Posts Tagged ‘NFU’

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. 

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‘Moor’ badgerings, ‘hare’ we go again and spiders?

January 18, 2015

The BBC reports that Ministers and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) believe culling badgers will curb TB in cattle.  Ms Truss, the Minister claimed the government’s “comprehensive strategy” was supported by leading vets. 

But protesters have claimed independent monitoring has been dropped and attempted to have the cull halted at the High Court.

The move was rejected by judges, after which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We have always been clear that the independent expert panel’s role was to oversee the six-week pilots in the first year of the culls only.

“This year we have made changes to monitor effectiveness and humaneness and the culls will be independently audited.”

An independent report by the expert panel into the first year of culls found that “controlled shooting” of free-running badgers could not deliver the level of culling needed to lower TB cases in cattle and was not humane.

Try as we might we are unable to offer any link to any science which underpins the Minister or the NFUs ‘belief’.  Having said that one might reason you don’t actually need evidence, let alone allow it to be peer reviewed to ‘believe’?  What motivates Ministers?  The abiding memory for many will be the u-turn on the ‘independent monitoring’ of the culls?  Like so many promises made by politicians, it seems to have fallen by the wayside once the spotlight had been distracted towards other topical issues?

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What really saddens us here in the Doncaster area,  which is as far as we are aware a bTB free zone, is the systematic destruction of badger setts.  Whilst it was pleasant to spend the afternoon in the field so to speak, it was far from pleasant to witness the loss of another sett in the district.  The sett on agricultural land, accessed via quiet country lanes with locked barriers, was also in view of distant properties.  A large sett with a number of active entrance holes had been well and truly dug.  Even the hardened badger workers were quite shocked at the sheer extent of the ‘diggers’ activity.

What was apparent was the length of time the ‘diggers’ would have been at the site to have dug at least seven of the holes and one of them to considerable depth.  What surprised me but was readily explained by one of the group was the absence of badgers, or parts thereof!  Apparently a live badger for baiting and the associated gambling is worth around £800!  So, it followed that they would have carted off as many as they could.  That in itself would have been a particularly interesting logistical operation and one requiring a team of  strong individuals, cages and in all likelihood a vehicle.  No one saw a thing?

What really hit home as well, was the inhumanity that had to be inherent in the individuals engaged in such activity.  The sows would either be heavily pregnant at this time of year or they would have recently given birth.  If the ‘diggers’ didn’t reach a sow then the chances are such that the stress level would cause her to either abort or to kill the cubs.

The loss of this group pushes the ‘Doncaster’ population to the brink of extinction.  As groups are lost to areas, any remaining become isolated and weakened by inbreeding as there are no neighbouring groups to recruit from or to join.  Brock an iconic mammal of the quintessential British Countryside could be lost to us in a couple of years or so in the Doncaster area if the current persecution rate continues.

The other aspect which was quite noticable was the damage to the agricultural land, albeit in the main, the headland.  However the digging had clearly encroached onto land which would in due course be worked by large and expensive machinery.  The site had been left a mess and the landowner was left with reparation of his land to return it to a safe state, in order to work it, come time to harvest the crop.

Whilst badgers might elicit mixed feelings across the spectrum of emotions, such activity is against the law and it certainly appears to constitute tresspass aggravated by possible criminal damage.  Factor in the local ‘intel’ that gangs of criminals are working rural areas, it seems reasonable that there could be benefit from collaborative working?

Please if anyone sees anything suspicious, then please do report it to the police via 101 or to the South Yorkshire Badger Group.  Please, remember it is important to report the crime to the proper authorities as soon as possible. If calling the police (in an emergency use 999, otherwise use 101) ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer (WCO) and make sure to get an Incident Report number.

An excellent site which makes much useful information available is Birders Against Wildlife Crime.  They have an excellent ‘motto’ Recognise, Record & Report!  Similarly the Badger Trust website has regular updates on the situation and Government stance.

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ePetitioning for protection from persecution (aka ‘campaign corner’):

Mountain Hares are killed in large numbers on grouse moors because they carry ticks that might affect Red Grouse numbers. The shooting industry doesn’t want Red Grouse to die of tick-borne diseases – instead they want them to die by being shot by paying customers on grouse moors.  Much other wildlife is an inconvenient presence including Mountain Hares and raptors, notably Hen Harriers.

This epetition asks Scottish Natural Heritage to protect this native species from persecution from the shooting industry.  SNH is concerned about this issue but has only asked for voluntary restraint from grouse shooting.  We struggle to recollect voluntary codes or guidelines which have worked, two examples which spring to mind and might illustrate that suggestion are the reduction of peat in growing media and MPs sorting out their own expenses?
Buglife, an excellent wildlife charity, is asking for support for a tiny spider only known to live in a couple of sites in the world – one of which maybe destroyed by house building.  A planning enquiry starts next week so any signatures gained by this epetition will help to demonstrate public support for thisapparently insignificant spider (size isn’t everything in nature).  Whilst the epetition is about a rare spider, the bigger issue appears to be that of a planning system which is in such of a ‘pickle’?
Then this really is just in case …. you don’t know that there is an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting that has stirred things up quite a bit over the last few months. It passed the 20,000 signature mark before Christmas and every further signature is valuable in the run-in to the general election campaign.

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

August 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wildlife at risk crossing roads & NFU apologise after Buglife expose misleading claims

July 10, 2014

Tonight as I was driving home along a nice stretch of road, which might better be described as ‘track’ and which runs parallel with the busy A18.  I slowed as I approached a moving ‘stick’ which was obviously a larva of some description.  Given that the vegetation on both sides of the road is rank grasses with vetches, bird’s foot trefoil, a few stands of St John’s Wort and even a bit of ragwort, so maybe an eggar of some description, but I certainly didn’t expect the beauty below.  One side of the road is a substantive drainage ditch (currently being extracted to irrigate agricultural crops) the other side is another drainage ditch but this one, the North Engine Drain is a SSSI and part of the series which make up the Hatfield Chase Ditches SSSI and which are sympathetically managed for their wildlife interest.  This particular one (NED) had been ‘managed’ earlier in the year (the first time for a few years) in such a manner that would have delivered both drainage and wildlife benefits.

 

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Emperor Moth Saturnia pavonia is generally a speacies of moorland and heaths, it is present on both Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  But in the vicinity of Hatfield Chase drainage ditches?  This handsome beast made it across the road to safety and survived risk of predation by corvids or other hungry creature foraging to feed a family.  As noted by a writer for the Guardian perhaps the bigger risk might be posed by vehicles?  I have been unable to definitively establish if the larva is poisonous or if it is just unpalatable because of the spines and crusty ‘warts’ and uses the colouration and pattern to fool potential diners.  Do let us know if you are aware of a paper or such which provides an answer.

Various authors list food sources of the Emperor as being mostly woody plants including heather, but also bramble, meadowsweet, hawthorn, blackthorn, alder buckthorn, sallows and birches.  Some of these species are present in the area but it would need to be both very athletic and agile.  Waring & Townsend (2003) Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain & Ireland also include fens, field margins, woodland rides, mature sand dunes and other open scrubby places.  UK Moths website describe the ‘warts’ as being yellow but Manley (2008) British Moths and Butterflies A Photographic Guide show an example similar to today’s find, with pink ‘warts’.

 

CAMPAIGN UPDATE:

Readers might recall that we have featured the issue of bees and neonictinoids on this blog.  Well, here we are again ….

The NFU have recently made erroneous claim attributing losses in crop yields in Sweden to insects.  But give Guy Smith, their Vice-President his due, he was quick to apologise about the tweets and various news reports.  It should be noted that these were made after Buglife, the invertebrate champion for ‘the small things that run the planet’. 

This embarrassing incident comes not long after Syngenta had to back down with their threats to sue the UK for upholding the EU ban on the use of neonictioids.  David Cameron and Owen Paterson were in favour of dropping the ban, but the critical mass of community campaigning through epetitions and the like caused a rethink …. for now.  The NFU and other representatives of agri-industrial interests have supported the Syngenta campaign, and this is the second time that their claims have been found to be erroneous (no doubt to the embarrassment of both the BBC and Farmers Guardian who reported the NFU claims made by Smith) and as Matt Shardlow says this latest revelation comes on top of two recent reviews of scientific evidence that have failed to find improvements in crop yields as a result of neonicotinoid use and the failure at a recent House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee of a Bayer spokesman to name a single published, peer reviewed scientific paper showing that neonicotinoids improved crop yields.

Who can we, the public and tax payer trust when it comes to honest and robust science?  It’s not unreasonable to expect corporations to promote vested interests but surely to exhibit credibility it must be accurate and honest?  Similarly, Government should be open and transparent and above all beyond reproach, demonstrating exemplary integrity in their conduct?  They are after all funded through public taxation even if their political party is in receipt of funds from third parties?

 

 


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Mark Avery

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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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