Posts Tagged ‘Liz Truss’

Diversions & Defra odds & sods….

April 17, 2016

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

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

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‘Moor grousing’?

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

The Humberhead constituencies have provided, to date:

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

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

The Humberhead constituencies have provided, to date:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ban driven grouse shooting?

January 13, 2016
Red Grouse TM

Image: Tim Melling

Ban driven grouse shooting?

Readers may recall intermittent updates on the situation around illegal persecution of raptors in the uplands where driven grouse shooting occurred?

Readers may also recall that Dr Mark Avery set up an epetition Ban driven grouse shooting on the Parliamentary epetition website?  100,000 signatures are needed to secure a discussion in Parliament.  The deadline for these is Thursday 21 January 2016.

Anyone who has read Avery’s book Inglorious Conflict in the Uplands can be left in no doubt as to the issues involved and the impact they have on water quality, the impact on the peat as a consequence of the management practice of burning as well as a whole host of other issues.  The EMBER Report by Leeds University  presents a robust evidence based case for change.  See also the issue of lead shot in game.  Ban toxic lead ammunition is another ‘related’ epetition and there is discussion around this issue via Standing up for nature and other websites.

Whilst the Humberhead Levels may not have breeding Hen Harriers we do get them as winter visitors and they are a part of our avifauna that we should value and be able to enjoy?  Yet, if you look on the map facility on the epetition you can see constituency statistics.  Come on, if you’ve not already signed then please do think seriously about doing so.  If you have, then persuade your friends and network?  Spread the word via social media.  This is one situation where ‘tweeting’ on ‘twiter’ really will help the birds.

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Image: Tim Melling

Interestingly Avery’s blog Standing up for nature was voted Blog of the Year by Birdwatch magazine, Chris Packham Conservation Hero of the Year and the Guano Award for Environmental Harm went to the Rt Hon. Liz Truss!

Ban driven grouse shooting?

Campaign updates ….

August 14, 2015

 

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Un bee-lievable?

Damian Carrington of the Guardian recently reported that pesticide companies took part in a key meeting about the banning of chemicals which have been linked to bee deaths.  Documents previously suppressed have shown that the chemical companies and the NFU have sought to have the EU ban on the use of Neonics in the UK lifted.  FOE have written a judicial review pre-action letter to the environment secretary Liz Truss who is the prospective defendant.  What is even more astonishing, or maybe not is the fact that these companies Bayer, BASF and Syngenta are suing the European Commission to overturn a ban on the pesticides that are killing millions of bees around the world.

If readers have concerned about bees and other pollinators being harmed and the actions of the big pesticide companies then they might consider the epetition calling upon the industry giants to drop their lawsuit?

When the UK government suppress documents then is there any wonder people ask the question “is this an example of open and transparent government that we were promised”?  Is this cause to trust government when multi-national companies are deemed to have a right at the table?

Fracking update

Another worrying example of reneged promises is that of allowing local councils to make local decisions, Lancashire Council who rejected a fracking application appears to have been overuled by government, is that another example of the local democracy we were promised?  Fracking continues to remain a contentious issue, readers may recall the chart we used to show corporate and government links to the industry?  If any reader can provide any updates to these details from November 2014 then please contact execsec@thmcf.org

Forthcoming events

Treat yourself to a day out at a fantastic open air venue and hear some inspirational speakers guaranteed to motivate and inspire.  Mixing with like minded is a good antedote for momentary lapse in focus or determination to champion the case for environmental conservation and protection for the species and habitats we share the planet with.  A week today the 27th Birdfair at Rutland Water opens.  It runs from Friday 21 to Sunday 23 August and the programme is to say the least pretty impressive.   Mark Avery, Nick Baker, Simon King, Bill Oddie, Chris Packham, Iolo Williams are just a few of the ‘names’ attending.  For more details visit the Birdfair website.

and finally for now …. help Henry and his kind and promote the signing of the epetition

Ban driven grouse shooting

Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which damages protected wildlife sites, increases water pollution, increases flood risk, increases greenhouse gas emissions and too often leads to the illegal killing of protected wildlife such as Hen Harriers.

RSPB , 7 March 2014 ‘…burning drainage and other forms of intensive land management in England’s iconic peat-covered hills are threatening to create a series of environmental catastrophes’

Inglorious – conflict in the uplands (a book on why we should ban driven grouse shooting)

Dr Dick Potts, scientist, 1998 ‘…a full recovery of Hen Harrier breeding numbers is prevented by illegal culling by some gamekeepers’

Chris Packham addressing Hen Harrier Day rally, August 2014 ‘We will win!’

 

Today it stands @ 13,404 and gaining momentum by the day

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

March 11, 2015

Drainage related updates

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

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

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

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

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

Badgering upate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

& for peat’s sake?

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 5, 2015

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

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

Cull Roll Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing badgers for TB

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

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

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

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

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

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

TB rates in England

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

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

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

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

Annual Testing

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

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

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

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

Badger Vaccination

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

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

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

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

Badger Persecution

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

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

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

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

Wider views on the meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Coverage

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Moor’ draining campaigning updates ….

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

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

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

With reference to your FOI request 9th January 2015,

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

2. This was a private meeting.

3. This communication is not available to third parties.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

September 14, 2014

Defra have recently released

Revisions to bovine TB statistics – September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badger & mayweed

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

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

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

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

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

August 31, 2014

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

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

Badger & mayweed

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

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

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

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

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust, commented:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

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

 

 

Natural England authorise ‘moor’ badger culls ….

August 26, 2014

We have just received the astonishing news that the agency responsible for advice to government on nature conservation matters have approved the next tranche of badger culls.  This despite the findings of the Government Independent Expert Panel findings and ahead of the outcome of the Badger Trust’s application to Judicially Review NE and the Minister Liz Truss MP.  See post of 21 August for details.  As Roderick Leslie commented on a Mark Avery post recently of Natural England – after all, what’s the point of having these useless, obstructive quangos if they can’t be thrust out on the end of the toasting fork at awkward moments ? 

 

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As a result Up to 1876 Badgers Targeted as New Culls Given the Green Light

Badger culling could resume in Gloucestershire and Somerset at any time now after the go-ahead by the government body, Natural England, today.

‘Letters of authorisation’ have been issued to allow cullers to kill badgers in the two counties. The letters stipulate that between 615 and 1091 badgers must be killed in Gloucestershire, and between 316 and 785 in Somerset.

Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild, said:

“As we speak, the High Court is still contemplating the Badger Trust legal challenge against the cull, so I consider Natural England have jumped the gun. At the same time, there is now a criminal investigation taking place by the police regarding reports of contractors who stalked badgers with loaded weapons on a golf course and close to residential housing. In the circumstances I fail to understand why the government feels it is acceptable to re-start the culls while these issues are unanswered. Confidence in the ability of badger culling to actually solve the problem of bTB was already low, but recently it has also collapsed in terms of humaneness and of public safety. It is now an utter shambles but it is apparent that there is a determination to proceed, come what may.

“Meanwhile in Wales, they have reduced bovine TB by 50% in five years, a figure farmers in England would be ecstatic about. But this has taken place without a badger cull, with the emphasis on farming measures and, crucially, annual testing of cattle – because you cannot beat the disease if you do not know how many cows have bTB. The Welsh government have made it clear that this is the reason for their success – but the National Farmers’ Union here in England refuse to do annual testing because they claim it costs too much. Yet they were prepared to spend £10m last year on killing 1861 badgers, and they are about to do the same again. It is a failure of judgement, a failed policy and it will fail their own members, the farmers who desperately need an effective solution.”

“The number of badgers to be killed also raises concerns, said Dyer, both because of the way numbers were counted last year, and also because of the alleged falsification of hair trap data (used to count the number of badgers) by AHVLA contractors last year – a story recently reported in the Sunday Times.

“Last year, the government estimated the total number of badgers in the two areas completely incorrectly – that is what led to Owen Paterson claiming the badgers had moved the goalposts. So how are we supposed to have any confidence that they have the numbers right this year? The number to be shot will be a percentage of the total number in the area – but if they have that wrong again, there is a danger of causing local extinctions. Ultimately though, these are sentient animals that are being slaughtered for a policy that simply will not work.”

Badgering Defra & Natural England

August 21, 2014

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

The Badger Trust are to be congratulated ….

Badger Trust High Court legal challenge over monitoring of badger cull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplementary snippets ….

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

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

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

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

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

August 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badger & mayweed

 

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

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

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

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

 


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