Posts Tagged ‘Nature Check 2013’

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’.

110409 E-On breach TM Public footpath

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’.


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.


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.


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.

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Mark Avery

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a new nature blog

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

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