Posts Tagged ‘National Nature Reserves’

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

May 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SY Hatfield Fracking Poster

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

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

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

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

Greenblobpride

 

 

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Natural England & the future of SSSIs?

April 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Are our landscapes of any value and why were NNRs not included?

February 28, 2015

The Landscapes for everyone initiative was launched on 19 January 2015 in Parliament.  Some 27 organisational signatories called for the need to protect precious landscapes.

The coalition members listed below

Association of Garden Trusts; Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland; British Mountaineering Council; The Broads Society; Campaign for National Parks; Campaign to Protect Rural England; Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales; The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare; The Conservation Volunteers; Dartmoor Preservation Association; English Outdoor Council; Friends of the Earth; Friends of the Lake District; Friends of the Peak District; Groundwork UK; John Muir Trust; Landscape Institute; National Trust; Outdoor Industries Association; Open Spaces Society; Ramblers; Scottish Campaign for National Parks; Snowdonia Society; South Downs Society; Wilderness Foundation; The Wildland Research Institute; Yorkshire Dales Society.

Seek, amongst other things to

Strengthen planning protections for landscape – the planning system is one of the best tools we have to protect landscapes. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England, Planning Policy Wales, Scottish Planning Policy and other planning guidanceshould be strengthened to protect our best and irreplaceable including their setting, from major and intrusive development;
Integrate the UK’s commitment to The European Landscape Convention into Government policies, including the NPPF and equivalents in Scotland and Wales;
Endorse and promote the National Character Area profiles as a tool for local authorities and policy makers to take a holistic approach to planning and landscape management in each area.
Encourage the restoration of degraded or impoverished landscapes in and around our towns and cities as well as the wider countryside, for the benefit of people, nature and the economy
Ensure our National Parks, AONBs, NSAs, Historic Landscapes, historic public parks and green spaces have sufficient resources to guarantee their long term protection and enhancement.

These aspirations are excellent, but as with much of this kind of ‘call to action’ unless it has substance through legislation and compliance is monitored and enforced then we will continue to see the degradation of the quintessential English landscape as it becomes consigned to art galleries and the history books?

That is not to say that the ‘Landscape coalition’ is not right and it is to be congratulated on raising the issue but to our minds there are many missing signatories …. the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts to name a couple of million voices who we would like to think care about the landscape?  A glaring omission, to our minds is the mention of the publically owned National Nature Reserves managed on the publics behalf, in the main by Natural England.  Why has the Minister for the Environment not included this portfolio of public land in the catalogue of places which are deemed to be of landscape importance?

Many readers will have stood on the viewing platform on Thorne Moors and appreciated the panorama, sadly if they have known the area over recent decades they will have noticed the ring of steel increasing as the landscape is becoming more industrialised?

Thorne Moors panorama

The Lower Derwent Valley (LDV) and Saltfleetby Theddlethorpe too are other local gems, why are they not deemed to be important in landscape terms?  One might wonder why Natural England are not keen to see public places protected?  The public forests are still under threat and it was not so long since that the ConDem coalition with it’s ‘greenest ever’ promise was seeking to divest the public portfolio of NNRs.  How long before either of these issues are revisited?

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Are the above images of wild open spaces, evocative landscapes not worthy of protection?  Are they not worthy of inclusion in the recent initiative ‘Landscapes for everyone’?  Wake up Natural England before we lose ‘moor’ ….

See also National Character Area profiles: data for local decision making.  The GOV.UK page informs the reader that Natural England is improving access to environmental evidence and information through NCA profiles.  NCA Profile: 39 The Humberhead Levels (NE339) offers some 47 pages, much of which is narrative but supplemented with some interesting statistics (very few reference sources).  That recording interest of Saltfleetby Theddlethorpe is NCA Profile: 42 Lincolnshire Coast and Marshes (NE521) and the LDV is NCA Profile: 28 Vale of York (NE367) 

 

Open Access : a free for all? Are NNRs at risk of becoming country parks?

February 27, 2015

Is Open Access * on National Nature Reserves creating a new type of country park?  As Local Authorities are increasingly introducing bans on dogs in public places because of risks associated with excrement and young children, are dog owners being driven to use NNRs and Natura 2000 sites as canine toilets?

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It might not be so bad if they were all responsible owners (hats off to the gentleman above) and took the deposits home with them or kept their animals on the lead?  The Countryside Code  and masses of other literature encourages responsibility but ….

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Further along the path were redshank, meadow pipits and skylarks all desperately feeding in order to build up reserves to see them through winter to breed and delight us all again in spring.

NNRs are supposedly the best examples of habitat types, to quote JNCC

National Nature Reserves (NNRs)

NNRs contain examples of some of the most important natural and semi-natural terrestrial and coastal ecosystems in Great Britain. They are managed to conserve their habitats or to provide special opportunities for scientific study of the habitats communities and species represented within them. In addition they may be managed to provide public recreation that is compatible with their natural heritage interests.

NNRs are declared by the statutory country conservation agencies under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In Northern Ireland, Nature Reserves are designated under the Amenity Lands Act (Northern Ireland) 1965. In Scotland, whilst SNH remains the statutory designating authority, decisions to declare new NNR are shared with a Partnership Group of interested organisations.

So why risk damage by opening the flood gates and encouraging conversion to country theme parks?  There are public footpaths a plenty around the country, but again they also require dog owners to behave responsibly and perhaps they have been utilised by other users and dangerous?

Dogs: ‘man’s best friend’ are our companions but they can wreak havoc when out of control.  A recent incident on a ‘nearby’ NNR in Lincolnshire has seen a family devastated after dogs attacked their flock of sheep.  The Louth Leader reports in lurid detail the shocking outcome of a dog attack.

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On Hatfield Moors, dead adders (above) have been found reputedly ‘sorted’ because they bite dogs.

Walkers have been attacked and bitten on Hatfield Moors but the land managers, Natural England dismissed the incident as an accident.  Bad enough it was an adult, but children are smaller and are they able to withstand canine enthusiasm or attack when animals are off the lead?  Mumsnet clearly have plenty to say on the issue.  This incident, as well as resulting in physical injury, caused distress and ultimately the individual has now we understand stopped visiting Hatfield Moors NNR.

We’d like to think that the vast majority of dog owners are responsible.  It may be that despite miles of public footpaths to walk, they too fear for their safety as other countryside users disregard access permissions and create dangerous circumstances?  Incidentally neither of the recent issues relating to hedgerow management and green lanes have received full responses from the Public Bodies contacted.

Please, everyone …. be considerate of other users of the countryside, treat others as you would expect to be treated yourself?  The natural environment is a resource for us all to enjoy but more importantly it is a refugia for ever diminishing wildlife?  How would we all feel if a pack of dogs visited our gardens and wreaked havoc  with our garden pond or bird tables and feeders killing the goldfinch and other much loved visitors?  This is effectively what happened to the Lincolnshire family mentioned above?

* Another ‘page’ being rebuilt by GOV.UK

 

Natural environment pressured from all points of the compass?

December 26, 2013

Sadly wildlife is continuously reported as being in decline.  This blog has posted items on the State of Nature, Nature 2013 et. al.  See also here All these reports chart serious declines in species and habitats and over many years.  How many SSSIs are in favourable consition, how many NNRs are the very best examples of their kind [habitat]?  Until issues like these have been seriously addressed and resolved then it would seem wholly reasonable that aspirations should not be unfairly raised nor projects initiated without appropriate account being taken of consequences, costs and accountability?

The Natural England website provide a glossy interpretation of FCS of SSSIs and this Spotlight on SSSIs Working towatds the biodiversity goals of 2020 Issue 1 October 2012 (10 pages, two of which are covers), then there’s Issue 2 June 2013 (11 pages, including introduction and cover) and the most recent Issue 13 December 2013 (12 pages, including introduction and cover), should all be accessible via the single link from earlier referred to title.  These reports provide ‘delightful’ colourful case studies painting a wonderful picture, but to ecologists and analysts they fall far short of the days of the statistical presentation and appear to suggest that marketing budgets are larger than those available for clearly reported science (that naively assumes that there is science undertaken)?

Strange then that Natural England (once considered to be ‘guardians of the natural environment’) seek to promote increased recreation through dedication of open access on all publically owned NNRs?

There is a Public Footpath (and it is publically owned) which takes the pedestrian onto Thorne Moors, which yields an annual income of £55,000 for a period of 35 years for Natural England so there’s certrainly scope for earning money from public land which developers take an interest in and one might ask, why not?  It would seem reasonable that such revenue should stay local and fund works or monitoring required to maintain the site and to ensure that there is no adverse impact consequential of new activities?  Not at all, we were informed that it goes into a [Head office] ‘central pot’.

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Publically owned land, closed whilst utilised for private profit on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI.

Damien Carrington reported recently in the Guardian difficulties faced by trying to ensure existing PRoWs were well maintained.  Clearly there are some excellent observers out there and others who should perhaps have been more diligent in their research?

Would Natural England not be better looking to assist Local Authorities ensure that all existing Public Rights of Way were in good condition before increasing costs to the already moth-eaten public purse by creating more?

Here around the Humberhead Levels, across the Doncaster Borough, in tranquil hamlets like Fishlake and Sykehouse PRoWs are either woefully neglected or used as tracks for off-road users, or private commercial operations which then leave the green lanes unfit for ‘quiet pursuit’.

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An example of one of Doncaster Borough’s green lanes being used for purposes other than those they were designated for.

Promotion is all well and good, but open, transparent and adherence to legislative process is surely essential?  Well intentioned aspirations are all well and good but what of unintentional consequences and accountability?  An availability for redress if abuse or damage is evidenced?

How long before the scrutiny is transferred to the uplands, where substantive public funds are provided to private landowners?

To draw today’s post to a close on a positive note, as I started writing earlier I watched wistfully from the study window as around six hundred or so winter plovers wheeled around as they settled to feed in the short sward of autumn sown crops.  Black headed gulls harried golden plover, the less numerous lapwings milled about on the edges of the feasting flock.  I should perhaps have taken the telescope to make sure that there were no transatlantic cousins amongst the masses?

National NATURE Reserves set to become the new ‘country parks’?

November 16, 2013

Recently we have had a few more signatures on our 38 degree petition STOP & RETHINK National Nature Reserves as Open Access areas.

Why I wonder?  I’d hope that it’s consequential of common sense prevailing as well as a mixture of astonishment and disbelief or perhaps even anger and naive expectation that a Government agency would act in an open and transparent manner by demonstrating best practice as well as legislative compliance.  Sadly, neither expectation has been in evidence, in fact quite the reverse.

Have any of you out there heard about Nature Conservation Assessments?  Setting aside the lack of science or any evidence, nor involvement with a wider expertise beyond internal staff, they appear to be a new approach to assessing ‘Likely Significant Effect’ on the interest features of a Natura 2000 site.  At the risk of being accused of scepticism they seem instead to be a way to side step Habitats Directive legislative compliance (Article 6(3)).  We are told that these documents exist for all the 83 NNRs proposed for Dedication as Open Access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. 

See JNCC website on the Habitats Directive.  The guidance is extensive on plans and projects which might impact on Natura 2000 sites.  See particularly Assessment of plans and projects significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites.  Methodological guidance on the provisions of Article 6(3) and (4) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC.  Perhaps from an NE perspective, it is easier to re-write the rules and who could blame them?

So, what might that mean for the sensitive habitats and species out there?  What might it mean for the public who visit for the quite enjoyment of the tranquil landscape or to experience the magic of wilderness and wildlife?

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Car park requirement, litter bins (mmh, they are either full to overflowing or not used at all in my experience), lots of colourful expensive ‘interpretation’ boards (target practice for air gun or rifle enthusiasts) and not forgetting toilets ….  I do so wish they’d sort the variation for dogs as it’s been unpleasant to witness people in wheelchairs suffering the aftermath and deposits of thoughtless pets, or rather the failure of their owners to act responsibly.

The funding for all these?  We are informed that it will come from ‘core’, so despite the fact that budgets are being cut there is the ‘suggestion’ that additional expenditure can be accommodated?  Not possible, so then what is dropped or neglected?  Given that Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI for example, have yet to achieve ‘favourable condition status’ (FCS) so if funds are diverted from nature conservation management then how will that situation be addressed?  Thereafter if they fail to achieve FCS are they de-notified and disposed of?

Alarmist, not at all …. how many of you remember the 1997 endeavour by English Nature to denotify large areas of Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI when the peat extractors Fison’s funded the hydrological reports upon which the EN case was based?  Interestingly there is no corporate sponsor of the ‘science’ this time, perhaps that’s why there is none?  Perhaps the local authorities who might benefit as they impose more restrictions on dogs in public places are keen to see NNRs become ‘alternative country parks’?

There is the issue of health and safety, Thorne Moors SSSI particularly have very deep and dangerous drains and canals.  Parts of Crowle Moors SSSI too are equally as inviting but just as dangerous.  Worse though are the uncontrolled dogs.  Already there have been two attacks on Hatfield Moors and one was sufficiently serious to be reported to the police.

Dog walker

Please note that the walker and the dog pictured above, are not as far as we are aware the guilty parties of the attack mentioned above.

A Senior Director has tried to suggest that there will be little difference in reality, so why on earth spend funds on the exercise?

As the sites are rewetted through the implementation of the Water Level Management Plan required to assist achieving FSC, the Special Protection Area (SPA) interest feature the enigmatic and crepuscular nightjar will be squeezed to the drier areas.

Nightjar (PP)

What of the woodlark, a Schedule 1 breeding bird?  They too have already been disturbed and displaced by NE access projects in previous seasons.  But, as ‘judge and jury’ NE refused to ‘hear’ the complaint.  These are also the areas which are favoured for picnics and needed for car parks and cafes, toilets etc.

The Forum do not oppose open access in principle, but this plan / project promoted by Natural England has been a communication failure from start to the present time.  The Senior Director was insistent that the Forum have been consulted, rather the reality was that we had been notified and in my South Yorkshire dictionary there is a substantive difference in meaning between the two words!  There has been no ‘science’ to support the proposal this time, but if you examine the proportion of access vs science based staff in NE that is perhaps not surprising and there is negligible commissioned science by the Government agency here in the Humberhead Levels.

So, thank you to those of you who have signed the 38 degree petition, if you are new to the Forum’s blog and haven’t signed the petition then please consider doing so.  Better still, write to your MP, or the Minister (Owen Paterson) or the Chairman of the Board of NE about the issue.  If you would like to know more then please contact us via execsec@thmcf.org

Are you actively participating or simply overwhelmed by the rise of epetitions requests?

October 18, 2013

The number of on-line petition sites appears to be growing.  Why is that?  Is it because our elected representatives take little notice of us in between elections, local or national?  Is it that we are registering disquiet at the manner in which some matters are dealt with or business conducted?

Campaigns are also run through blog sites and the plethora of social media options such as Facebook and Twitter.  Communication is easy today with the improved access to the internet, but I fear that it has not kept pace with the destruction and decline of habitats and species.

If I think back to the early days of epetitions and their topics, they illustrated an amazing diversity of subject matter from the attempt to sell off public forests, badgers & TB to the NHS and education.  Eventually the Government too joined in with their own version, I have to say I like the one Remove the subsidy  from the House of Commons Catering and Bars, an instant saving to the treasury of £5.8m, a no brainer surely in these times of austerity?  Yet it has only received 12,877 signatures so far and it closes in less than a week!  So, seemingly we happy to subsidise politicians eating and drinking habits?

Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers is another which has only received low volume sign ups, 6,566 thus far but you have until February next year to add your support.  There are calls for stopping GM crops being grown in the UK, the subject matter is fascinating and can be searched by Government department, currently there are some 384 epetions open (855 closed and 317 rejected) relating to Defra alone.  I wonder how many of these have gone on to be discussed in ‘The House’?  The badger cull received in excess of 300,000 signatures and the campaign continues …. Look at the cartoon by Ralph Underhill on Mark Avery’s blog post of 12 October, it just sums the badger issue and the politics of it all to a tee!

Note that epetitions.direct.gov.uk alerts prospective campaigners to the fact that epetitions “will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold”.  There is a timeframe in which any campaign has to achieve the target, but what happens in the BBC (above) will very much depend on the knowledge, expertise, qualifications of its members?  The current Chair is Natasha Engel .  The eight members comprise 4 Conservatives, 3 Labour and 1 Liberal Democrat.  I must establish what criteria they have to achieve for discussion to take place in parliament proper, that is to say a full House of Commons or Lords?  In the interim if anyone knows, drop me a line ….

I seem to be rambling, perhaps I should remind myself why I decided to post a piece on ‘campaigning’ …. I’d received a request to sign the Avaaz petition Free the Arctic 30.  The thought process then drifted as we are oft inclined!  So ….

May I also remind readers who have not already done so that the Forum has a petition currently running on the 38 Degree website: Stop & Rethink National Nature Reserves as Open Access areas.  Please think about signing it and please ask your friends, family, network colleagues to consider doing so.  We’re not averse to appropriate access, irresponsible risks from inappropriate access brings potential Likely Significant Effect on the interest features of the 87 Natura 2000 sites.  Habitats Directive compliance I hear you ask?   It seems that Natural England’s Senior Director does not consider it necessary to undertake one …. one might be forgiven for thinking that there is a potential conflict of interest by the judge & jury here, surely not?

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Both 38 Degrees and Avaaz offer would be campaigners the opportunity to create petitions, ok you have to be reasonably IT literate but the guys at 38 Degrees were certainly helpful to us (I’m sure the same would apply to Avaaz).  A quick search reveals others Change.org and Care2petition along with many more, choice – there’s certainly plenty out there available with a couple of clicks!  Then the work continues and all you have to do is use the result through follow up media &c. ….

epetitions & badger culls

September 6, 2013

CONGRATULATIONS and thanks to all those involved with the HM Government epetition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257

The window of opportunity is fading rapidly to add to the 302,924 signatures as the deadline is 07:38 tomorrow morning, but you can still do it ….

It may be that it achieved this excellent level of support because it was fronted by Dr Brian May CBE.  Nevertheless, it remains a fact, people rallied – bring on the public debate, prove this country is a democracy ….

That’s the first stage in drawing it to Government attention, have the other side had that kind of support for the cull?  Will we see democracy in action?  Will we see any science brought forth by those supporting and advocating the continued roll out of this ConDem cull?

 

800px-Deceased_Meles_meles_-_head[1]

By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

I hope that the discussion in parliament is televised, it’s one debate that I would like a ring side seat to watch.  Will whips be applied?

So, are epetitions effective?  The volume of signatures this one received would indicate quite a sample achieved, three times that required to ensure a discussion in paliament.

 

There are a variety of epetition options to choose from if people or organisations are minded to run a campaign.  The Forum are working with 38 degrees to raise public awareness of the truth behind the Board and Senior Directors within Natural England proposal to dedicated some 87 National NATURE Reserves as Open Access.

 

STOP & RETHINK National Nature Reserves as Open Access areas.

 

Please consider signing it and if you twitter or facebook then please spread the word.

Skylarks underfoot as ‘gates are opened’?

July 12, 2013

Sky Lark 007

 

The delightful image above sent by Bryan Wainwright shows a fledgling Skylark.  Sharp eyed Bryan in his own words “shood the bird to safety” as it froze and remained motionless in the hope of danger passing it by by.  Nearby I watched as a Redshank adopted distraction tactics to try to ensure the safety of its offspring.  These strategies offer an insight into the risks posed to young birds if Natural England proceed with their proposal and open the gates on their 87 National Nature Reserves across the country to Open Access.

 

Thorne July 2013 254

 

The observations reminded me of an incident a couple of years back when management work (in the bird breeding season) was being undertaken to facilitate ‘disabled access’ on Hatfield Moors.  A pair of woodlark, a Schedule 1 (WCA 1981) species were on territory but as judge and jury of impact of their work and a limited window of availability of men with machines Natural England decided to displace the birds and disrupt their breeding.

There are many papers offering good case studies where increased access and dog walkers have had negative impact upon ground nesting birds particularly.

Recreational use of forests and disturbance of wildlife is a useful literature review detailing case studies undertaken in forests since 1990.  Two species subject to studies, nightjar and woodlark are key species on Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI and two species likely to be impacted upon by increased recreational use being encouraged by Natural England.

What is the impact of public access on the breeding success of ground nesting and cliffnesting birds? Is a Systematic Review and another resource worthy of a read. It synthesises the findings of a number of studies of disturbance to nightjar (albeit on southern heathlands) and it does not offer much hope for us here when the gates are opened.

A Review of Disturbance Distances in Selected Bird Species is a Scottish Natural Heritage commissioned report undertaken in 2007 and it too makes depressing reading in terms of likely significant effect on the productivity of breeding nightjar the SPA interest of Thorne and Hatfield Moors.

Already there has been one dog attack and a member of the public bitten recently.   The victim then subsequently reported the incident to the police.  That bite was at a level of a childs face but it was dismissed as a one off and no further action taken.

A case might be made, certainly here on Thorne and Hatfield Moors that there already exists de facto open access.  What’s wrong with that?  Why mend something which isn’t broken, why spend diminishing budgets on access maintenance rather than ensuring that the sites achieve ‘favourable condition status’ as ‘natural jewels in the public crown’, as best examples of National NATURE Reserves, and European Natura 2000 sites?  They are not countryparks or themeparks they are National NATURE Reserves.

Does this matter after all nature is a resource, The State of Nature, something that the ‘Welsh bard’ Iolo Williams made an empassioned plea to us all to do something about before it is too late for our grandchildren to inherit.   See also the early warning offered here.  In a single lifetime the wilderness that was Thorne Moors is now surrounded on all points of the compass with industrial clutter which can be seen and heard if you stand on the viewing platform in the middle of the moor.  No longer can a visitor easily hear the drumming of the snipe or the churring of the enigmatic nightjar they are all too frequently drowned out by cheap holiday flights overhead or wind blown noise pollution from the neighbouring industry or road systems.

In principle the proposal seems not an unreasonable one but there has, in the view of the Executive been a lack of open and transparent public involvement.  The consultation, if the exercise could be described that, has been conducted outwith the public gaze and with organisations whose focus appears other than nature conservation.  There has not been, to our knowledge been any open meeting to which the public have been invited.

Thorne July 2013 099

Must what is left of England’s largest lowland raised mire be ‘moor’ eroded and lost to local people for the benefit of short term gesture politics?  What would the late Wm Bunting have made of this?  He would certainly have challenged the notion that NE as judge and jury could not avoid legislative compliance.  Bunting would certainly challenged the fact that NE be allowed to assess the project which they themselves are primary proposers.  One might be forgiven for drawing the analogy with MPs designing their own expense system or failed bankers expectation that the public purse will fund bail outs?

A Senior Director of NE has offered to attend a meeting but that was a couple of weeks ago and we are still awaiting a response in terms of date ahead of any definitive announcement in respect of dedication.

Watch this space and we’ll keep you updated.  If you’d like to know more then please contact us via execsec@thmcf.org


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Mark Avery

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

a new nature blog

I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

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