towards Hatfield Moors, how far to Thorne?

May 10, 2015

Regular readers will recall our post about a potential meeting with fracking developers in North Lincolnshire which was cancelled, then the meeting in Haxey last year which looked at proposals for North Lincolnshire and the Isle.

It is now progressing at Misson.  We have recently learnt that there are to be two public meetings organised by Frack Free South Yorkshire, one in Bawtry and the other in Hatfield.

The Hatfield proposal is made by Egdon Resources and their press release of 4 December 2014 explains:

Egdon Resources, of Hampshire, wants to drill for shale gas at Hatfield in 2015.

Once Egdon has identified a location for a well pad for their drilling operation they will seek planning permission from Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, together with a permit from the Environment Agency.  But first they intend carrying out 2D seismic surveys across the parish to help them identify a well pad location.

“Exercise of Exploration Option and Farm-in Agreement, PL161 and PL162. Further to the announcement made on 5 December 2013, Egdon Resources plc (AIM:EDR) is pleased to announce that it has exercised its Exploration Option and Farm-in Agreement (“The Agreement”) with Scottish Power Generation Limited (“SPG”) to farm in to UK Onshore Production Licences PL161 (Block SE/60b) and PL162 (Blocks SE/70a and SE/80b) located in Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire.
The Agreement defines an “Exploration Area”, which excludes those parts of PL161 and PL162 relating to the Hatfield Moor operational gas store, the Hatfield West gas storage reservoir and the operational gas reception facility operated by SPG.

Under the terms of The Agreement, SPG granted Egdon an Option Period of twelve months by the end of which Egdon was required to either advise SPG of its intention to commit to the drilling of an exploration well in the Exploration Area (the “Option Well”) or else terminate The Agreement.

 

SY Hatfield Fracking Poster

Thursday 14 May 2015: Crown Hotel, High Street, Bawtry, DN10 6JW, 7 – 9 pm.

Saturday 16 May 2015: Victoria Hall, 42 Main Street, Hatfield, DN7 6RY, 2 – 4 pm.

We have not as yet seen any map which provides the footprint of the proposal, which in January 2014 according to one source was not looking to develop around the Hatfield Moors Gas Storage facility near Lindholme, but it seems to be a realistic option now proclaimed from Egdon Resources own press team.

Hopefully the meetings will provide such detail and perhaps the time frame for the process.  What has probably already happened is scoping for pre-application, so the local authority, the Environment Agency and Natural England may have already held exploratory meetings to discuss the issue.

See Unconventional oil and gas: what’s happening in the desolate North?  for a list of applications and their status up until January 2014.

Democracy, accountability and Internal Drainage Boards ….

November 8, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any value in brownfield sites?

July 28, 2013

Along with a couple of colleagues yesterday I enjoyed a pleasant morning looking at a couple of areas on the western edge of Thorne Moors.  Anyone familiar with the old Thorne Colliery site might recognise the image below, now becoming colonised by plants as nature begins to heal the scarred landscape.

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The poor substrate is slowly being colonised by species like mayweed, the prostrate basal leaves hosting an abundance of a recent colonist to Britain Conostethus venustus The species was first recorded in 2010 in Rotherham by Jim Flanagan. Despite its size, the tiny bug is delicately marked and worth inspection with a hand lens.  Jim’s excellent illustrations can be found via the link to Issue 15 of Het News, the Newsletter of the UK Heteroptera Recording Schemes

It doesn’t seem nine years ago that the once proud head gear of Thorne Colliery was a landmark on the skyline by which those unfamiliar with the tracks across the moors could safely find their way back after a visit.  It has always remained a mystery to me why more was not made of the demolition, what a youngster would have given to have pressed down on thet detonator which saw the tons of steel fall to the ground in a mere four seconds, I know because I was there on that day …. 18 August 2004.

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The social historians amongst readers will correct me I’m sure, but the colliery was mothballed well before the decision to demolish the head gear.   The foreground of the image illustrates that nature has gained a foothold here on the approach to the pit head.

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I make no claims whatsoever of being a photographer, I use the media as a way to capture a record or as a memory aide memoire.  In August 2004 I was in the right place at the right time and managed to take a series of images as the massive structure fell, twisted and contorted to the ground in around four seconds!

Colliery scree is an unforgiving substate but many species are able to cope with it, not least a variety of orchid species.  The stunning image of the Bee Orchid below was one of a local colony, similarly the Pyramidal Orchid, both gaining a foothold as indeed other species in what at first glance may appear a hostile environment.

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Colliery scree can be an unforgiving substate but many species are able to cope with it, not least a variety of orchid species.  The stunning image of the Bee Orchid above was one of a local colony, similarly the Pyramidal Orchid below, both gaining a foothold as indeed are other species in what at first glance may appear a hostile environment.

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In 2012, an unusual and unexpected moss was discovered on the colliery scree by a local bryologist.  Glittering-wood Moss, Hyloconium splendens is an interesting addition to the local flora of the area, for more information click on the link.  This is perhaps yet another example of the rewards to be had from ‘local patch’ work or simply taking up a less ‘popular’ specialism.

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Another regular correspondent sent across these superb images below, of a Grayling and Essex Skipper butterflies which further illustrates that there are times where industry and nature can co-exist.  Whilst not from the peatlands per se, they are used as another example of nature’s ability to adapt and take advantage of intervals of availability of space.

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At the moment there are some seriously high counts of a number of our familiar butterflies such as large skipper, but it’s always worth checking because many are actually Essex, the image below illustrates the salient determining feature well, thanks Phil for sharing it with our blog audience.

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Clearly brownfield sites have a lot to offer wildlife able to colonise and adapt amidst an ever changing landscape, but how long before they are promoted as being industries contribution to conservation in the interim whilst a better use or more profitable use for the space is found?  How long before the best sites, the jewels in the nation’s portfolio are sacrificed because they are regarded as resources for man?  Iolo William’s in his plea to protect his back yard eloquently described the use of the word resource in the Welsh successor to CCW as a term which to him inferred it was disposable, something to be used and abused and I for one would agree with his analogy.  The UK government undertook a triennial review of the English agency Natural England along side the Environment Agency.  Much heralded, many contributions but a lost opportunity for reform to benefit nature conservation.  Certainly no robust champion for the environment, the Muzzled Watchdog as its predecesor was dubbed in 1997, became the ‘Toothless Terrier’ and we might now be forgiven for considering the term ‘lapdog’?

If you’ve been out there recording some unusual or interesting wildlife, please …. drop us a line and share the data.

Thanks to Phil Lee, Ian McDonald and Bryan Wainwright for sharing their species images, the others of ‘landscape’ and that of the Glittering-wood Moss are taken by Helen Kirk.


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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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