Posts Tagged ‘natural england’

Recent events, forget illegality let’s go for conflict resolution?

September 16, 2016

Day two of the Sheffield ‘Raptor’ Conference.  With apologies for the delay in this posting, in part caused by another exciting invertebrate discovery in the Humberhead Levels, more on that in due course!

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The Workstation and Showroom in Sheffield were the venue for the recent two day Raptor Conference.

It’s human nature perhaps to focus on one or perhaps two aspects of a problem?  As someone who was aware of raptor persecution, upland management issues around damage to peat through burning, increased run off potentially increasing flood risk downstream, increased costs associated with water quality, increased home and business insurance etc. I can appreciate the complexities, I can see a need for calm and considered discussion and solutions through consensus.

Where I struggle is the entrenched views that land ownership and land management for private benefit from the public purse should continue.  Public funds, and we are told every public service is facing continued cuts, then surely there is a need to evaluate returns on expenditure?

There are other websites now who have provided analysis of the presentations at the conference, Raptor Persecution UK have intermittently provided transcripts from some of the presentations.  These provide a useful resource to compare other reports elsewhere, which might be perceived as selective or subjective.  For sure, the conference has been applauded and admonished in equal measure.  What it did do was keep the debate about upland moorland management in the public arena and that can only be good as Government start to consider where ‘subsidies’ will be provided post Brexit and CAP ‘support’?

Speakers included Rhodri Thomas (Peak District National Park), Barry O’Donoghue (Eire National Parks & Wildlife Service), Tim Baynes (Scottish Land & Estates), Sonja Ludwig (Langholm Project) and Alan Fielding (contributor to the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework still to be published by Defra).

In terms of the introduction of Vicarious Liability in Scotland*,it transpires that SLE ‘did a lot of the work to put it in place’ in Scotland.  The first case involved a landowner who was not aware that the law had changed but in fairness the speaker did acknowledge that ‘ignorance is no excuse’.  Might the issue have been one of communication?  Who should have undertaken communication?  The Scottish Government certainly but Estates have a trade body so it would be strange if that trade body did not alert its membership and indeed the wider audience?  The introduction of VL in England is an option, it is unlikely to solve illegal persecution of raptors on sporting estates but it might be a measure which sends a signal that this Government is no longer prepared to tolerate increasing levels of wildlife crime?  *It [VL] is not available in England.

It was fascinating to hear an appeal for anecdotal science to be taken into account, an attempt was made to persuade the audience that land managers views should be regarded as valuable social science.  One couldn’t help but wonder if this was because some of the shooters ‘science’ had been found wanting?

Why are we still waiting for the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework update (previous was published in 2011)?  Fielding suggested that the numbers to be reported would be lower than anticipated.  He further tried to suggest that there was insufficient understanding of Hen Harrier ecology, something challenged by some of the audience.  Whilst all would probably accept the need for ongoing study it is evident that ‘conflict resolution’ has failed because the numbers continue to decline?  Those promoting themselves as being able to ‘fix it’ because they already have landowners ‘signed up’.  If public funds are to be used in any re-introduction in the south, or ‘brood management’ trials (supposedly when ‘a threshold’ of  breeding success has been reached then it seems reasonable to assume that any commission will be awarded through the usual open tender process?  There is also a potential conflict of interest for Natural England to consider as they would be responsible for the issuing of licenses, how would the support for the buzzard cull to protect commercial pheasant shoot be reconciled given the interests of commercial Red Grouse shooting?  Credibility might be an issue where they are pressured to co-operate with developers and land owners yet they are reputedly responsible for safeguarding protected species?

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Pause for thought along the route back to the car park, reason or radical measures?

Who will be the voice of reason and passion when he goes? Without agenda, personal gain, or fame? Just nature.

David Attenborough bringing the wild into heart of Sheffield. I’d love to hear his reasoned voice in grouse debate.

Reasoned voices have witnessed continued decline, conflict resolution has failed so what is the solution?  There is passion, passion and drive has brought debate and a raised profile of the associated issues, well done to all involved in the delivery of the Sheffield Raptors Conference.

If readers haven’t already signed the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting then they might consider doing so?  See also the series of short informative videos on “The Real Price of Grouse”.

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Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands – Land Management & Issues

September 9, 2016

Day One of the Sheffield Conference “Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands – Land Management & Issues” yielded an interesting selection of quotes across a range of speakers.

It has to be said that there was certainly selective quotes used by some to try to further their particular case(s), but ever the case when politics enters the arena at the expense of robust facts?  There were plenty of placatory sound bytes but also some excellent talks based on studies, so a collection of thought provoking offerings.  Tomorrow promises more but in the interim dear readers could you match the quotes to the speakers?

Day One speakers are listed at the bottom of this post.  Please note that I have not provided a quote from each, some speakers have more than one quote offered here and not all speakers are quoted.  Answers to execsec@thmcf.org 

“Love these moors with a passion”:  A member of the RSPB and who recognised the work of Moors for the future on the most degraded moorland [locally].  Mentioned the RSPBs withdrawal from the Hen Harrier Action Plan.  That the challenge is clear now and that whilst politicians prefer consensus, grouse shooting is now in the ‘last chance saloon’ and a precursor to any compromise is that the illegal killing has to stop.

Chris Packham was described as “talking out of his a**e” because of his view that it’s about the science.

“A junior keeper acting on his own” [referring to a recent pole trap incident].

“It was an utter disgrace” and “it really is despicable” [reference to illegal activity].

“Everything done to date had not produced anything” [reference to the decades of seeking consensus and compromise].

Referring to the southern re-introduction “sourced birds would not be from northern England but European and the programme would follow IUCN guidelines”.  

“Government has made it clear that it will not ban it [DGS], or licence it, but it will back the  Defra six point plan”.

“It’s a trial, [but only] when the threshold is reached”.

I did ask the Natural England representative (Policy) later what that threshold was, but …. guess what, so watch this space perhaps?

“A lot of moorland land managers are signed up all ready to be receptor moors, many would be honoured to have hen harriers on their land”.

Paid tribute to Mark Avery’s “Juggernaut”.

“Scotland are ahead of England as they have Vicarious Liability”.

“Vicarious Liability has so far not been allowed in England”. 

The fact that the Minister refusing to consider this option was himself a grouse moor owner might have been a factor in this issue?

Day One speakers:

Angela Smith MP, Steve Redpath (Uni. of Aberdeen), Stephen Murphy (NE), Adrian Jowitt (NE), Philip Merricks (H&OT), Pat Thompson (RSPB), Adam Smith (GWCT), Alan Charles (former Derbyshire PCC) and Mark Avery (Inglorious).

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Who should get the right to kill this?  A Hen Harrier to feed its young or shooters for a hobby?  Image (with permission): Tim Melling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First there was Brexit, now it’s Clexit?

August 10, 2016

Political agendas with a little p seem to be gathering traction since the UK voted to leave ‘Europe’?

Principally promoted by business who sought to divest regulation and constraints for an open market where trade deals would be easy and of course the UK tax payer would still be expected to subsidise private businesses (agri-industry, banking, pharmaceutical research etc.)?

There is now a group Clexit recently established – well, perhaps they’ve existed previously, but have now gone ‘public’?

According to Michael Gove MP (lead Brexit campaigner) and repeated by Dana Nuccitella, people in this country have had enough of experts.  Interestingly there are no statistics offered to support this, nor a study or report cited, so is this Ministerial spin?  Do politicians really believe what their script writers say?

Clexit calls for withdrawal from climate treaties, rejects the conclusions of 97% of climate science experts and 95% of economics experts.

So much for government saying policies would be evidence based?

People new to conservation campaigning ably capture the mood and the momentum which is gaining pace as we head towards the “notsoglorious 12th”.  Entry Level Naturalist, met Iolo Williams at her first ever HHD and little wonder she’s now engaged?

The 38 degree petition “BBC – Don’t sack Chris Packham” steadily gains support as the word spreads that the popular conservationist appears to be in the Countryside Alliance and shooter’s sights?  As this post goes to press the petition has in excess of 19,000 signatures in just three days.

Readers might recall that in June this year the National Trust served notice that the current shooting leases at Hope Woodlands and Park Hall in Derbyshire will end in April 2018.  This is a brave step and one which we must congratulate the NT under Dame Helen Ghosh‘s leadership.

That is an excellent start and we noticed recently that a local group, Friends of Derbyshire Moorlands have now acted in the interests of two other areas which are managed for grouse shooting benefit, perhaps you might take the time to read and consider their case, “No moor management for grouse-shooting on two National Trust estates in Derbyshire“?

Other petitions of potential interest:

Suspend Natural England licence to kill buzzards.  7,437 – approaching the level which requires a response from the relevant government department, yes….  Defra again!  Curiously it is Therese Coffey MP whose constituency which leads the petition in terms of contributing signatories, close behind is the ex-Defra Minister Rory Stewart’s constituency with Ian Liddell-Grainger MP a close third.  Can we help to boost the Humberhead Levels support?

Ban driven grouse shooting.  82,296 as we approach the “notsoglorious 12th” wouldn’t it be ironic if it were to reach the magic 100k on that date?  Realistically the following week – and just imagine the cheer going up from Rutland Water (Birdfair) if that were announced over the PA system?

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Please, readers let us know if there are any online petitions you think are worth while supporting and promoting through this blog?  Please bear in mind the aims and objectives of the Forum and relevant subject matter.

 

Defra; a disgrace?

August 6, 2016

Defra; a disgrace?

Many blog posts have been written by far more erudite scribes than I about the role and remit of the government department responsible for nature conservation.  Defra are also responsible for agriculture.  Some might see those two aspects as incompatible, others would seek the ideal where they work together for the best interests of the environment and the public interest.

Other examples of Defra failing to heed the public mood were the ‘forest sell off’ and particularly the debacle that was and continues to be the badger cull.  The science has been challenged, the significant costs are met from the public purse (estimated to be in the region of £6,775 per animal, with the BBC reporting in September 2015 that the cost had reached £16m) and yet appear to have made little impact?   Irrespective of robust science the new Minister is to carry on regardless?

The Hen Harrier [In]Action Plan and the associated failures to uphold the law in regard to illegal raptor persecution could be offered as another failure?  Its last thread of credibility was surely lost when the RSPB withdrew support for it?  Land management issues relating to the uplands where sporting interests receive public funds  and where management is reported to exacerbate flooding, water quality etc. is surely something which needs closer scrutiny?

We now have a situation where Natural England have granted a licence for a shooting estate to cull (up to 10) buzzards.  It is unlikely to come as any surprise to regular readers to be made aware of an epetition on the Parliament UK website calling for the suspension of that licence?  Background information on the matter can be found here along with some 175 comments!  Some readers will recall that back in 2012 a ‘trial’ was proposed, a subsequent public outcry saw a u-turn.

Patrick Barkham expresses a view on The Guardian’s website (444 comments) “With business interests being prioritised over wild birds, a deadly precedent has been set. The natural world is under assault and needs all our help”.  Sadly I don’t think business interest is restricted to avifauna but anything environmental which has the potential to impact upon the bottom line of their balance sheets?  However, we remain agnostics ….

Natural England is a Public Body and as such accountable to its public paymasters, but they have refused to release information so have failed the transparency test?  This sounds oh so familiar, it is a repeat of the badger cull saga.  It gives the public no faith in them as an agency of government, but then are government using them as a shield for the Ministers?

If pheasant shooting is seen as important then it seems reasonable that the thousands of birds adorning road side verges or mangled on busy roads should be ‘accountable’?  Such losses would form part of a ‘risk assessment’ and as such then they might be insured?  They are reared as a business enterprise, so if they cause damage or worse to motorists and passengers then it seems only reasonable and fair that their owner is accountable and claims allowed against them?
Dogs are now chipped and if they attack people then their owners face prosecution, pheasants can be ringed or tagged and ownership traced.  Other livestock reared as a business have ‘passports’ in order to track and trace their movements.  Why not game birds raised as a business enterprise?  As we understand the present situation they are deemed to be wild birds once released from their rearing pens.  How can this artificially high population be regarded as wild birds?  To then seek dispensation to maintain that artificially high population by culling birds of prey is reminiscent of a bygone era and Barkham provides interesting background around how one high court judge has caused British wildlife fear for its future.
So, if you like Barkham and others believe that this is the thin end of the wedge and will set a precedent then please consider signing Philippa Storey‘s epetition

Suspend Natural England licence to kill buzzards.

Objectionable?

May 6, 2016

Could we encourage readers to visit Standing up for Nature, and look at the issues raised by Avery in his synopsis of the case for objecting to a retrospective planning application to continue damaging upland moorland at Midhope Moor to the north west of Sheffield?

The application seeks to secure retrospective planning permission for a temporary track to a line of grouse butts.  There are some 30 objections to the application, although Avery points out that there are none from any conservation organisation, why one might wonder is that?  It is interesting that the applicant is supported by Natural England.  See the downloadable pdf available via the planning portal.

PEAK DISTRICT MOORS SPA/SOUTH PENNINE MOORS SAC/THE DARK PEAK SSSI  Application ref.:  NP/S/0316/0214

Natural England write in support of the retrospective planning application for the lightweight access matting laid over the soil and vegetation along the route from Lost Lad to Mickleden Grouse Butts within the above named designated sites. 

If this was a legitimate restoration activity and had discussions taken place ahead of this infrastructure being laid then one could perhaps understand Natural England’s position, but it appears that the works had been undertaken to provide access grouse butts rather than facilitate conservation management?  More than one commentator questions why NE have supported retrospectively, considering they should have better advised the landowner in the first instance given the public funding relating to the site.

Note also that the Screening Opinion recognises that the application falls with Schedule 2 of the Regulations but it is not considered by the Planning Manager to have a significant impact on the environment.  The creation of easy access to facilitate transport of shooters and their entourage is surely part of the plan or project, not merely the placing of matting?

One interesting aspect to note is that the PDNP make public commentators personal details available, this is clearly stated and obvious when opening consultees correspondence.  It appears that different public bodies adopt different policies and there is no consistency across such matters.  Another example would be that a number of Internal Drainage Boards operating in the Humberhead Levels, particularly associated with the Doncaster area have redacted some personal details from correspondence and on other occasions have published them.

Anyone wishing to make representation has until Monday 9 May to do so.  That is this coming Monday, so the weekend to consider and compose some correspondence to the Peak District National Park Planning Team.    The link to the page provides the array of material documents and there is a form to submit comments.  Remember if you wish to object to the application then you need to ensure that you indicate (by ticking the relevant box) that your comment is an objection, in support, or simply a general comment.

Did you hear a ‘gabble ratchet’ on All Fool’s Day?

April 2, 2016

Or a Goatsucker or Fern Owl perhaps?

Nightjar (PP)

“Bog birds and bugs” was the title of a talk given by Lucy Ryan, a masters student at the University of York to an enthralled audience at the Annual Meeting of the Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum held on 1 April 2016.

Lucy’s presentation which was supported by some superb images explained about the monitoring of the nightjar population on Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  This study had a pilot year on Hatfield Moors in 2015, but this coming season will see the study scaled up and undertaken on both Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  The three year study, funded for its first year by Natural England LIFE+ Project will look at the impact the management works undertaken by Natural England on the key species and interest feature of the European Natura 2000 Site.  The Water Level Management Plan being implemented by Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board is not undertaking any monitoring of impact post implementation, instead handing responsibility to Natural England?  These two major engineering projects costing in the region of £5.2m are currently being carried out on Thorne Moors are it is hoped will safeguard the site for its carbon sequestration capacity as well as its wildlife interest and as a natural wilderness for people to study and enjoy.

A second talk “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels” was given by Dr Paul Buckland who offered options as to the man-made and natural influences upon our local landscape.  With the aid of aerial photographs showing crop marks and more recent LIDAR images Dr Buckland took the audience through time to the present day and to a very different landscape to that historic wetland once present across the Humberhead Levels.

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After an excellent lunch provided by the Moorends Miners Welfare and Community Development Centre, intrepid explorers braved the dull weather and headed out along Broadbent Gate Moor, also known as Jones’ Cable to reach the tilting weir along the Southern Boundary Drain.

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As if on cue a Marsh Harrier flew overhead offering evidence of the wildlife interest of the site.  The number of sightings of this species has increased over recent years and this Natural England attribute to the wetter conditions they are creating across the site.  The cessation of industrial scale peat extraction at Thorne Moors also reduced disturbance for a period but increasing visitor numbers encouraged through Open Access has also seen new threats to rare breeding species and NE have had to close down parts of the site to protect them in recent years.

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To those who attended for the first time, after a series of great talks amidst great company about a great site …. see you again next year?

Join us for Bog birds, bugs & drainage matters?

March 6, 2016

A reminder to readers living with reasonable traveling distance of Thorne & Hatfield Moors, that we are holding our Annual Meeting on ‘All Fool’s Day’* which includes two excellent lectures which are open to the public and after which a site visit onto Thorne Moors via a historic landscape feature – one of the last remaining ‘Cables’

“Bog birds and bugs” is the title of a talk to be given by Lucy Ryan, a masters student at York University who is undertaking monitoring of the nightjar population on Thorne and Hatfield Moors. This three year study will look at the impact the management works undertaken by Natural England through their EU LIFE+ Project.

A second talk “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels” is to be given by Dr Paul C Buckland, whose early work included investigation on the Bronze Age trackway on Thorne Moors.

Following on from these talks there is to be a site visit, weather permitting onto Thorne Moors to look at some of the recent management works undertaken to implement a Water Level Management Plan on the site as well as delivering scrub clearance through the LIFE+ Project.   That’s Life – Restoring the Humberhead Peatlands.  An interesting image to accompany a press release about peatlands?

The visit and the talks are open to the public and are an opportunity for local people to learn about the works currently underway on their moors. Please contact the execsec@thmcf.org for more details.

Given that it is 1 April, then there is every chance we will see and hear signs of spring.  Observations so far indicate an early season, with Chiffchaff recorded on 23 February and  up to 14 adders have been recorded on Thorne Moors on one day.

To help with the administrative aspects of the day, please book a place for the public lecture, lunch and site visit by contacting execsec@thmcf.org

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Two female adders soaking up the sun.  Image: Martin Warne.

*All Fool’s Day: 1st April.

Networks: data & experienced experts?

February 21, 2016

Treeton was the venue for the annual South Yorkshire Natural History Day, organised and delivered by the Sorby Natural History Society.  It was, as usual, well attended with perhaps somewhere between seventy and eighty people.  A mixed or should one say ‘diverse’ bunch, and I could for a change be considered to have been one of the ‘middle aged’ attendees.  It was good to see and hear ‘youngsters’ taking up projects with enthusiasm.  It was particularly refreshing to hear one such speaker express appreciation about the help and support received from experienced experts in the Sorby NHS.  Would that more grant funded projects would adopt a similar philosophy.  When the hardened amongst us, who remember black and white televisions and a time when there were two hundred and forty pennies in a pound, drift back to those days of wanderings, of discoveries and of the difficulties involved in putting a name to the more unusual finds without the benefit of t’internet or digital images and emails one might be forgiven for wondering how it was the necessary field skills were acquired?

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Break time at South Yorkshire Natural History day, organised and facilitated by Sorby NHS in Treeton.

But, when youngsters seek out help then it is generally offered.  Sadly there are a few who seem to consider that it is a right, after all they paid their university fees ….

The Forum have been lucky, we have links with a number of academic institutions and are keen to encourage students to make links and are happy to help where we can.  Last year three such individuals benefited from our help and support.  This coming year another two have linked up with us and one is ongoing from 2015.

All these links, all this networking ought to build a cohesive network able to defend habitats and sites under threat?  All the recording going on should deliver robust evidence to safeguard sites from inappropriate development?

We pose the question, posed by many others as well, where does an aspiring amateur naturalist pass on their observations and records?  Melissa Harrison asked BBC Wildlife magazine readers in the January edition a similar question, she also raised the issue of  charities and organisations competing for data, our money etc.

Back to the destination of data issue …. which presupposes (a) they want to and that (b) they are accurate identifications.  Assuming that the second part is accommodated through making contact with local, regional or national experts in the case of difficult species and validation or determination achieved then what should the new amateur naturalist do next?  Chances are if they live in a town then there may well be a local group or natural history society.  There might be a regional or national one, but do you record by groups or by geographical area?  There are local records centres (LRCs) keen to take your data, it is after all worth money because they are obliged if run by the Local Authority to provide data searches to commercial enquirers.  Conversely there appears to be little data provided to LRCs by commercial consultants who like to promote themselves as ‘professionals’.  There are national recording schemes for many groups (dragonflies, moths, water beetles, spiders and many others).  There are schemes designed to feed into such as the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) which used cautiously can be a useful guide, there are citizen science schemes but all these rely on the amateur naturalists and perhaps a few ‘professionals’ to confirm identification or to actually determine the finds (often submitted as photographs).  There are many keen to act as ‘managers’ but too few keen to support that indefatigable army of amateur naturalists who actually deliver the raw data for the ‘professional’ managers to interpret.  At one time of day the government through various defra agencies collected data on a range of species and habitats.

The February issue of British Wildlife magazine has a though provoking paper “The increasing importance of monitoring wildlife responses to habitat management” (Fuller et. al.). 

A case could certainly be presented for some of that here in the Humberhead Levels?  Doncaster East IDB, are through their management service provision (JBA Consulting) implementing a £2.9m Water Level Management Plan on Thorne Moors.  Mid term through that, Natural England secured £2.3m to deliver a EU LIFE+ Project involving management works, engineering, community engagement and …. science and monitoring, one of the salaried posts was a monitoring officer, so there’s hope that substantive science will be delivered and monitoring put in place post projects to assess impact and changes on key habitats and species?

 

Enjoy it while it lasts?

February 10, 2016

The natural environment it would seem is under siege?  Management of upland moors at the moment is very topical not least for the potential flooding implications if not undertaken appropriately and in the public interest?  What is appropriate and who gets to define ‘public interest’?

Government Ministers have written to the chancellor to persuade him not to let nature laws impact on development.  One of those is the Minister for the Environment!

Let’s set aside for this post at least, political hot potatoes and spend a day on our local moors whilst we are still able to enjoy what were once vast wildernesses.  Now they are in the centre of what is rapidly becoming industrialised farmland, with approaching around 100 massive turbines visible from various points of the compass.

They are publically owned, that’s by US, you and me?  They are managed by Natural England, the government advisers on nature conservation.  They also advise developers via their Discretionary Advice Service (revenue generation business).  There are others involved in their management and there is a lot of activity on site now.

February ‘fill dyke’?  There has been a fair amount of precipitation but there have been bouts of fine weather in which to get out there and enjoy the ‘last days of wilderness’.

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It was the bright white ‘targets’ which attracted my attention.  The buck’s antlers resplendent in heir velvet.  A second very inquisitive buck located later in the day and in another area kept checking my progress along the track before nonchalantly trotting off again.  At the risk of being accused of anthropomorphism, did he satisfy himself that I posed no threat to his territory?

The rut for Roe deer starts in July but the does will not give birth until May and June after a nine month gestation of which four involve delayed implantation.  Bucks will aggressively defend territories from the start of Spring in February/March until August.  The Roe is one of our native deer, the other is Red, with records dating back before the Mesolithic (6,000 -10,000 years BC).

There is certainly a wealth of wildlife out there at the moment for visitors prepared to look for it.  Birds of prey are showing well with good numbers of Marsh Harriers and a smaller contingent of Hen Harriers.  The magnificent male, that ‘silver ghost’ with its white rump and ink-dipped wing tips guaranteed to lift a winter’s day.  Peregrines, Short-eared Owls, Merlins, Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks as supporting cast reward effort.  Wildfowl too with up to 10 male Goosanders being logged, the occasional Pintail and Goldeneye, rafts of others including Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Tufted and Pochard.  Plenty of passerines amongst the sheltered spots.  The unexpected bonus yesterday was a Little Egret flying in and along the northern boundary!

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Just be careful where you walk and watch out for contractors vehicles whizzing along.

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Big skies and space, or a cluttered horizon?  Get out there and experience the exhilarating, discover the nature of the place and its wildlife before its become a chapter in a historic review ….

In the interim visit Hatfield Moors Birding Blog and Thorne Moors Birding Blog and check out what has been seen and what with effort you might hope to see.

Ban driven grouse shooting?

January 13, 2016
Red Grouse TM

Image: Tim Melling

Ban driven grouse shooting?

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

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

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

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

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Image: Tim Melling

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

Ban driven grouse shooting?

Chainsaws reving up?

November 27, 2015

Does the news of cuts to Defra departments in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement 2015 come as a surprise to conservationists?  a new nature blog provides an analysis which is worth a read, entitled ‘Shifting Baselines’ it presented mental images of those badgers moving the goalposts again?

The view of disproportionate cuts to Natural England and the Environment Agency is an interesting prospect?  There is to be some £2bn to protect 300,000 houses from flooding …. per chance that any were built in a flood plain and if so why?  The relaxation of planning regulations could well see more of this kind of development which will need public bail out in bad weather events?  Selling off of family silver (public land) to fund house building (private) appears to be a favoured option still.

But what implications for cuts to NE and EA in this area and would we miss their presence?  Be careful what we wish for?  I suppose one should analyse the remit of an organisation, its raison d’etre?  Natural England, started out as the Nature Conservancy Council …. these days one might be forgiven for thinking they were a advisory service for commerce or a tourist management service offering franchises on country theme parks?

Readers may be interested in some of the latest vacancies with NE, Sustainable Development; Planning, Lead Adviser up to 17 roles in nine areas or Sustainable development, Wildlife Management Lead Adviser – up to 12 roles in nine areas? Excluding pensions these 29 posts come with a price tag of around £700,000. Add in pensions on costs, sick pay, perks &c. then little change from a million? I will leave other bloggers to provide an Eco-mical critique.

There used to be science staff, there used to be science undertaken in the ‘good old days’ …. clearly the organisation or perhaps its hierarchy sees its future with a different focus and one which fails to underpin decisions on evidence based science (eg badger cull)?  Conversely the new approach to science might be as Technical Information Notes?  When was the last time there was an advertisement for a science post?  Maybe it’s down to the big society or citizen science to plug the gap?  Readers may recall our work on Inkle Moor in 2012?

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Habitat creation (wader scrapes) as part of the Natural England contribution to the project,see also NE TIN109

140714 NE Wader scrapes IMAS background hrk 317

The Survey was a tri-partite collaboration and has its origins in 2011 when a funding application to defra was successful and secured from them around £10,000. The Forum contributed a further £5,000 from its own funds but the added value in kind saw the project deliver, at a conservative estimate, outcomes worth in excess of an estimated £115,000. On the back of the findings from the Survey, funds were then found by an independent conservation charity to purchase Inkle Moor so a ‘win win’ situation delivered by a collaborative endeavour?

Here’s to ‘moor’ ….

 

Back to Badgering : is £16m+ value for money?

September 19, 2015

Wednesday’s blog post talked of the newfangled thing called science (pers comm. CP).  Clearly the defra agencies and their Minister are not yet conversant with this evidence based approach?

Natural England have approved a cull licence in Dorset in addition to those already running for West Gloucestershire and West Somerset.  Apparently the applications were approved as the applications fulfilled all the criteria.  Natural England’s website appears to confirm that sufficient funds are in place to complete control operations, so does that means that no public funds will be spent on the continued culling in the two existing areas and the new Dorset licence area?  The ‘exercise’ thus far we understand is in the order of £16,777,000 which equates to around £6,775 per badger according to the Badger Trust.

In 2013 NE over ruled its own adviser to grant a licence to extend the Gloucestershire badger cull.  Four of nine NE Board members expressed severe reservations, particularly on the pivotal advice of the government’s chief veterinary officer (CVO) Nigel Gibbens. Wood said that advice was “the key” to the decision to extend.

During the meeting (23 October 2013), the minutes of which were obtained by the Guardian, Prof. MacDonald (NE ‘expert’ advice) said: “The CVO’s advice that killing further badgers would lead to better disease control is not easily reconciled with the evidence.” He added it was “hard to understand” how further trials could be licensed following the failure of the initial culls. Other board members agreed that the extension was likely to increase TB infections in cattle, with one noting “independent advice should have been sought”. The minutes record discussion of “the fact that it was difficult to predict what the disease control benefits would be”. In the end, the board voted narrowly to allow Wood to make the decision.

Readers may further recall that …. “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.”  How then, with the state of the nation’s finance as it is, can this be justified?  No reasonable person lacks sympathies or understanding for the stress and problems faced by herds which are infected with bTB, but why is the English Government so incalcitrant when it comes to evidence based approach?

We read that farmers need to take consumers with them, they need to engage with the public about where food comes from so that they better understand the issues.  How is a conservationist to enjoy Somerset Brie when they know that badgers have been inhumanely slaughtered as part of the ‘production process’ of getting the product onto their plate?  Visit the news page of Stop the cull to see more detail of the issue.  Each of us effectively votes through our purse, across a wide range of ethical and moral issues and supermarkets are very sensitive to market share.

Fast forward two years, Natural England’s web page on GOV.UK clearly states that sufficient funds are in place to complete control operations.  We might read into that that the farmers, landowners or shooters will be funding the operation?  Conversely we might wonder if defra (or other department) through one of its agencies might have made available the next tranche of cash?

The Badger Trust’s recent press release in part here verbatim: “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.”

We are reminded of Prof. John Bourne’s comment when he was the Chair of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bovine TB.  Watch his informative presentation at the Badger Trust’s AGM Seminar 2015.

“I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers”.

PENTAX Image

Badgers suffer needlessly, are subject of digging, baiting and dog fighting and as if that isn’t enough they appear to be a particular target for the current Government and Natural England?

Greenblobpride

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

September 2, 2015

FOI REQUEST REVEALS TRUE COST OF BADGER CULLS IS EVEN HIGHER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT AT £6,775 PER BADGER

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?

DEFRA

…. 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?

‘Moor’ rain needed if bogs are to be safeguarded?

August 31, 2015

According to a local weather site Doncaster Weather the local rainfall this year has been 257.2mm and the month’s 69.8mm with around 10mm falling today.  If the pattern is maintained then it looks like being a dry year, so not helpful in terms of the rewetting of Thorne & Hatfield Moors.  Perhaps we might see an increase in precipitation over the winter months?

Stunning stands of Calluna vulgaris, a plentiful end of season nectar source for bees as they prepare for winter.  Painted Lady were present on both Thorne & Hatfield Moors over the bank holiday weekend.  Image@ Martin Warne.

Stunning stands of Calluna vulgaris, a plentiful end of season nectar source for bees as they prepare for winter. Painted Lady were present on both Thorne & Hatfield Moors over the bank holiday weekend. Image@ Martin Warne.

There are two multi-million pound projects currently ‘restoring’ the sites.  Thorne Moors Water Level Management Plan, being implemented by Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board and the LIFE+ Project being delivered by Natural England.  One of the key outcomes of both projects is to safeguard the peat body in terms of its functioning as a carbon sink and its potential to continue sequestering carbon for future generations.  Both projects have the capacity to retain water on site rather than pump it off into the rivers and eventually out to the sea, similarly the rationale for the compartmentalisation across the sites was to facilitate easy movement of water to accommodate conservation management.  The WLMP clearly documents holding the water level at 10cm above the peat surface.  There are vast areas where this is clearly not the case, nor is the water even at the surface.

A recent visit to Hatfield Moors saw acres of desiccated sphagnum, and perhaps worse were the hundreds and more likely the thousands of seedling birch taking advantage of this situation.  Is this a consequence of the rainfall or is it because the management of the site has failed to address the associated risks of low rainfall and by ensuring that key areas are safeguarded?

150830 Des sphagnum hrk 721

Desiccated sphagnum mat being colonised by birch seedlings, also a presence of common cotton grass a species with a preference for wet conditions.

Desiccated sphagnum mat being colonised by birch seedlings, also a presence of common cotton grass a species with a preference for wet conditions.

The Neolithic trackway discovered in 2004 is perhaps a prime example of a lost opportunity, what still remains buried but will be lost if allowed to continuing drying out?  One might ponder a different outcome had it been found ‘down south’?

The ‘ghosts’ of a past practice now feature as sculptures across the barren peatscapes, others still resistent and thus more evidence that the mineral extraction in these areas was down to basal peat layers above the mineral.  Most of the economically viable peat had been taken from Thorne Moors and much of Hatfield Moors by the end of the 20th Century.

Reminders of a lost record now feature as natural sculptures amid a regenerating wetland.

Reminders of a lost record now feature as natural sculptures amid a regenerating wetland.

 

A pine's last stand?

A pine’s last stand?

Ten Acre Lake on Hatfield Moors, a post mineral extraction legacy was in its early years an excellent site for breeding waders including Common Sandpiper in 1996.  In July 1995 it was also host for about a week to a Long-tailed Duck.  It has since then become much more overgrown with dense birch and Crassula helmsii on the water magin.  This invasive species was first reported in the late 80s and is now widespread across the water bodies of Hatfield Moors.

Ten Acre Lake, Hatfield Moors.

Ten Acre Lake, Hatfield Moors.

Across on neighbouring Thorne Moors, nature’s annual cycle continued to unfold with this Drinker Moth below captured egg laying.  Drinker moth is common on both Thorne & Hatfield Moors and is often encountered as a larva as it crosses grassy tracks.  Drinker Moths lay their eggs on a variety of grasses including Cock’s-foot, Annual Meadow-grass, Couch-grass, Reed Canary-grass and Purple Moor-grass.

Euthrix potatoria 66.01 / 1640. Image: Martin Warne.

Euthrix potatoria 66.01 / 1640.
Image: Martin Warne.

 

Natural England appeal Information Commissioners decision …. & The Ecologists warning ….

May 13, 2015

We have just learnt that the Badger Trust (BT) will be in Court again on 14th (that’s tomorrow!) and 15th May 2015, where they are joint defendants with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

This case has been ongoing following their request to Natural England (NE) in May 2014 for information about the culls, which they refused to disclose.

The Badger Trust appealed to the ICO who found in favour of the BT, but …. NE appealed that decision. It has been very difficult to obtain a mutually acceptable date for the hearing but the BT have pursued it vigorously in the belief that it is what their supporters would expect of them. They will advise the outcome of the case when judgement has been given.

Natural England are a public body, the Information Commissioner has found in favour of open and transparent conduct yet they resist making their ‘science’ available for public scrutiny, why?

DEFRA vs ICO & Badger Trust  Case No.: GI/79/2014

 

Badger & mayweed

‘The Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account’

The Badger Trust report contra to the spin of the Coalition Agreement of 2010.

That was then, and since then there has been a wind of change, so what of now?  What will the court decide given the new Government’s desire to reduce environmental protection as well as transparency in Public Bodies?

We must remember that Natural England are fighting for their future, as an entity and the future of the individual staff members in post.

The Badger Trust have acted swiftly and are to be congratulated for that.  Their members have had to raise the funds, but Natural England is a Public Body and will be funded by the tax paying public, many of who do not want the badger culls.   The ICO and the Badger Trust have managed to secure a date ahead of any gagging legislation being introduced to further prevent charities from lobbying or challenging policy.  Whatever happened to evidence based policy?  That would at least offer a semblance of credibility?  Accountability of Public Bodies is extrememly difficult to achieve at the best of times, it will be ‘interesting’ to observe the change of practice and procedure which may well follow review subsequent to the General Election?

In the Upper Tribunal Administrative Appeal Chamber DEFRA vs ICO & Badger Trust  Case No.: GI/79/2014

The Ecologist provided comment in February 2014 which is still material today?  Paterson departed, how will his replacement Ms Truss deal with the ongoing issue  and one which, like the ‘Hen Harrier’ persection looks likely to continue to escalate?

Another very good editorial by Oliver Tickell of the Ecologist “Green crap is coming – so let’s be prepared” warns conservationists of the catalogue that is likely to befall the countryside in the aftermath of the General Election.  It alerts readers to the implications of EVEL, and some undesirable aspects of it?  One might therefore ask again, is it not time for serious review and real reform?  That is to say not tinkiering and tweaking to suit political agendas of the puppeteers?

 

Greenblobpride

 

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?

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

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?

Hen-Harrier-Day-lg

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

 

 

Fracking creeps towards Hatfield Moors, how far to Thorne?

May 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SY Hatfield Fracking Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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 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. 

#HaveYouSeenHenry …. Wildlife Crime continues …. keep on badgering away?

March 29, 2015

Who was it said that a nation should be judged by the way in which it treated its animals*?  The same wisdom which provided us with the view that:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win*.

Recently, I had cause to report an incident of badger digging where the sett had been dug out.  This is the second such visit already this year I’ve made to assess damage and potential wildlife crime.  What is it which motivates people to destroy or bait such mammals and inflict unimaginable cruelty?  This sett was nowhere near livestock, the animals were no threat to anyone or anything.  Neither was the earlier incident.  Both incidents were at rural locations one on agricultural land the second on public land.

There is a reported culture that sees baiting badgers as a right of passage in some parts of our region, apparently it is seen a ‘manly’ thing to do with ‘well bred’ dogs?  Recent reports seem to indicate that there has been an increase in incidences involving badgers and there is a view that this is consequential of the governments authorisation of a badger cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset.  Badgers are being promoted as ‘vermin’ by some elements of the agricultural industry so it appears acceptable in some quarters that they can be used and abused in other regions for ‘sport’.

First capture your badger(s) by digging out, collect in a sack and transport to a remote area where it / they can be pitted against dogs bred for the pupose, not forgetting to pull a few of its teeth first – after all a badger against dogs needs to have the odds ‘balanced’ in favour of predicable outcome?  Is it the associated gambling which fuels the commercial practice of digging?

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This badger, caught in a snare would have suffered a painful and lingering death.  This type of incident needs to be reported as well as dead raptors and dug setts etc.

What deterrent is there to any wildlife crime?  What are the chances of being caught?

It was Chris Packham who recently summed up well the issue at the excellent BAWC Eyes in the Field Conference in Buxton.  Whilst we (society) continue to allow the species which are protected in law to be killed, whilst the purpetrators continue to either evade the law or receive lenient sentences then the view that wildlife crime is not a ‘real crime’ will persist.

Whilst this attitude prevails, and laws offering protection are seen by some as “green c**p” then the loss of biodiversity will not be stemmed as reported by Lord de Mauley, who assured an audience that Natural England’s Chief Executive was confident that the ‘no loss of biodiversity’ 2020 target would be met.  Whatever happened to the much heralded “Making Space for Nature”?  It seems to be gathering dust in the Defra archive …. Whilst The State of Nature is probably a little more up to date but still in need of serious delivery not to mention a government prepared to sign up to its recommendations.  If the rate of decline is to be believed and this is mirrored across the planet, then we seriously need Noah in forty days time?

In the interim, readers are asked to be vigilant when out and about in the countryside.  Excellent advice is to be found on the Birders Against Wildlife Crime website, where they advocate the 3 Rs.  Recognise, Record and Report! 

If you witness a wildlife crime taking place then ring 999 immediately, if you recognise signs of an incident having taken place then the number to phone is 101.  In either situation it is important to record as much detailed information as you can and to then report this to the Police.  Statistics are important if we are to improve wildlife protection.

#HaveYouSeenHenry

Greenblobpride

* Mahatma Ghandi.

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

March 11, 2015

Drainage related updates

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

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

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

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

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

Badgering upate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

& for peat’s sake?

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 5, 2015

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

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

Cull Roll Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing badgers for TB

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

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

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

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

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

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

TB rates in England

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

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

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

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

Annual Testing

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

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

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

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

Badger Vaccination

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

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

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

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

Badger Persecution

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

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

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

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

Wider views on the meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Coverage

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

S T Panorama4a

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) 

 

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 http://wtru.st/SaveRDown .

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 www.parliament.uk where interestingly, no constituency office address is detailed.  It appears he can be tweeted …. @erickpickles otherwise email picklese@parliament.uk or try contact@communities.gsi.gov.uk  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?

Greenblobpride

‘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’ et.al.?  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”? 

 

Greenblobpride

LIFE+ after Peat?

October 18, 2014

The LIFE+ Project for Thorne & Hatfield Moors was officially launched yesteday.

Natural England have secured some £2.3m of European funding which will build on the works currently being implemented by the Doncaster East IDB through the Thorne Moors Water Level Management Plan. This funding will see some eleven jobs created for Natural England, some scrub clearance on both Thorne and Hatfield Moors and some scientific survey and monitoring over the three year period of the project.

The presentations took place at Hatfields (Doncaster) and after lunch delegates toured a few select spots on the southern fringe of Thorne Moors.

Linda McAvan MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber and The Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP both reflected on the timeline from peat extraction through to LIFE+.  Delegates learned that Ms Flint is the MP who most mentions ‘peat bogs’ in the House, we say long may that continue!  McAvan spent the afternoon out on the southern boundary drain getting to grips (for those with a knowledge of peat restoration: no pun intended) with the complexities of peat hydrology.

Linda McAvan with some of the delegates from the LIFE+ Project site visit to Thorne Moors SSSI.

Linda McAvan with some of the delegates from the LIFE+ Project site visit to Thorne Moors SSSI.

Prof. David Hill, Deputy Chair of Natural England * also attended the launch event and visit.  Both Prof. Hill and David Shaw, a Senior Manager in NE, spoke of the importance of partnership working.  Prof Hill is an advocate for biodiversity offsetting and a founder of the Environment Bank.

NNR staff explaining the intricacies of sphagnum identification.

NNR staff explaining the intricacies of sphagnum identification.

 

* Natural England’s website has now be incorporated into GOV.UK

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

September 14, 2014

Defra have recently released

Revisions to bovine TB statistics – September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badger & mayweed

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

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

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

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

How have Cheshire badgers caught TB, was it from cattle?

September 6, 2014

Ministers and the University of Liverpool must explain how a comparatively high level of TB infection in 41 badgers killed on the roads in Cheshire arose. In the 1980s a Government funded study undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) found NO infection in more than 100 badgers in Cheshire collected and tested for TB.

Jane Cullen, Chair of the Wirral & Cheshire badger group said: “If we found zero infection of badgers in the 1980s and we now find an infection rate of 25% this points to only one logical conclusion, cattle with TB are passing the disease to badgers. The NFU’s TB Eradication group had these results about a month ago when they circulated them to people attending their briefings but have only just publicised their findings to others. This suggests it was done to coincide with Natural England’s announcement of the resumption of culling in Somerset and Gloucestershire”.

The current research, by Prof. Malcolm Bennett, professor of epidemiology at the university’s Institute of Infection and Global Health has no government funding and sought to assess the prevalence of bovine TB in Cheshire, a county considered to be on the edge area of the disease and where no badger culling has yet been undertaken.

Cheshire dairy farmer Richard Fair, who is also chairman of the Cheshire Bovine TB Eradication Group, submitted two of the roadkill badgers for the survey. He told the Farmers’ Weekly Interactive: “If TB is already in the wildlife here, are we wasting valuable resources vaccinating badgers in Cheshire? I don’t think that vaccinating badgers where we know there is an infection in the wildlife is a sensible use of the limited resources we have.”

But Dominic Dyer, Chief Executive of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild said: “Of course it is useful to vaccinate badgers in an area where the disease has clearly been leaking out of cattle herds into the wildlife. Badgers generally stay put on their own territories and do not move any distance. Vaccination can prevent healthy badgers getting the disease and reduce the likelihood of its being transmitted by the small number who may be carrying it. This is something which the Government also clearly recognises, with the launch of its new Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme this week.

“The results of this badger road kill testing survey is an official demonstration – intended or not – that Cheshire’s cattle have been infecting Cheshire’s badgers due to lax cattle control measures. This research shows that killing badgers would be futile until farms stop leaking bovine TB.”

See also:

Bovine TB, badgers and cattle: Politics and social impact“Thinking Naturally” curated by Gordon McGlone.

Bovine TB: The scientific evidence.  A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle.  An Epidemiological Investigation into Bovine Tuberculosis

Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB.  Presented to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  The Rt Hon David Miliband MP, June 2007

So where is the recent evidence based science deliverd by Government agencies?  Natural England are reported to undertake Long Term Monitoring, or does that simply apply to their land holdings?  If NE approved the recent culls then they must have based any decision on robust scientific evidence?  The various farming / agri-industrial peer groups, must surely also have commissioned independent science to deliver evidence in support of any ‘arguement’?

In the interim Wildlife Trusts fund vaccination programmes.  When will there be a genuine collaborative endeavour, supported by sufficient funding which will see research deliver a balanced solution to a serious problem?

 

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

August 31, 2014

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

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

Badger & mayweed

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

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

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

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

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust, commented:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

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

 

 

Natural England authorise ‘moor’ badger culls ….

August 26, 2014

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

 

800px-Deceased_Meles_meles_-_head[1]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is all the wildlife, is there ‘moor’ in the uplands or lowlands?

August 23, 2014

Readers may be aware that there has been much debate around driven grouse shooting recently.  Perhaps readers have signed the epetition started by Dr Mark Avery ‘Ban driven grouse shooting‘, it’s doing pretty well so far bolstered by the recent Hen Harrier Day (August 10 2014) events across the country.  Can we push it further towards that 100,000 signatures required to ensure discussion in the Westminster village?  Media of all types is key, so anyone able to twitter ….

Page 39 of the JNCC Report No: 441 A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom (2011) Alan Fielding, Paul Haworth, Phil Whitfield, David McLeod and Helen Riley estimates that the potential carrying capacity to be somewhere in the region of 323 – 340 pairs in England.  The reality is that there were three pairs reported from England. 

So, we felt the need to visit some upland grouse moor to see all the wildlife benefits that various folk have been promoting in the media recently.  Various proponents of the sport tell us that there is an abundance of wildlife benefiting from grouse moor management and that the moors are only suitable for hen harriers because of the management.  With that in mind off we went to see raptors on upland grouse moors …. was there any wildlife up on Middlesmoor?

140818 Stewardship hrk 431Ah ha, public money so there must be public benefit?

I must admit I haven’t seen any data to evidence the many claims made by the likes of the Moorland Association but we decided to see for ourselves …. not a curlew to be heard (astonishing), nor lapwing and definitely no Hen Harriers! In fact the only bird of prey we saw was a lone kestrel as we left the village to head for the moorland.  Hang on though, lest we forget the few meadow pipits and of course a few red grouse who had survived the ‘(in)glorious 12th’, but will they see the season out to swell the numbers for next season’s guns?

140818 Middlemoor hrk 433

I counted six nice new ‘butts’ out there, with others in the distance. 

140818 Middlemoor butt hrk 430

I think we’d have seen more wildlife if we’d stayed at home where a Honey Buzzard and Red Kite were logged on our lowland moors!

Astonishingly there is a 2011 video available (comments have been disabled) where Natural England extol the virtues of managed grouse moors which have delivered for people (interestingly John Barrett of NE did not define ‘people’, perhaps he meant moorland owners or maybe it was the tax paying public), fast forward to the Walshaw Estate debacle and their withdrawl from challenge to providing ‘moor’ funding.  It would seem that there has been a recent flurry of videos being posted promoting driven grouse shooting, is this a reaction to the bad press around the illegal killing of Hen Harriers issue?

The scenery is spectacular there’s no denying that, but should the public purse be supporting any monoculture devoid of a balanced ecosystem which according to numerous peer reviewed scientific studies should include Hen Harriers?
140818 Middlesmoor top hrk 428

 

Back in the lowlands and here on the ‘Levels’ the corn harvest has in the main been harvested, but no longer is the stubble left for the finch flocks to forage before it is ploughed and sown with autumn seed to begin the cycle again.140823 Sandtoft Road & M180 turbine hrk 479

Here the land is worked up to the drain, any closer and the large machinery used these days causes bank slunping, a common feature along this stretch of road.

The images illustrate the changing landscape, no longer the small fields with hedges, no longer field margins where arable ‘weeds’ such as the Scarlet Pimpernel a dainty flower common in my youth flourish.  Now a veritable ‘pimpernel’ in so far as they are sadly illusive.  Diversification is also evident in the images, again this type of ‘commercialisation’ of the landscape receives heavy public subsidy without proven cost benefit analysis, instead it allows politicans to claim ‘green credits’?

140823 Round bales & turbines hrk 475

 

 

Badgering Defra & Natural England

August 21, 2014

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

The Badger Trust are to be congratulated ….

Badger Trust High Court legal challenge over monitoring of badger cull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplementary snippets ….

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

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

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

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

Whatever it is they [DMBC] know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, they don’t want to tell the public?

August 20, 2014

Readers were reminded on Monday about our Freedom of Information request to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council about an Internal Audit undertaken on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.

P1020692Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme: an example a project promoted by the Dun Drainage Commissioners and later their successors the Danvm DC.

DMBC had failed to comply with its own procedures.  Its own initial acknowledgement indicated a reply would be provided by 15 August, so five days overdue (or three if you accept the WhatDoTheyKnow website advice) and as there was no request for additional time we submitted a request for an Internal Review yesterday ….  today we receive an email update and a response was provided.

The FoI was made 19 July and it has taken until 20 August to “Refusal to Disclose Information” and then the reply describes it as the Danum Drainage Board.  It is now Danvm (note the spelling, a Board decision and one which DMBC were a party to) and they are the Drainage Commissioners, minor points maybe but this kind of inspection and performance is surely about attention to detail?

Notice under Section 17(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE INFORMATION

Decision:

After carefully considering your request, the Council has decided to refuse to disclose the information you have asked for under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Basis for decision:

This law allows us to refuse to disclose information through the Freedom of Information Act process which is “information intended for future publication”. This is called an “exemption”.

Anyway, in short they are not prepared to release the information funded through the public purse until the Clerks to the DDC have seen it first.  The local IDBs including the two ‘super-boards’ are serviced by the Shire-Group of IDBs.  Read the rest of the letter via the WhatDoTheyKnow website here.

Why they cannot also release it to enquirers on the same day is not clear, a sceptic might then be forgiven for thinking  that perhaps then the Clerk and Administrator to the DDC will elect to apply their procedure and to take a further 20 days to provide it – this is open and transparent government?

Internal Drainage Boards have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and some organisations involved in attempting to hold them to account would consider this to be long overdue.  Many receive substantive amounts of public funding by way of Special Levy.  It is only recently that all the Local Authority nominated appointees have begun to attend and take an active part in scrutinising the business and conduct of local IDBs.  The Audit of Accounts 2010 – 2011 of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB Report In the Public Interest makes quite astonishing reading …. is that of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners going to be a variation?

What would, in our opinion, have been prudent ahead of the amalgamations of the smaller localised IDBs in the area would have been thorough audits and appraisals in the public interest, but for some reason there does not appear to be rigorous application of best practice governance in this area.  If we revisit the analysis of the Defra encouraged amalgamations which created two large ‘super-boards’ in this area (Humberhead Levels) then we might be forgiven for asking why Defra the government agency responsible for Land Drainage did not require independent audit of each of the local boards as they were subsumed into the new arrangement?

So, will this DDC Audit Report see the light of day, will it be made available to the public?  Who will be found to be wanting?  Will there be any action if there is found to be any ‘issue(s)’?

Readers might recall the incident where a landowners lawful tenant caused damage to a SSSI on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, neither the Rural Paymants Agency nor Natural England acted to either recover public funds or investigate the impact on the special feature of the SSSI.  Austerity measures introduced across many public services and yet no recovery of public funds where there was clear breach of cross compliance &c.?

 

Some good news …. Thorne Moors A Botanical Survey

July 1, 2014

 

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Image: Steve Hiner)

 

We are delighted to provide readers with advance notification that the long awaited Thorne Moors A Botanical Survey is with the printers and is expected by the end of the month!

Even better news is the amount of colour the publication contains.  Not only is there a photographic wraparound cover, there are also some stunning images of both the natural habitats and landscapes, both flowering plants and mosses and also the maps and other figures as well and it’s …. only £10 a copy!

This incredibly low price is made possible because we have received generous sponsorship from both JBA Trust and the local Natural England office and the Forum Executive feel that it needs to be made available at an affordable price to local people, students and researchers.  Please note that there is a limited print run, so reserve your copy now (postage to be advised).

All involved are to be congratulated, particularly Ian McDonald who initiated the project and also Colin Wall who made available the results of his extensive dataset on bryophytes. For more information and to reserve a copy download the Advance Notification

 

 

‘Moor’ badgering, upland Hen Harriers, Natural England have a new Chief Executive & Beverley Common.

June 27, 2014

BADGERS

The plight of beleaguered brock was brought home to me recently when I attended a meeting to explore ways of safeguarding the last few setts in the area.  We knew the situation was bleak but apparently it’s actually worse than we’d imagined and local naturalists are pretty hardened to public attitude to wildlife and the natural environment.  We were aware that South Yorkshire is the known cruelty capital and Doncaster is particularly bad.

Why do people enjoy inflicting cruelty on animals?  Why are the police unable to secure prosecutions?  Why do such crimes go unpunished?  Perhaps more cattle should be farmed here where there is a reduced badger population and then there would be no need for Paterson to continue his vendeta against the species elsewhere in England?  Recent press coverage questions efficacy of the culls.

HEN HARRIERS

Of persecution, the Hen Harrier epetition “Ban driven grouse shooting” created by Dr Mark Avery continues to secure additional signatures and now stands at 5,861 could it reach the 10,000 threshold by the inglorious 12th?  Anyone interested in attennding a peaceful day out with like minded folk is invited to meet not only Mark but Chris Packham as well, see “Standing up for nature” post for ‘moor’ details.

The Ethical Consumer Research Association (May 2014) has written a very readable, well researched and informed report Turn your back on GROUSE A popular campaign against greed and intensification on England’s grouse shooting estates.

NATURAL ENGLAND

Another bit of news material to any reader interested in the politics of Defra agencies, is the announcement of the new Chief Executive of Natural England, James Cross.  The usual PR material is available on various websites but suffice to encapsulate the spin, Andrews Sells, Natural England’s Chairman, commented: “I am delighted to be able to announce the appointment of James Cross as our new Chief Executive. He brings a wealth of experience which will be invaluable to us.

“Natural England does vital work on behalf of the environment and we are keen to drive forward the programme of reform outlined in the Triennial Review, further develop our status as a trusted advisor to government and build confidence and respect among our many stakeholders and customers for the way we work with them. James will bring an important combination of experience, energy and drive to enable this to happen.”   

Previously CE of the Marine Management Organisation we await evidence to back up the words.  Interestingly Dave Webster who was appointed Natural England’s Acting Chief Executive in March 2012 and continued in the role while the Triennial Review was underway, confirmed in March this year that he would not be seeking the role on a permanent basis and will be leaving Natural England on 18 July 2014 to take on a new executive role within Defra.  Natural England’s Executive Director, Guy Thompson will act as interim Chief Executive until James Cross takes up the permanent Chief Executive role on 1st September 2014.  So along with the recent restructuring how long before there is any robust science to underpin the dash to Dedicate Open Access across all publically owned NNRs?  We’ve already had reports of increased equine access and even 4 x 4’s attempting to cross ditches to access Hatfield Moors …. one might be forgiven for having concerns about the proportion of reduced budget has been spent on yet another restructure, redundancy packages, recruitment and the like?  Nature conservation a very poor second perhaps even third if you contrast against access and engagement?

BEVERLEY COMMONS

Readers may be aware that in the ERY applications are progressing to Deregister and Exchange Land at Beverley Westwood COM544.  It seems that the local authority have been writing to objectors ahead of the Public Inquiry seeking to get the withdrawl of those objections.  The campaign has hit the front page of the Hull Daily Mail.  There is a real fear that a precedent would be set by the approval of such an application.

The Open Spaces Society have added their objection to a growing call for more open and transparent conduct of business by the local authority.  For details of the full saga then the reader is signposted to the excellent Beverley Commons Blog which regales the debacle in full technicolour.  There are a number of related issues which add to the complexity including procedural issues around the application by developers to build luxury housing on the former Westwood Hospital.   The ERYC planning website refers to the development as application 3876, yet a letter received by the Forum yesterday refers to the same description as application number 0573!  Confusing, definitely!  Even more so when I tried to locate the Forum’s representation, as rare as a South Yorkshire Meles meles!  In fact it appears rarer …. so watch this space for updates.

It is a dilemma of modern living perhaps that finds what we previously took for granted as being protected sites are slowly being eroded and nibbled away at the edges to benefit business and not retained for the public benefit, the basis on which they were established.

& finally for tonight ….

For those readers who are not able to receive the Thorne Times as a newspaper, then read the June edition of Ramblings and nature notes of a bog-trotter here.

 

 

 

Unusual sites for interesting species?

June 17, 2014

There are some days you just need fresh air and space to breathe, yesterday was one such day.  So, in the spirit of the Nick Baker’s ‘lunch hour’ sessions* I decided to try a visit to Hatfield Moors for a change ….

Heading out of the car park with its ‘raised bed rally restricting bollards’ I followed the well trodden path through the ‘heathland’ area (ex mineral workings reverting to birch scrub) thinking that I might check on the unusual Salix and Pyrola finds made in 2009 (see Volume 8 of the Forum’s Papers).  There was absolutely no chance of relocating either species as the birch had become so dense.

One of the most interesting records from the brief visit was that of Lariniodes sclopetarius in the Ladies!  A sizeable female had taken up residence, clearly a very literate spider to observe the gender code as well as noticing the fact that the convenience next door had been / was disabled ….

140616 Hatfield Moors hrk 227

There was certainly plenty of bumblebee activity and they appearred to outnumber honeybees feeding on the plentiful bramble flowers.  Bombus hypnorum was also present but in low numbers compared to the other species.

Sadly I wasn’t quick enough to get a shot of either the Brown Silver-line or the male Cuckoo as they flew tantilisingly close, nor the Speckled Wood butterflies.  There were still a fair few spikes of Common Spotted Orchid around, but many past their best so not particularly photogenic.

* With apologies to those readers who didn’t watch the recent endeavours by the BBC to engage, educate and encourage the public to get out more …. Springwatch!

Today’s ‘wildlife’ find was that of an early evening stroll and the discovery of a Pebble Prominent larvae munching a poplar leaf along a substantive hedgerow.  Even as an early instar (c. 9-10mm) the brown dorsal stripe was evident and particularly so through a hand lens.  Which proves that closer inspection generally reaps reward.

Campaign corner:

Readers of environmental blogs such as that of Dr Mark Avery will have sensed disquiet about the performance of the ‘guardians of the natural environment’, a recent posts asks “What’s up at Natural England?”  It might be that there has been a good response to the Government consultation on the General Licence and that Ministers are pressurising the recently ‘ish’ appointed Chair of NE?  There were some well considered responses and we await the Government’s evaluation and report on the ‘consultation’.

 

 

Thorne Colliery Solar Farm

April 17, 2014

Readers may recall that we posted details of an information event about the proposed Solar Farm development at Thorne Colliery. The public event was well attended which seemed to surprise the developers whose staff struggled valiantly to answer the questions posed by local residents. There was the usual generic detail but little substance in terms of assessment of impact upon the nationally important invertebrate assemblage at Thorne Moors SSSI, particularly the nationally significant lagg fen at Inkle Moor.

 

SOLAR FARM 2782507_d182b3af

An example of solar panels, Richborough Solar Farm image licenced through Creative Commons licence

We understand that Natural England have provided RES [BSG Ecology and LDA Design] with data, but the exchanges we have seen relate to planning advice obtained through the Discretionary Advice Service (a service which the develope pays for).  It is understood that the outcome of BSG surveys further to Natural England’s recommendations will feature as part of the full application to be formally submitted to Doncaster MBC in the next few weeks (per Eliot Davies, Solar PV Development Project Manager, UK & Ireland Development).

Documents available at the moment can be accessed below by clicking on the links, the first is the letter from the developers to Doncaster MBC, the second is a series of maps and photomontages providing graphic (as opposed to textual) information about the proposed development.

140324 LDA EIA Screen Op to DMBC

140416 RES Cons Doc Sm 3711

 

 

‘Moor’ ramblings ….

April 11, 2014

With the arrival of the new recording season, I thought we should show some of the images and records people have been kind enough to share with us.

The stuning image below, shows a frequent visitor to our gardens and a character with a fondness for chimneys and who given half a chance will make their nest aloft!

Jackdaw.  Image : Ted Sabin.

Jackdaw. Image : Ted Sabin.

 

The superb close up of a Purple Thorn, shows a male specimen who before he was distracted to the light trap would have been seeking a female.

Male Purple Thorn.  Image: Ted Sabin.

Male Purple Thorn. Image: Ted Sabin.

The Purple Thorn, or Selinia tetralunaria used to have the log number of 1919 and easy enough to remember and use when logging trap catches.  Then …. something akin to decimalisation occurred and it’s now 70.239!  Now for some of us of a certain age / generation I reckon this new system is going to take some getting used to.  That’s not to say that the review and revision wasn’t a good idea nor that it was needed.  Agassiz et. al. are to be congratulated on the achievement of delivering the Checklist of the Lepidoptera of the British Isles in 2013 and published by the Royal Entomological Society.

 

Regular readers will be aware that Thorne & Hatfield Moors have been Dedicated as Open Access by Natural England last year.  We have heard questions raised by people wondering about implementation of this arrangement and whether there would be removal of fences, barbed wire and gates thereby delivering real Open Access …. clearly someone was in a hurry for an answer and decided to do the work themselves?

Rural vandalism or new Open Access arrangements on NNR implemented?

Rural vandalism or new Open Access arrangements on NNR implemented?

If anyone witnesses vandalism of this nature, then please report it to the Police and Natural England.

Causes for celebration?

March 16, 2014

It’s always nice to receive good news or positive outcomes and to be able to congratulate people on achieving best conservation outcomes:

The Badger saga: there was a Backbench Business Committee debate on Thursday 13 March in the ‘House’, see here to watch the debate or to download the transcript.  It is interesting to observe the proceedings and ‘performaces’,  one might be minded to agree that the Independant Expert Panel (IEP) report should have been made available ahead of the debate (as oppossed to being leaked on the day) in order that all MPs could read and understand all the significant findings.  219 to one MPs voted to halt the cull, many justified abstention by indicating that the final IEP Report was required ahead of a debate.  In the interim of the awaited IEP Report, perhaps they should read a few statistics provided by ‘Team Badger’?   The outcome of the debate is not binding upon the Government and thus far the ConDems have carried on in just that manner,  ConDem’ing wildlife and the environment to an uncertain future by clearing away red tape they see as inhibiting development.  What is perhaps equally worrying is a Government who appears deaf to the masses?  Fifty Shades of Grayling a guest blog by Carol Day was another damming view on the Government’s ‘green credentials’ and featured on the well read Standing up for Nature site operated by Mark Avery.   Another recent critique he featured was subsequent to a magazine interview with Dave Webster, CEO of Natural England, entitled What would you have liked to have asked?  it too receives a number of interesting comments. 

It is unfortunate that the Defra website  does not contain up to date information which raises the issue of open and transparent reporting by a Government Department perhaps?  The Defra website then directs you to GOV.UK website for more information, but that only brings you to the end of last year in terms of the IEP.  GOV.UK also provides details of the membership of the IEP.  It is understood and reported in the media that the Minister, Owen Paterson has at long last received the IEP Report, so hopefully it will not be too long before its findings will be made public.  The BBC (television station not Parliamentary Committee) reports that Badger culls were ‘ineffective and failed humaneness test’.

Badger & mayweed

Badger by Tatterdemalion.   Image courtesy of Flickr – Creative Commons license.

A number of email updates were received reporting upon the success of the collaborative coalition to save The Sanctuary a Derby CC Local Nature Reserve.  This was an excellent outcome not only for the wildlife of the site but also that it demonstrated what can be achieved by a collective collaboration of community conservationists.  It is understood that Derby CC press release concludes with this quite stinging comment ‘Derbyshire Wildlife Trust continues to have a service level agreement with the Council to provide expert advice on matters related to the natural environment.  Their compliance with this agreement will now be formally reviewed, and if found to be in breach, the appropriate legal action will be taken’.  It raises the issue of ‘paymasters’ requiring unchallenged compliance and co-operation otherwise potential loss of revenue to anyone with the audacity to challenge?  That was perhaps one of the benefits of forming a collaborative coalition, and was the rationale behind the Forum’s governance model.  There are an array of interesting comments posted, clearly and understandably local conservationists are not planning on complacency and will remain vigilent, long may the network deliver and where statute fails may they be held to account?

It was also pleasing to note that the Open Spaces Society have submitted a objection to the land swop at Beverley.  A timely reminder perhaps that one of the guest speakers at the Forum’s forthcoming Annual Meeting is Emeritus Professor Barbara English who will give a presentation on Beverley Pastures, the natural history and campaigning perspective will be provided by Kieran Sheehan. 

The IUCN have recently produced a glossy PR brochure on UK Peatland Restoration.   A number of geographically diverse case studies are offered but for the analysts of associated costs then there is disappointment and likewise perhaps the superficial reporting but nevertheless it delivers something we (conservation) often fail to celebrate, so well done!  Aimed for the layman rather than the scientist, one might see the benefit of having sufficient printed / CD to provide all 650 MPs in Westminster with a copy?

The law, implementation and poor deals for wildlife and the environment?

March 3, 2014

A recent post raised concerns about a Planning System fit for purpose in terms of public benefit.  Thanks to those of you who contacted us about the issue and similarly with regard to other recent posts.

We offer another recent case which illustrates how one minute the politicians in Westminster try to persuade the public and local communities that they can have a say in local plans and the like.  Then the flip side to that is a situation when developers seek to capitalise on assets the High Courts rule in favour of private profit.  Clayton Fields at Edgerton near Huddersfield achieved village green status in 1996.  The Leader of Kirklees Council Mehboob Khan said “It is a big blow for the local community.  Current legislation is not strong enough to protect local amenity spaces.”  Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society said the decision “gave the green light to developers to grab village greens”.  See the Yorkshire Post and Planning Resource reports on the case.

Call us sceptical but it may well be a case that village greens will only succeed and be safe where local groups secure ownership, rather than historic sites which may well have fallen into the hands of absentee landowners and speculators or developers?  At a local level it is clear that communities need to be vigilant to local authority land disposals.  As austerity continues to cause cuts in local authority spending, there will be difficult decisions being made about public assets.

More and more are being reported which see loss of local amenity provision.  Developers set their sights on areas and lobby behind the scenes to secure agreements, one such case is the proposed land swop involving the Beverley Commons.  The planning authority in this case is East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

Another instance of questionable practice offered is Natural England’s behaviour over the Public Inquiry into the Tween Bridge wind farm.  Natural England objected to the development but they failed to provide a barrister to support their local officer.  Perhaps that barrister was otherwise occupied negotiating with the wind farm developers over access arrangements across public land in their care which ultimately netted the organisations head office some £50,000 a year for 35 years?  That’s £1.75 million!  None of which we understand is earmarked for any work or scientific monitoring at Thorne and Hatfield Moors subsequent to the wind farm securing access to enable it to be built.  Despite a thorough on line search for this document relating to a public body we are unable to provide a link.  The local community pot associated with the Tween Bridge development does not get anywhere near that sum and yet it is local people who suffer from the loss of quality of environment.  Conversely others may delight in aesthetically pleasing structures industrialising farmland and the countryside?

Of ‘damage’ which statutory agencies and authorities have for various reasons turned a blind eye to or declined to act we offer a couple of case both of which relate to activity around the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, the first is actually a SSSI in its own right.  In July 2012 Natural England staff became aware that a neighbouring landowners lawful tenant had dug through a protective embankment to discharge agricultural run off into a SSSI drain.  It was not until November and after the Forum Executive started to investigate that the breach was repaired.  The incident was also reported to the Rural Payments Agency because such action was surely contra to cross compliance and there was the potential to recover public funds paid to landowners failing to comply with the terms of their agreements.  BUT …. the RPA did not investigate, instead they informed us that it was not usual for the public to report such matters.  The second involves an Internal Drainage Board whose land was rigorously managed to the point of disturbing badger setts.   Again Natural England were not rigourous in pursuing the matter, instead they were content to accept the age old response of ‘we won’t do it again’ line.  I suppose if one factors in the popularity of poor brock with statute at the moment then it’s hardly surprising?  However,  we’d been led to understand that the law is there to be complied with?

The Yorkshire Post recently reported that The Wildlife Trust for Sheffield and Rotherham were awarded some £396k of Lottery funds to deliver a five year project called ‘Wild at Heart’ Project manager Jan Flamank, a professional artist said “By developing regular interest and hobby activities at outdoor sites and in more accessible indoor spaces, we’re really hoping to create social groups which will continue to meet and work together long after the project is over.”   Wouldn’t it be great if that same project could keep an eye on community assets (albeit of a restricted postcode area) and become community champions in safeguarding green spaces as well as training the next generation of naturalsists to record the declining diversity of wildlife?  IF it does become sustainable then is the model one to be rolled out in other urban areas?  Do variations already exist in other areas?

Looking back over recent blogs it seems there are more which could be described as ‘campaigning’ posts rather than science or natural history observations.  So, I will leave you with the image below, which whilst not a perfect photograph, it is nevertheless a special memory from earlier today and I didn’t even have to leave Yorkshire!

140303 Yorkshire RSq hrk 740 - Copy

Does the current planning system deliver for the public benefit?

March 1, 2014

We enjoyed a lovely day on Thorne Moors yesterday.  The weather was kind, the wildlife relatively obliging.  A majestic Marsh Harrier dodged the turbine blades whilst delightful Reed Buntings fed on seeds heads floating on bog pools.

The downside when you are out in the open is that no matter what direction you look out across you see massive metal structures.  For me they destroy that sense of wilderness.  It is said by some that they are beautiful and each to their own, but they are not a natural feature and for me that is why people visit the moors.  They seek to be at peace with and experience the enjoyment nature offers.  Majestic Marsh Harriers float effortlessly, but for how much longer as more and more wind turbines become a feature of the farmed landscape on the Humberhead Levels We hear constantly about food security, land needed to allieviate floods (to act as flood plains) but here we are industrialising the countryside and depositing hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 emitting cement into land already saturated with recent precipitation.  As well as loss of soak away, there is potential risk to the hydrological integrity of the nearby peat body, 1900 hectares or 4695 acres in ‘old money’ of stored carbon.  As the bog continues to regenerate it builds capacity to sequester more carbon, but foundations so close in hot dry summers risks potential lateral damage?

130705 RoS Thorne TM 100

The Forum is not oppossed to renewable energy, it recognises the need for a mix if we are to have energy sustainability.  It believes that we should harness nature’s bounty but to do so there must be a balance and a level playing field and the politics of renewables does not appear to be good for climate change with some types favoured more than others?  In the interim, read a recent Guardian article relating to Drax.  This clearly illustrates the issues facing energy generation and the impact that politics and their preferences can cause.  Whilst the blades turn subsidies for the agricultural industry, nearby Drax on spinning reserve is guilty of inefficient production to accommodate renewable provision?

In around 2006-7 we were aware that there were 367 turbines at various stages of application planned for the Humberhead Levels.  The metaphoric storm arrived when Tween Bridge was signed off along with Keadby at a Public Inquiry held in Goole!   Airmyn, Goole Fields I and Goole Fields II soon followed.  You only have to look at the October 2009 map produced by Natural England which illustrates wind farms and biomass schemes to see the scale of industrialisation.  Fill in the gaps created in the intervening five years and there’s no wonder you get a feeling of monsters marching across the moors and marshes of the Humberhead Levels.

140228 TM hrk 716Local feeling appears to believe that enough is enough, in the background a turbine on the northern periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI.

Recent schemes being worked up include seven turbines for the Old River Don at Crowle.  There are another five being applied for near Rawcliffe Bridge (north western periphery of Thorne Moors) details can accessed via ERYC 13 / 04183 / STPLFE  The East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s planning portal can be accessed and details of the application read, along with the supporting documentation and comments received and submitted by neighbours, councillors etc.  Please note that the closing date for comments (supporting or objections) must be made by 5 March 2014.

Erection of five wind turbines with a maximum blade tip height of up to 131 metres together with a substation and control building, upgraded access track, connecting internal tracks, associated hardstanding and infrastructure.  Land East Of Bank House, Bridge Lane, Rawcliffe Bridge, East Riding Of Yorkshire.   

The towers proposed at this site will be the largest yet constructed around Thorne Moors SSSI.  To date Natural England have failed to make any comment on the proposal.  But, have they been consulted?  By law they are a statutory consultee.

What is clear is that the planning system remains something of a piece meal system and because the Humberhead Levels is a natural area and administered by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and North Lincolnshire Council and it also has near neighbours in Nottinghamshire County Council and Selby District Council.  What a mire of planning complexities to wrestle with, if like the Forum you take an interest in the countryside, the landscape and environmental conservation?  Then factor in what is within the remit of the Local Planning Authority (LPA) or what developments fall to centralised Government Departments to approve.  Then there’s a system which allows developers whose applications are refused to appeal.  In the current financial climate is there any wonder that Local Councils approve commercial developments for fear of Public Inquiry costs?  Conversely, if the development is approved the public have NO right of appeal, there is no local community challenge unless the LPA process is flawed and ONLY then can the local community challenge the decision through a Judicial Review (JR).  If they are deemed in the High Court to have grounds, then they need very deep pockets to fund any challenge.  They need nerves of steel and tenacity and there are very few groups who have successfully challenged developers set upon commercial paths.  If a JR is successful, then it does not refuse the application it only returns the application to the start of the application process.

But …. take heart anyone considering wrestling the planning system, a consortium have recently challenged Derby CC over a development and they have been granted a Judicial Review.  If we go back sometime then there were some pretty historic and important landmark challenges which we would do well to remember when the long day seems never ending, the Flamborough Hedgerow case was one such case when principle won the day.  Colin Seymour was the locus standi in this case and subsequently he went on to become something of a local hero if you believe in the rights of local people to challenge authority when it is in error based on historic legal evidence and extant law.  See also the Protection of Field Boundaries.  Another very important High Court judgement involved a quarrying development at Preston under Scar (North Yorkshire).  Richard Buxton was the lawyer representing the locus standi applicants in 1999 and he is involved in the above detailed Derby CC case, so watch this space for updates!

Without strategic planning and the application of sound common sense, then how much longer before a 360 degree ring of steel strangles Thorne Moors SSSI and the wilderness many of us grew up with will be no ‘moor’?   As a colleague remarked …. we knew the moors at their best, before anthromorphic greed and ‘muzzled watchdogs’ abandoned them.   Are politics about people or are they primarily about profit for particular people?   Can a phoenix rise from the ashes, will a community challenge?

Hen Harriers & campaigning?

February 15, 2014

My birding year has not really had many highlights in terms of sightings of note, but today’s garden tick was a very welcome one.  A stunning male Hen Harrier was observed quartering the northern fields on the periphery of Hatfield Moors SSSI, and all easily witnessed from my garden!  What ‘moor’ could you ask on a cold February day?  There is just something magical in their flight, in the majesty of their graceful movement.  BUT …. I wondered will the superb male I was priviledged to see in winter manage to survive and sucessfully breed in the coming season?   The Hen Harrier failed to breed sucessfully in England last year.  The BBC announced that the Hen Harrier is on the brink of extinction, Mark Avery’s blog frequently posts updates on the topic of Hen Harrier persecution, the most recent data available from JNCC is unfortunately out of date, but nevertheless catalogues a worrying trend.  Mark Avery’s blog is also a good source of background information about the now ‘infamous’  Walshaw Moor case which was initially taken up by Natural England.  Fast forward, it is now with the RSPB who took up the case after NE decided to drop the case.

Can I encourage readers of the blog who have not already done so to consider signing John Armitage’s epetition Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers at the time of writing it has reached 9,302 and needs to achieve 10,000 signatures for the issue to be debated in Parliament.  OK we know what happens to topics that those in power do not like, but if nothing else let’s add it to the catalogue of Government failures to protect our environment.

Of community campaigning, congratulations to the consortium of collaborators who mounted a campaign to persuade Derby Council to safeguard one of their Local Nature Reserves ‘The Sanctuary’.  Unfortunately the Councillors approved the application, however the campaigners believe that they have grounds to challenge the decision and are considering a Judicial Review.  For more background see Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s post here.  It is worth viewing the drone’s eye view of the site, I wonder what brownfield invertebrates lurk amidst the wonderfully neglected grassland and scrub?  As an LNR it even qualifies to feature on Natural England’s website, see here.  Unsurprisingly, given the dangerous precedent in terms of planning law Mark Avery has taken an interest and I suspect that in no small part that assisted in the number of objections submitted to Derby Council.  So, in addition to a potential legal challenge the consortium have also created an online petition which is aimed at the Lottery, see hereSimon Barne’s writes in today’s Times.

A plea also to anyone able to post on facebook or twitter, that the Forum’s petition about Open Access on NNRs could do with a push here.

We need to take back common ground and ensure those in power listen to the community, common sense should prevail but sadly that is swamped by developers greed and a planning system which appears no longer fit for purpose.  If you need a half reasonable justification for that accusation then look no further at a Government which encourages developers to build 20% of new houses in flood plains without ensuring that they are appropriately designed and built IF they are actually really needed in such low lying areas.

In the meanwhile I shall go and dream of another ‘skydancer’ on my horizon tomorrow …. magic moments like that remind me why we must keep on campaigning.

Beetling about …. “Reviews”

January 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a list of other downloadable NERC Reports click here.

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

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

 

Consistency in application of protection to SSSIs?

January 15, 2014

Well done Natural England, congratulations on standing up for nature and for applying the regulations …. we refer to NE’s press release on their website earlier today about

Off-roaders fined for damaging one of the Peak District’s finest conservation sites

Staff are to be congratulated with their investigation and enforcement of regulations.  Perhaps it was a pretty obvious matter to investigate and gather evidence for and that there would have been public support for the action taken, never the less they saw it through and didn’t abandon the case like they did with other privately owned upland moorland incidents.

They deserve praise for doing their job, so we duly recognise that …. to re-iterate, well done NE staff in the Peak District.

So, why when Natural England staff discovered damage to Thorne Moors SSSI in July 2012 did they too not act?  Why did it take until November 2012 for their staff to replace the earth bank deliberately removed by the lawful tenant of a neighbouring landowner (and Internal Drainage Board member) to discharge agricultural run off high in nitrates etc.?  Despite discussions and correspondence with the statutory agencies and support from MPs and Buglife was nothing further  done?  Why did the Rural Payments Agency not investigate?  Why did they not try to recover public funds?  For more detail see Mark Avery’s guest blog about the incident here.  Desspite a duty to monitor condition status of SSSIs, no monitoring has been commissioned consequential of the damage to that part of Thorne Moors SSSI.

To quote Janet Ward, Natural England’s Regulatory Director who said of the Peak District case “The message is clear – if you damage a SSSI knowingly or unknowingly, you are breaking the law.”

What is the difference then between these two incidents given the facts of the matter(s) which centred on deliberate damage?

 

P1020194

The image above shows the drainage channel dug out of the embankment which protected the  SSSI, thousands of gallons of agricultural run off entered the SSSI as no action was taken by the statutory agencies to prevent damage to the interest features and the rare aquatic invertebrates.

 

To us such actions raise a number of issues, amongst them:

  • The existence of public funded agencies ‘fit for purpose’ with systems which demonstrate compliance with the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the Habitats Regulations.
  • The ability of Defra agencies to act in a timely manner, to investigate incidents and to be able to ensure monitoring establishes impact and to recover public funds where damage and impact is proven.
  • The accountability of agri-industrialist landowners who sit on publicly funded IDBs.
  • A system which ensures that public money is not paid to landowners who damage SSSIs/Natura 2000 sites.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

 

A time for contemplation or for action?

December 29, 2013

Sometimes as the year comes to a close one is minded to contemplate the successes and the failures of that year from varying perspectives.  This might then contribute to setting the tone for the coming year.

How has the wildlife around your ‘backyard’ fared?  How has the wider environment regionally and nationally fared, what of the issue at an international level?

It’s easy enough to think that individuals alone can’t make much difference and that decisions are made elsewhere.  In the main that is perhaps true.  But reflect on some critical mass achievments in recent years and you begin to think that it might just be worth the occasional letter to your MP, the Secretary of State and even the Prime Minister perhaps or his opposite numbers in the other party(s)?  If nothing else the style of response is often an interesting experience in itself, or perhaps it’s just the letters that we write because very rarely do we receive a clear definitive response to the specific question we ask.  It took quite some time for me to realise that it was best to keep letters simple, a bit of background information and a simple question, mmh that should do the trick?

In reality we have come to realise and appreciate that MPs are conduits, Ministers have to respond to them whereas ordinary members of the public asking awkward or complex questions tend to be ignored or are just thanked for raising the isue or matter with them.  A good example relatively recently was a case of deliberate damage to a SSSI by a landowner’s lawful tenant.  Natural England and their Defra colleagues in the Rural Payments Agency delivered a stunning performance of Nero!  This action ought to have seen the receovery of public funds consequential of breach of cross compliance, but no absolutely nothing not even a site visit to investigate.

So as we approach the politicians run up to the next election, what are the issues for environmental conservationists?  Are there any politicians who actual understand the ‘environment’?  If there are then they are a rare species indeed.  Mark Avery undertook a fun poll on green MPs, asking his readers to vote for the Wildlife MP of 2013.  OK, it was very superficial and subjective but a straw poll nevertheless and interesting results particularly second place!  Perhaps and we’d be forgiven for thinking that’s the power of lobbying?  No real suprise as to the winner from the candidates listed but what will 2015 and the ‘real’ election see?  I suspect mass turn out from those doing well from the current incumbents (wealthy agri-industrialists, bankers &c.), apathy and no show from disillusioned and down-trodden masses?  At the risk of sounding like a Mark Avery fan club, he did encourage people to write regularly to their MPs about environmental issues and I’d endorse that sentiment.  Let them know that despite the austerity measures still evident here in the north particularly (oops, up-turn in the economy) that people do value and expect the environment to be protected.  There is a naive belief that it will be there for future generations, but will it?  If it has a commercial value then the chances are that it will be subject to ‘development’ pressures of some shape or form.  I am reminded that in 2009 Natural England staff were actively encouraged to develop money making schemes on NNRs.  That manifested itself in the form of a proposal for a commercial trout fishery on Hatfield Moors SSSI.  Reflecting upon Ralph Underhill’s recent cartoon, I wonder what is on the horizon for 2014?  Perhaps Nick Bee (DCPP) has the answer, he certainly offers an interesting perspective or perhaps he’s already on the inside track?  If ‘we’ rehome and garden the wildlife elsewhere and then develop NNRs, mmmh …. many a true word eminated from jests?  Projects are more profitable perhaps than protection?

So, do we let those who ‘govern’ us dictate what is best or do we interact and even more controvertial do we dare to be proactive?

If everyone wrote a weekly or even just a monthly letter to their MPs then ‘environment matters’ would at least be on their radar if not actual agenda’s.  Better still set up your own blog site, link with other environmental conservation or campaigning groups.

A recent discovery was one involving Beverley Westwood and Swinemoor, how many other regional examples such as this are out there?  Let me know and let me know why it is important that we as individuals as well as collaborative collectives have a voice when it comes to our natural environment …. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Just in case you think the Forum have abandoned science, to let you know that another ‘gem’ has been discovered on Thorne Moors.  Idioptera linnei Oosterbroek an RDB 1 cranefly(Falk 1991)  is the latest addition to the inventory of invertebrate assemblage.  From a bit of cursory research this species seems to be found mainly from Cumbria and Shropshire, unless you know differently?  The findings of the 2012 Invertebrate Survey from which this and many other ‘gems’ have been identified have been presented at a seminar in the autumn, but it is planned to published the findings next year.  Watch this space for the next installment! 

Perhaps we should write to the Humberhead MPs and let them know of our discoveries ….

Perhaps we should write to the SoS for the Environment and invite him and his team to visit to see the assemblage in situ?  I’d love to know what value they’d place on this gem if it were eligible to be considered as part of an ecosystem service ….

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?

Nature Check 2012, wildlife obituaries & celebrations?

December 1, 2013

We’ve been inundated with various hefty tomes cataloguing the losses to wildlife recently.  We had the hard hitting State of Nature,  a veritable choir of conservation charities singing from the same hymn sheet.  Before that we had the ‘promising’ Securing Biodiversity A new framework for delivering priority habitats and species in England (2008).  Then came Lost life: England’s lost and threatened species.  For Natural England to effectively chart species decline was quite something, they are to be applauded for making public such revelations of their analysis and findings.

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The next buzzword was ‘Landscape’ scale conservation, Defra funded by competative application 12 ‘Nature Improvement Areas’ (can nature be improved I ask?).  These projects appear designed to some extent to provide more grant aid to the agri-industry to make every square inch of land return or generate income.

Now we have another contribution to the arena, this time from the Wildlife and Countryside LINK Nature Check 2013    It is the third year this analysis of Government’s natural environment commitments have been assessed.  Many of the same organisations who produced the State of Nature are members of WCL, but this somehow is not to my mind as hard hitting as some of those tomes mentioned earlier.  It might be said to be a sad inditement of a previous report Halting Biodiversity Loss by 2010.  Page 4 revealed that the National Audit Office had issues with the reliability of Natural England’s figures presented when reporting on condition status monitoring of SSSIs.  Incredibly there is no consistent record keeping of assessments.  See Natural England’s Role in Improving Sites of Special Scientific Interest.  This report was produced in 2008, and one might hope that an annual update would be produced but thus far I have been unable to locate any such document.

It is now 2013 and the Government agency once described as a guardian of the environment was then described as a ‘Muzzled Watchdog’ (1997).  In January this year a guest blog was posted on Mark Avery’s Standing up for Nature blog effectively downgrading them to a “Toothless Terrier”, it catalogued a failure by Natural England to safeguard a SSSI and also a Natura 2000 site and in addition failure by the RPA to investigate a potential breach of cross compliance and recover public funds.  The most recent project being conducted outside the public gaze is that of Dedication as Open Access all publically owned National NATURE Reserves.  For more information see here, here and here.

It seems to me that all these excellent tomes are either catalogues of decline or obituaries.  Might they be useful tools for those who advocate for biodiversity offsetting and mitigation funds for projects to ‘garden’ on behalf of developers?  They could be offered as justification for ‘experiments’?  The finances raised then perhaps find their way to government agencies or local authorities, or a new bank who then have the role of deciding those most worthy of assistance.  I wonder what level remmuneration for the new ‘bankers’?  A ray of hope on the horizons for NGOs to fund their staff, but curtailing campaigning lest they challenge or champion conservation per se. 

But, enough doom and gloom for now – let’s think positive and celebrate (albeit probably only temporarily) how about the government abandonment of the Gloucestershire badger cull as a worthy case?  Damien Carrington reports in the Guardian that Natural England have revoked the licence because of failure to kill enough badgers.  Certainly worth a celebratory pat on the back to the brave soul in Natural England who has signed the reprieve,  thank you and well done.

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But the cards are marked if the Farmer’s Weekly report is to be believed.  An interesting piece England’s Killing Fields (4) offers insight as well as providing defence of the agency who they argued would lose credibility if the cull continued.  It also praises, quite rightly some farmers, and in doing so illustrates the illogical polorisation of the contentious issue.  Will common sense prevail in the interim and ensure that science is undertaken and evaluated before the next ‘condem’nable defra debacle?

In the meantime I must spend ‘moor’ time out there enjoying what is left.  It might be winter but there’s still wildlife worth watching and certainly worthy of appreciation.

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.

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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.

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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

Democracy, accountability and Internal Drainage Boards ….

November 8, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brownfields, greenfields, NNRs & what of the future?

November 3, 2013

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A packed hall in the Whisby Nature Park Education Centre saw around 70 delegates listening intently to a range of speakers delivering Buglife’s second Brownfield Conference on Halloween (31 October).

Presentations from the eight speakers included interesting case studies which illustrated a wide range of work, from industry to Buglife’s own Stepping Stones project.

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A typical industrial site, although this is the Cemex cement factory at South Ferriby in North Lincolnshire.

For me it was the planning dimension and the interaction of Defra agencies, particularly Natural England which raises concerns.  In terms of planning, brownfield has traditionally been the preferred option over greenfield for develpment.  However, brownfield sites have been havens for many rare and threatened species hence a dilema for conservationists as well as planners and not forgetting government.

Now that Natural England have a centralised ‘advice function’ (my words not their title per se), when a Local Planning Authority submits an application into the Defra agency, they have to make a response in a short timeframe, if they are short staffed with staff who are not aware of colleagues on the ground with local knowledge, so do not make contact with them to fully appreciate or understand the application and any nature conservation issues which might not be evident from a developers or consultants submission then there can be problems?  Developer friendly environmental consultants and there are many, create tomes of reports which generally fail to do any more than scratch the surface of the biodiversity interest of a site beyond rejurgitating copious text from statutory guidance or local development frameworks, perhaps a desk top search for data from natural history societies or Local Records Centres (who in turn rely on local naturalists), very rarely any fieldwork in an appropriate season.  Now that NE make available much of their planning and development advice on line and they also offer a Discretionary Advice Service so a money making consultancy by any other name, there appears to be very little consistent and meaningful communication or correspondence.

West Thurrock Marshes is an interesting case.  Despite the judgement going against Buglife it did accept that the NERC Act was an important consideration in such cases.  It also highlighted failings in the Biodiversity Duty, the court system, planning policy and SSSI system.

The presentation provided a synoptic overview of the work which can be found in “The state of brownfields in the Thames Gateway” in more detail, certainly worth a read.

We heard from industry representatives who had worked with conservation organisations and Defra agencies to create easily managed sites which provided suitable habitats for rare and threatened species.  There is clearly much useful work being undertaken, but is it sustainable and who will ensure its longevity in perpetuity?

Not surprisingly most of these sites generally exclude the public unlike NNRs many of which are failing to meet their favourable condition status monitoring targets.  So, there is a conundrum, local authorities are not always managing their country parks as the public might like by allowing bikes, horses and unleashed dogs so that could now be an option for NNRs instead?  Will these new industrial reserves become the future for habitats and species conservation?

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A view of Thorne Moors SSSI, a Natura 2000 site and a National Nature Reserve from Thorne colliery pit tip.

Natural England’s Senior Technical Adviser outlined the creation of an inventory of open mosaic habitats on previously developed land and whilst this is not the presentation itself it is broadly speaking very similar.  Anyone looking to prepare a case for conservation of a brownfield site is certainly recommended to read the OHM Survey Handbook  Similarly it is useful to understand the statutory agency definition of Open Mosaic Habitats from the UK BAP Priority Habitat Descriptions, although the BAP system is now defunct, it is still understood by many so remains useful until fully updated post ‘evolution’.

There were copies of Planning for Brownfield Biodiversity A Best Practice Guide in delegate packs, and as with many of their publications and reports a useful tool to any local campaigners trying to put together a submission about a local planning application.  Please note that the planning section is out of date, and Buglife report that an updated version will be available shortly.

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Thorne Colliery site, post demolition and illustrative of how quick nature heals scared landscapes.  See also an earlier blog post this year when a number of interesting species were discovered across the complex.

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Araneus marmoreus pyramidatus, the Humberhead Levels is a stronghold for both colour variants of this species.  The colliery site hosts a population of the species.

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Calluna vulgaris doing quite well on areas within the colliery complex.

The networking between the presentations, as often the case with such events was the useful bonus of attending a well run and informative conference, an enjoyable day.  Another refreshing aspect was that as an organisation their staff certainly did seem to ‘buzz’ and they invited delegates to contact them for advice and that’s not a common commodity these days.  Membership organisations are all too ready to take your money and hand out glossy PR but I can count on my fingers the number of organisations who actually do get down to grassroots and try to help empower or assist local casework.

So, well  done and thank you to the Buglife team!

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Diary dates & Neolithic trackway updates?

September 13, 2013

Just a few items which might be of interest to readers interested in the natural history and management of Thorne and Hatfield Moors.

Monday 23 September 2013: The Executive are delighted to announce a seminar at which key findings of a recent invertebrate survey will be reported.  If this is of interest to you then contact us via execsec@thmcf.org

Wednesday 2 October 2013: A British Ecological Society Workshop (with JBA Consulting, T&HMC Forum, the International Peat Society, South Yorkshire ECONET & Sheffield Hallam University) which will look at the complexities of “one of the biggest, most interesting and historically controvertial peatland restoration sites in the UK, so it is a unique chance to get involved and find out more”.  For more information see UKECONET.

The image below, taken on Thorne Moors in July this year, shows an exceptional display of common cotton grass Eriophorum vaginatum.  Many familiar with the moors over many decades couldn’t recall a year when the seeds created such a vista as to appear as a snowstorm, a sheet of white across acres of moorland, gossamer clusters hanging from all nature of vegetation structure.

 

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Saturday 23 November 2013: South Yorkshire Archaeology Day, see Sheffield City Council website for more detail.  There are eight talks, the one being given by Dr Henry Chapman: Modelling the past: the hidden landscape archaeology of Hatfield and Thorne Moors might be of interest to readers with an interest in the Neolithic trackway.

The images below, taken on Hatfield Moors illustrate the condition of the Neolithic trackway, a nationally significant find and its ‘in situ’ conservation following the discovery in 2004.

 

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The image above shows investigative work in 2005.

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This above taken in 2008 shows neglect and the dispair felt by the finder of the trackway?

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And in 2011 shows the condition ‘in situ’ preservation, these management works undertaken and monitored by Natural England.

Watch this space for the next installment of this rather sad South Yorkshire saga.

 

 


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Mark Avery

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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

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