Posts Tagged ‘Miles King’

Nut job?

May 13, 2016

Yesterday we reported on habitat loss and failure to address by a number of public bodies.  Today we raise the issue of the behaviour of an MP, an elected public servant ….

Some readers may be aware that Chris Packham has written “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar”.  It is reviewed in the May issue of BBC Wildlife and  also features as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.

Packham’s stance on the Hen Harrier issue is well known, it has gained him supporters and conversely it has attracted  abuse from some quarters.  Whilst campaigners might expect to attract criticism and to some extend verbal abuse, is it acceptable that a Member of Parliament ‘tweets’ in support?  To make matters worse, the MP in question is a Right Honourable  …. For more detailed background on the sorry story see Springwatch host Chris Packham branded “nut job” by hunting firm after Asperger admission.

Miles King and Mark Avery have both featured analysis of the slur on their respective blogs.  They are worth a read thus far and in all probability as they update the saga.

Bad enough that a business elects to use offensive terminology towards someone with opposing views to theirs, notably someone who is vehemently against illegal activities involving protected birds of prey.  But that an MP then supports their stance is quite out of order, MPs are reputedly public servants and it seems wholly reasonable that they behave in a courteous and polite manner?

An honourable gesture in light of the slur, which has the potential to offer more than Packham would be for ‘The Rt Hon’ Nicholas Soames to apologise?

Packham has responded and said: “It’s very disappointing to see such comments retweeted by an MP.  “People with Aspergers are not ‘nut jobs’ they are simply different.   Hunting Solutions and their supporter ‘The Rt Hon’ Sir Nicholas Soames MP clearly has a different opinion, and we are all entitled to opinions but the issue being is it right he uses such terminology given his public office?

We understand that attempts to contact him through social media were blocked, perhaps a polite note via email might persuade him to reconsider labeling people with Aspergers as nut jobs, and to apologise to Packham for inappropriate and offensive language?

End illegal persecution of protected species and manage the upland moors for public benefit?  Then ….

Ban driven grouse shooting




Defra & badgers …. can costs like these be justified?

September 2, 2015


DEFRA has finally been forced to reveal the true cost of their disastrous badger cull policy in a Freedom of Information request brought by the Badger Trust. The final bill for the taxpayer (including policing costs) is just under £16.8 million, which works out at £6,775 per badger killed.

The DEFRA figures show:

2012 badger cull postponement costs – £2,500,000

2013 badger cull cost – £9,818,000

2014 badger cull cost – £4,459,000

Total costs – £16,777,000

The Badger Trust has pursued the government relentlessly over the actual costs of the badger cull policy but DEFRA fought hard not to reveal them. So in November 2014, the Trust went public with its own estimate of £6,100 per badger for the first two years of the culls, a figure derided as ‘inaccurate and alarmist’ by pro-cull politicians and the farming lobby, who also accused the Trust of inflating the costs to ‘fuel public opposition’ to the policy.

Reacting to the latest figures released by DEFRA, Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust said, “Despite the best efforts of the government and the farming lobby to discredit us, our cost estimates were, if anything, too low.

“Not only is the badger cull a disastrous failure on scientific and animal welfare grounds, it is also becoming an unacceptable burden on the taxpayer. When the policy was developed in 2011 the government claimed it would be a farmer led initiative, paid for by farmers. In reality it’s the taxpayer who is footing the bill and these costs will continue to rise rapidly as the policy is extended into Dorset, and possibly other counties in the future.

“If, as the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson stated in 2013, the badger cull is rolled out to over 40 areas of England the costs to the tax payer could easily exceed half a billion pounds.”

Badger Trust Chairman Peter Martin added, “It’s time the government stopped pandering to the irrational sentiments of the farming lobby by playing the badger blame game. We live in a world of science and facts, and DEFRA’s own data show that even in TB hotspot areas 85% of badgers will not even have the disease and 98% are no risk whatsoever to cattle. Killing badgers that don’t have TB cannot possibly help the situation for farmers or for cows. This indiscriminate slaughter is not only irrational but hugely wasteful of public money at a time when key services are being axed, including 40% cuts at DEFRA.

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

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

Thanks to the Badger Trust for sharing these eye watering figures with us.

See also a new nature blog

Miles King has also written an excellent post “Badger Cull Circus comes to Dorset”.

Given the above astonishing figures, then perhaps some more questions need to be asked about the funding for this continuum?  The agri-industry receives substantive ‘welfare’ payments simply for land ownership, these CAP payments are we understood supposed to support wildlife friendly management …. continuation of an unscientifc practice is hardly likely to gain public support for British farmers?  The approach adopted by Defra and or government Ministers appears akin to that for Hen Harriers?


…. seem to be taking quite a bit of criticism lately, Mark Avery has contacted them again to complain about the way in which a FoI was handled.  He has also sought an update on the Walshaw complaint to Europe after the RSPB had to take up the case after Natural England dropped it., see Wuthering Moors 49 & 51.

Perhaps we should revisit an issue we had with two Defra agencies, then again maybe they have enough on their plate already?

Conservation campaigning: epetitions to consider?

June 3, 2015

In the aftermath of the recent General Election there appears to be a number of epetitions doing the rounds.   The promised free vote to repeal the ban on hunting with hounds galloped to the fore.  Interestingly Lord Gardiner, formerly of the Countryside Alliance, will represent Defra in the House of Lords.  As a former chair of a fox hunt Lord Gardiner might perhaps be keen to promote the repeal?  Mark Avery seems to think so as does Miles King .  The Prime Minister who has ridden to hounds in Oxfordshire and believes in the freedom to hunt has ensured that he has like minded in the Lords?  Interestingly the link to the article written for the Countryside Alliance magazine reports “page not found”.  We note that the CA consider that they are the “voice of the countryside”, is that the people, the wildlife or the entity?  We would be interested to understand how they validate such a claim, something akin perhaps to suggesting that a government represents a nation when in reality most (UK) parties manage to secure power on around 25% to perhaps 30% of votes?

There are two set up, one through 38 degrees the other through either or both …. the message is the same and already the is already past 350,000, 38 degrees in excess of 100,000.  One might beforgiven for wondering why the Government have not yet re-instated the GOV.UK epetition option?  Avery has pledged to launch a second ‘Ban grouse driven shooting’ epetition because of the continuing persecution of birds of prey most notably Hen Harriers.  The epeitions mentioned, had it been on the GOV.UK epetition website option would have already passed the ‘magic figure’ which would require a response from Defra and a discussion in Parliament.  How would HM Government define ‘soon’?  It will soon be a month since the General Election, maybe they are anticipating a few environmentally orientated epetitions being set up, perhaps a few relating to the NHS as well?  It might be that electoral reform could feature?  ‘Soon’ could be construed as subjective and when applied to politics then even indeterminate?  Not exactly known, established or defined perhaps?


Neonictonids are back on the agenda again with the agri-industry seeking to have the moretorium lifted.  38 degrees report that Our bees are in danger again. Toxic chemical companies are trying to get their banned pesticides back on UK fields. On the 20 May an application was submitted to the government asking them to lift the ban on bee-killing chemicals for some crops planted this autumn.  If you are still concerned about the threat to bees and then you might like to consider signing the epetition here?  Already 231,960 people have contacted Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs through this option in the hope that the government will listen.

Keep the ban on bee-killing pesticides is the most recent 38 degree campaign and it allows you to write to all three Defra Ministers:

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Rory Stewart MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs MP George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment MP Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The campaign offers a form of words you can submit, but it also allows free text to be entered thereby making the message more personal. Imagine the impact on their inboxes …. ?


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?

150321 BAWC EitF Speakers hrk 873

If readers have similar case studies with supportive documentation then drop us a line via 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. 

For Peat’s Sake? An update on the WESTLAND confusion, but we’re still a tad confused?

March 7, 2015

As we approach Easter we are oft reminded that it is sometimes regarded as the start of the growing season in terms of vegetables and flowers for our allotments and gardens.  Readers may be interested to learn that the post “When is PEAT FREE not PEAT FREE?” was one of our most visited pieces of late?  We wonder why?  Is it the fact that Westland’s labelling leaves something to be desired in terms of accuracy?  If one asks for half a pound of ham at the butchers then one wouldn’t expect to be given half a pound of beef or chicken, would you?

Are people bothered about the continued use of peat as a growing medium?  Does it matter if we use peat as long as it comes from non SSSIs?


Is it really?

Response to our enquiry made to WESTLAND HORTICULTURE

many thanks for your message regarding our GroSure Peat-Free All-Purpose Compost. We can reassure you that this product is peat free and always has been peat free.

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.

On our website you can access a copy of the product label which shows the current label design and where you will see that the error has been rectified.

We hope this clarifies the matter, but please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.



Given that this did not really explain why we were able to purchase a bag, clearly identified as containing 50% peat, in 2015 we sent a follow up to Westland :

Thank you for your reply, which does not explain why a ‘old’ bags were still available for sale?

The bag we have was purchased last week i.e. 2015 showing that the bags are still in circulation.

Did you not issue a recall in 2013 – 2014 to ensure that potential customers were not confused?

The other option of course would have been to issue retailers with stickers to place over the problematical panel on the old stock? We wonder if they will reply …. watch this space. In the meanwhile we remain somewhat confused by commerce again.  Erroneously labelled products remaining on shelves will not, in our view help their sales, but then we are not commercial marketing executives.  There might be a case made that potential customers will avoid GroSure if they are purposely seeking out genuine peat free because they will see that peat is listed as a substantive component in this product?  The moral of the story perhaps being you can’t always believe what you read?  Corporate marketing is all about brand image and GroSure, not so sure any ‘moor’?


These are PEAT FREE and we’ve had excellent results from them.

The November 2014 edition of Gardeners World contained a letter in which the author expressed concerns about Thompson & Morgan bringing out a 80% peat compost for the professional market.  T&M Horticulture Director Paul Hansord responed to the writer …. Our aim with incredicompost has been to develop a product that restores to the compost market the quality and reliability that’s been reduced by the use of green waste to cut peat use.  As our research into peat-reduced products has yielded poor results, we use responsibly sourced Irish peat produced according to high industry standards to ensure ethical bog management.  We will look to  reduce the peat content further as we develop the brand.  GW say …. Most major compost companies are committed to the current voluntary government scheme to phase out peat composts by 2020.  Many suppliers offer products labelled a specialist seed or potting compost containing over 70% peat.

According to the Amateur Gardening website, the Incredicompost will be available from February 2015,  at least the page comes with a warning …. that Incredicompost, however, comes at a price. The product will be available by mail-order only, delivered from February 2015 priced at £14.99 for a 70-litre bag plus £4.99p&p. 

We are reminded of a talk given at our 2002 Conference “For Peat’s Sake”, when conservation celebrated the Government buy out of extant planning permissions on Thorne & Hatfield Moors in South Yorkshire and at Wedholme Flow in Cumbria where the audience were reminded that it is not about the medium we grow plants in but the management of it.  Peat on its own left to dry out is a pretty poor growing medium.  It is a cheap and easy fibre that the peat industry market well as a base for additives to be introduced (such as fertlisers) and its light weight reduces haulage costs.  Peat bogs take thousands of years to grow and yet the industry would have us believe that peat can be sustainably harvested?

How should we view commercial peat extraction?  Should all minerals be regarded as a resource to be harvested?  Should all natural resources be commercial commodities?  Does sustainability really matter?  Setting aside the issue of CO2 release if the carbon sink was harvested, and the fact that politicians eventually heard the scientists message about carbon sequestration capabilities of peat bogs, why is it now that every thing have to have a financial value?  Miles King in his excellent blog “a new nature blog” recently wrote an interesting piece Natural Capital, Greshams Law and the Tainted Altruism Effect prompted by the publication of Tony Juniper’s latest book “What nature does for Britain”.  The post has received a few interesting comments, most of which seem to agree with King’s concerns, which seem perfectly reasonable but then maybe not to politicians or corporates?

Thorne Milling & BAF 3.95 (SWW)

An archive image of Thorne Moors (Colliery head gear on the horizon) showing devastation from peat mining on a SSSI.

We’d love to hear from readers about any peat free composts they’ve used, particularly those marketed as suitable for seed propogation.  Drop an email to with product details, where it is available from, price per unit and what that unit is eg 50 litres, how you got on with it and any other background information about the PEAT FREE product(s).




Defra …. King asks 14 weeks to a cull? Hedging and lanes, do they matter?

February 16, 2015

Countryside …. natural asset for quiet enjoyment, a playground or a resource for profit?

Once upon a time, seemingly in the midst of a previous era the village of Fishlake in the Doncaster district, was a quintessential rural idyll set amidst a canvas of pastoral tranquility.   As such it was a rare haven amidst the urban and industrialised areas of the Doncaster district.  It had much in common with its smaller neighbbouring hamlets at Braithwaite and Sykehouse.  The fields around Fishlake were in the main small and enclosed by wonderful species rich hedgerows with mature trees which offered nest holes for owls and other smaller tree nesting species.   This lowland landscape, part of the River Don flood plain was part of a working wetland and the farming practice that associated with pastoral farming.  It has in one lifetime changed dramatically, albeit acknowledging that ‘dramatic’ is a subjective choice of adjective?

A desirable place to live and one becoming increasingly popular, no surprise given the ease of which commuters can access motorway networks.   But it is one which sadly appears to be suffering neglect and abuse at the same time?  Sad to relate in other recent posts that there appears to be less than good hedgerow management practiced, now we learn of local people unnable to enjoy walks along countrylanes they have used all their lives because of what appears to be a ‘change of use’ which has, as yet remained unchallenged despite the fact that the lane is in fact designated as a “Restricted byway”.  Rural residents have little by way of services provided or leisure opportunities so it would seem only reasonable that they be allowed to continue to enjoy healthy and safe walks?  That wildlife have sanctuary or havens, what use of that?



In this particular case part of the issue appears to be the access points.  As with many of these delighful lanes they can all join up via a number of routes and these access options do not all have signs or notices posted to provide visitors with their status so perhaps by virtue there is an assumption of vehicular access rights?

This issue has been raised with the local authority at the beginning of February, a response is awaited.

Campaign corner & updates ….

Of public assets, can readers remember the furore over the proposed sale of the forestry estate?  It would seem that there is a view emerging that there is renewed activity around that ambition ….

An epetition has been launched which is calling for the end of Forest Privatisation by the back door.  The case is not local but it is another such example of the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ that our natural environment is being inflicted with?  There was a great fanfare in 2010 with the publication of the ‘Lawton Report’ or to give it its full title Making Space for Nature …. the subsequent silence is almost deafening?  Then we had the State of Nature Report and that appeared to be a rallying cry to arms, but …. where is the ‘conservation’ party now when we need an alternative to the meagre if any offerings of the ‘mainstream’ political parties?  Master blogger Mark Avery offers an interesting series of posts which offer readers insight into the Fineshade case.  One might wonder if the series will become as long running as that of the ‘Wuthering Moors’ case?

Of other campaigning blog posts, Miles King asks of us ‘We need to talk about Defra’   His insightful analysis offers good background to the complexities of the current predicament the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.  It is interesting to read also the amount of cuts that are scheduled for Defra, so why do their agencies not secure the support of campaigning conservationists, of naturalists and grassroots communities?  Why do they not work with grassroots activists to secure local support?  The mainstream NGOs who have been the recipients of their table crumbs (project funding) may well see more commercial opportunities should they be culled in 14 weeks?

King concludes that …. none of these things will happen while politicians continue to see nature as a side-issue. Only a change in the way society views nature will lead to a shift in the position of politicians and how they view nature. This is what we all need to work on.  Read the full text of his post We need to talk about Defra.


So, we all need to play a part and not let the apathy or attrition stand in our way?  Critical mass and collective collaborative campaigning is needed …. here’s to an inspirational networking session on 21 March, a legacy event subsequent to the momentum generated from Hen Harrier Day 2014.


 There are events planned for 2015 to continue to raise the profile of illegal persecution of birds of prey, notably the magnificent ‘Skydancer’.  See some after thoughts on the Birders Against Wildlife Crime website posted shortly after the events.  Mark Avery too provided afterthoughts and further comments.


Is the planning system in a pickle?

January 31, 2015

As many readers may already be aware, a serious development threat to an SSSI has emerged in Dorset with national implications. In short, a developer has obtained planning permission for more than 100,000 solar panels on Rampisham Down near Dorchester. This is possibly the largest (76ha) remaining piece of lowland acid grassland in the country. The habitat will almost certainly be irrevocably damaged by the shading if the development goes ahead. The decision by the local council is all the more perverse because it went against the advice of their own planning officer, Natural EnglandDorset Wildlife Trust and several others. There is an alternative site across the road which we all support and hence flies in the face of the National Planning Policy Framework guidelines.  For more details on the actual planning application view documents through the Dorset Planning Portal.  

As with Lodge Hill in Kent, we (conservation campaigners & supporters) cannot allow nationally important SSSIs to be destroyed. We recognise and acknowledge the need for and support renewables in principle, but in the right place.

For readers not familiar with the cases, excellent synopses and updates can be found on Miles King excellent blog “a new nature blog”   King provides an excellent analysis of both Rampisham Down and Lodge Hill cases.  Mark Avery too along with Mike McCarthy.

SSSIs are supposed to be the best examples of their habitat kind, so what does this say about the planning system?  Might we be forgiven for suggesting that it appears to be in something of a pickle?

Dorset Wildlife Trust are asking for your support, as soon as possible given the short stay of execution (5th February), by asking your staff and members to go to the TWT campaign web page and send Eric Pickles a strong message that he needs to call in this decision. DWT believe that it would be really powerful if we could show the strength of concern about this and the precedent it could establish.

Thus far the DWT epetition has 5,347 – add your voice to theirs here?

The link to the e-action is .

Better still, write to the Secretary of State or phone his office and ask him to call the decision in, likewise contact Natural England and outline why they should defend SSSIs?  Contact details as follows:

No postal address or telephone number available for Mr Pickles via his constituency website, just an email form.  His Parliamentary, including Departmental contact details are available via where interestingly, no constituency office address is detailed.  It appears he can be tweeted …. @erickpickles otherwise email or try  Imagine if those 5,347 and a few ‘moor’ emailed both addresses?  Do let us know if you get a response.

Natural England Head Office can be contacted via the GOV.UK website here.

Natural England, Foundry House, 3 Millsands, Riverside Exchange, Sheffield, S3 8NH, Telephone 0300 060 6000

Calls to this number will be answered by an external switchboard service. They will connect callers to Natural England staff who can deal with your enquiry. Please tell them the name of the person in Head Office you wish to speak to (where known).

Again, please do let us know how you get on.

DWT and indeed others are also talking with Natural England and will be writing directly to the Secretary of State asking him to ‘call in’ the planning decision.

If you remember Eric Pickles was the Minister who was going to give local communities more say in their neighbourhoods, particularly where planning and developments were concerned.  How many decisions have been overturned because they were outwith Government Policy irrespective of community wishes?

Rampisham Down is yet another example of development precedent over SSSIs?  Conservation is often left fighting a rear guard action through a failure by the collective conservation community to advocate for better protection, for a truly independent guardian of the natural environment.  Until there is a critical mass prepared to collaborate we will see continued erosion of special places and natural landscapes?


The Infrastructure Bill: Public land still up for ‘sale’ to private developers?

November 9, 2014

Readers might recall a recent post about the next attempt to sell off the Public Forest Estate (PFE), fortunately some community campaigning has managed to persuade enough of the public to support a challenge to the aspects of the Infrastructure Bill speeding through the Westminster corridors at the moment.  It was the ambition of group like Hands Off Our Forests (HOOF) Save our Woods (SoW) and 38 degrees is to see the PFE  excluded from the available land resources available for mass market housing.  The amendment proposed has now been withdrawn and it seems that Lord Ahmad, DCLG, said he will “seek to bring an amendment back to the House at Third Reading that will seek to exempt the public forest estate from transfer to the Homes and Communities Agency”.  Do we trust politicians anymore to safeguard the public resources, let alone the natural environment, this is after all the second attempt that we can recall whereby this ConDem Government has sought to dispose of the PFE.

However as Miles King, in his excellent blog reveals, even if that is achieved (and it has yet to be) King rightly points out that still leaves a lot of publically owned land held ‘in trust’ by Public Bodies and Government Departments.  The Ministry of Defence is one such land portfolio which springs to mind.  Much of the Defence Estate, despite training exercises, is a haven for and a home to some of our rarest wildlife.

Likewise King reminds us that the Biodiversity Duty contained in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 has been watered down to be effectively meaningless.  How has the collective critical mass of the conservation movement allowed that to happen?  Austerity and focus on delivering mitigation projects for Defra and its business allies?  Where are the conservation cause celebres?  Walshaw was a case which was initiated by Natural England, but when they stepped back after challenge by the Walshaw Estate they subsequently negotiated a deal which saw the Estate receive eye watering amounts to effectively continue ‘management’ regardless.  The RSPB stepped up to the mark and the complaint is languishing in the European Commission files somewhere, but at least the baton was taken up.   Calling the Shots 2014 provides a useful background to the issues which are increasingly featuring in the media.

Ancient oaks: under threat again?

Ancient oaks: under threat again?

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.”
John Burroughs (1837-1921), American Naturalist


‘Moor’ politics & petty politics, so let’s keep on ‘badgering’?

October 27, 2014

It’s interesting to observe the tactics of the various ‘political parties’ ….

There appears to be a new breed of political animals assembling with agendas which seem to assist the traditional two party system masquerading as democracy?  Government are manouvering to prevent lobbying by charities.  It appears to be accepted practice that corporations can, but that charity activity in such matters should be curttailed?  There seems to be a view offered that ‘green blobs’ should stick to planting a hundred saplings in an ancient tree’s stead ….

Sadly, the majority of the population have little say in how their taxes are spent but we can, if we so wish, donate to charities or organisations who might champion or defend the countryside we love and cherish against rampant capitalism?

Martyn Howat, former Director of Natural England, said: “While parts of the RSPB do much good, overall it has become the great vampire squid of the charity world, hoovering up conservation funds on the premise that it’s going into creating homes for birds. It’s creating homes for office workers instead.”

That is an absolutely astonishing claim from a natural bureaucrat who we met but never received any useful response to our enquiries and concerns about the effectiveness of his team of staff (office workers and the majority nowhere to be found on Friday’s).  Howat visited Hatfield Moors when NE held another party to celebrate the extension of the National Nature Reserve in 2005.  Since retiring on a comfortable civil service pension it appears his true colours and sympathies are emerging?


Elliot Morley MP, Sir Martin Dougherty (Chair of NE) and Martyn Howat with Dr Henry Chapman at the site of the Neolithic Trackway on Hatfield Moors, October 2005.

Elliot Morley MP, Sir Martin Dougherty (Chair of NE) and Martyn Howat with Dr Henry Chapman at the site of the Neolithic Trackway on Hatfield Moors, October 2005.


A new website has been set up “You Forgot the Birds” which challenges the RSPBs spending priorities.  There are reports that there are groups who are turning their attention to the Wildlife Trusts too.  Whilst all charities are accountable, quite rightly for transparency in their conduct, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could also easily access Government Department spending priorities, detailed actual spend and source and governance structure of the think tanks who make claims of public benefit?

We had considered posting a link to the yftb website but for some reason the group (?) wishes to hide behind a website where the only option to contact them is via a pseudonym email address.  Vote for Bambi (the alternative vote for Bob) has thus far received a massive 41 votes, good on ‘beefy’  Most legitimate organisations offer various contact options, but then c’est la politics?

The Field magazine asks its readers …. If you would like to join this germinating group of conservation charity monitors then drop them (yftb) an email.  It might be that such embryonic groups are as a consequence of recent media coverage around bager culls, illegal persecution of Hen Harriers and other raptors on upland grouse moors subsidised from the public purse  through agri-welfare payments to wealthy industrialists?  To us that is a sign of  ‘green blob’ success?

To our mind’s Howat’s comments might well act as a good recruitment mechanism for the RSPB?  There are also signs of a more recent emergence and assembling of people disillusioned with mainstream capitalist politics, people want more and given they fund the extravagances of the Westminster village and invited clique then there could well be a day of reckoning ‘germinating’?

Miles King’s excellent blog on the emergence of yftb is worth a read, he illustrates the gullability (?) of Sir Ian Botham but I remember him when he presented our school colours …. Miles has done some background research on this germ(inating) group.   King may not be as well read or have as many followers as Mark Avery but in my opinion he is every bit as astute in his observations and comments.

Of Dr Avery’s popular blog, his most recent Guest blog is well worth a read and has received a record number of ‘likes’, it’s a good green read and offers food for thought and may germinate on fallow fields?  A reminder, just in case …. have readers considered signing Avery’s epetition “Ban driven grouse shooting”? 



Environmental politics: a rise in ‘green blobs’ needed to keep on badgering?

October 12, 2014

I wonder how many of you subscribe to environmental campaigning newsletters or conservation blogs from the likes of Mark Avery or Miles King, George Monbiot or Naomi Klien?  Hen Harriers and badgers appear to be the top of the list in terms of species ‘popularity’ at the moment, and quiet rightly so if you have been following the issues which has brought attention to their plight?  Miles King has recently written a very short but certainly eye opening post about spending cuts and the debt.  It questions the claims that the national debt is being paid off, yet by providing part of a letter from the UK Statistics Authority it is clear that under the ConDem Coalition the Public Sector Net Debt has increased by nearly 50% during this Parliament.  Rightly King questions the privatisation of the Royal Mail, large parts of the NHS and selling off of public land and askks what has this achieved, clearly not a reduction in the national debt.  Yet departments like Defra have had cuts of around £800m between 2010 and 2016.  Was it the banking bail out which began the drain on the public purse?

Owen Patterson, badger hater and master climate change denier should perhaps be given a copy of Klein’s latest book.  This Changes Everything Capitalism vs. The Climate is an expose, an explanation and perhaps even a call to arms to the environmental movement after its austerity derailment.  The Shock Doctrine ought to have been an influential and inspirational motivational book but maybe it was a lost as austerity hit?    Here in the UK we seem to have lost momentum, what happened to the promised aftermath of the State of Nature?  Various other reports have been published, including the recent Living Planet Report 2014 Species and spaces, people and places but where is the inspirational rally to create critical mass and effect a challenging conservation collaboration to achieve change?  Where are the party manifestos in which the natural environment features as a priority?  We hear that the badger cull is the fifth most written about issue to MPs, but how many people have written about the Hen Harriers and driven grouse shooting, how many have called for reform of agri-welfare payments and HLS to landowners who are unable to demonstrate public benefit?

It’ll soon be Christmas …. perhaps when Santa asks you what you’d like, This Changes Everything ought to be up there on that wish list?  Then you can begin to draft up your series of New Year Resolutions which collectively and collaboratively we can, as a critical mass, make those purporting to represent us do just that?   If they fail then we hold them accountable?  Listen to Klien’s resume of fracking and how our politicians are pandering to capitalist corporations at our expense.

The Guardian article in which is embedded an interview with Klien explains how UK Ministers’ rewriting of the law will allow fracking to happen beneath people’s homes without their permission flouts basic democratic rights.  Klien said that the UK government’s changes to trespass laws, to speed up the ability for shale gas companies to frack beneath landowners’ property, was energising resistance to fracking in Britain.

But, despite the mess that we the voting public permit politicians to create, just occasionally enjoy the fresh air (while we still can) and remember that there is beauty around us, and that we should strive to live with our natural neighbours ….

The image above shows two tunnels, that on the left the beginning of a chamber.

The image above shows two tunnels, that on the left the beginning of a chamber.

I spent the afternoon with a great bunch of passionate people determined to help poor beleagured brock, it was a healthy reminder of why we must keep badgering the politicians into doing the right thing, that is for people and not for profit.

In Klein’s words  …. “I think we need to be very clear about this – the only way you can win against forces with a huge amount to lose is to build a movement of people, many more people, with a huge amount to gain.”  The issue of Scottish independence, brought out around 85% of the electorate.  The two and a half party system will remain just that whilst apathy remains and the Westminster village refuses to reform?


A Tale of Blue Bigots and Green Blobs, might persuade you to think about things that you might be able to do, be it for badger, hen harriers or the bigger political picture?  Small steps build momentum and collaborative endeavours build movements ….. be part of it?


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

June 28, 2014

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


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

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

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


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

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

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



Stock Dove

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



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

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

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

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

The Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius

Red-tailed bumblebee.  Image: Keith Heywood.

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



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

Updates & ‘moor’ ramblings

June 15, 2014

Readers might be interested in an event which is being run as part of a series of British Ecological Society Peatlands Special Interest Group workshops and in which the Forum have an involvement.

Sphagnum Mosses: Identification, Diversity, Landscape and Ecology.

The field visit is to Thorne Moors and the ‘basecamp’ is a community venue in Moorends.

Monday 20 October 2014 (9.30am – 4.30pm).

For more information access the information and Sphagnum booking form 2014 here.

See also In the bog conference details via UKEconet

‘Campaign corner’:

Conservation campaigning readers who also visit Standing up for Nature may share some of the frustration around the recent news released by Defra in respect of agri-industrialist welfare payments, sorry …. agricultural / environment support.  Even the BBC report that EU wildlife grants will be used to grow crops.  Another excellent and worthwhile read can be found on “a new nature blog”, in this substantive analysis Miles King explains why he considers that “The CAP no longer fits” and one might struggle to find much in the post to disagree with?  Absolutely astonishing, we shall be having nightmares …. a vista of thousand acre monocultures of peas and beans?  No hedgerows (so where do the pollinating insects build nests), no ponds, no diversity?  But agri-industrialists get their welfare grants, where are the challenges?  The main players in terms of membership numbers have been quite critical, but words come easy and there are many ‘politicians’ in some of the NGOs as there are making a mess of environmental scheme support.

Avery’s petition to Ban driven grouse shooting has passed its 4000 mark in a mere 18 days.  Can that magic 10,000 be reached to ensure that the topic is discussed in Parliament?  Please read Avery’s rationale and consider doing as he asks?

Another appeal which has recently visited my inbox has been that which informs us that:

Right next to Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales, developers are planning to turn 830 acres of hillside into a 3.5 mile race track — into the Circuit of Wales motorsports complex.

The local council argues that 6,000 jobs will be created — but, as environmentalists point out, the park will certainly be affected by pollution and an expected 750,000 people visiting.

Should we support the campaigners seeking to ask the Welsh government to reconsider turning this pristine natural area into a race track?  If you believe that nature should be protected and a priority then here’s the link:

Nature notes:

Some nice moths have recently have visited the garden Actinic Heath trap but other methods can bring rewards too.  This rather snazzy beast was spending a lazy afternoon on a poplar leaf.  It morphs into a delightful adult, but the larvae are certainly worth the effort of searching out.  The White Satin Moth, which is what this will eventually turn into  is recorded from both Thorne & Hatfield Moors.

140615 WSM hrk 187

Season’s greetings to all & random ramblings ….

December 24, 2013

As I travelled about earlier today the winds building up were quite noticeable.  The winter plover flocks were buffeted by them, the finch flocks foraging in the few fields still offering stubble were carried further by them whilst the thrushes struggled to find hedgerows amidst the local prairescape.  Later on the news reported in excess of 100 flood warnings and around 160 flood alerts across the country, power failures are also reported so it looks like it could be a cold and wet festive season for many.

Here in the Humberhead Levels, of which much is flood plain, we seem to escape the worst of the ravages that places like York experience.  If we head a little further north into the Lower Derwent Valley, where the rivers flood regularly it really can be a picture to behold.  The farming practice however is well used to these occurences and manage the cropping regime accordingly.


A spectacular aerial view across Wheldrake Ings in the Spring of 2012.

The turmoil suffered by many is tragic, but the fact that Government insist that local authorities build 20% of new housing in flood plains fails to make any sense to me, clearly a difficult policy to understand?

Government and its statutory agencies and authorities have often conducted business which appears to contradict their published aims and objectives.  Science seems to have been abandoned when our natural environment is under threat, instead developers are ‘advised’ or encouraged to mitigate for loss.  I suppose the resultant column inches from such gardening projects makes for nice political PR?  Guardians no longer seem able or willing to risk political displeasure by ensuring strict adherence to relevant legislation.

Thankfully though I’m not a lone voice, other well read bloggers such as Mark Avery whose excellent Standing up for Nature blog seeks to encourage, to motivate and to provoke,  Miles King’s a new nature blog is another thought provoking example.   These and others have and sadly continue to report horrendous shortfalls in action to halt decline of species and habitats.  ‘Twitcher in the swamp’ and ‘Naturally opinionated’ are both regular pieces in British Wildlife and they too are well worth the read.  I recall the 1997 masterpiece: “A muzzled watchdog” I sense there is an opportunity for a revised edition given the many and varied reports published by collaborations of NGOs, which read like obituaries rather than government marketing spin.  The conference at which the bold State of Nature report was launched brought the prospect of hope?  Nature Check 2013 and others followed, as Iolo said words …. I’m an agnostic, so await their update but fear that it will be variation.  Activism is what’s needed, so who will call conservation to arms?  Will Andrew Sells herald a new beginning for nature’s guardians, Owen Paterson introduces the Government’s preferred candidate …. but it seems George Monbiot is not too sure, nor is Miles King.  Ever our agnostic approach, we will observe evolution in action.

A plea that if you’ve not already done so, to consider signing the petition STOP & RETHINK   & just to re-iterate (again) that we’re NOT oppossed to the principle of open access, simply that we seek open and transparent process which adheres to legislation.

Spare a thought tomorrow when you ‘pull the wishbone’ with family and friends, what do we all really need?  Fundamental to human well being is surely a healthy planet, a functioning ecosytem (not a fractured one, fixed with financial ‘fiddling’) in which we play a part, albeit a major part.

So, here’s wishing all our readers a happy and healthy Christmas and on the morrow a determination to promote, to encourage, to persuade, to advocate, whatever it takes to repair decades of damage to sensitive and fragile habitats.

So, a big thank you to all the Forum’s volunteers and to our extensive network for the help and support provided throughout 2013, particularly to the many ecologists who have made significant contributions to our understanding of the biodiversity of Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI.  Here’s to 2014 and to ‘moor’ firsts for the UK!


Moody and evocative, therapeutic and energising – all these emotions are out there so please join us in seeking to champion the cause for nature conservation wherever you live!

Thanks to Ted Sabin for sharing this autumnal image of Crowle Moors. 

BIRDING SITE GUIDE - Birding Site Guide

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Hatfield Moors Birding Blog

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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.

UK and Ireland Natural History Bloggers

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