Posts Tagged ‘SSSI’

‘Moor grousing’ …. Defra answer …. at last

September 2, 2014

Red Grouse TM

The epetition created by Dr Mark Avery Ban driven grouse shooting has at long last received a reply of sorts from a nameless Defra bureaucrat.  It is provided verbatim below:

The e-petition ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’ signed by you recently reached 16,828 signatures and a response has been made to it.

As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response: It has been estimated that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide significant benefits for conservation. Shooting makes an important contribution to the rural economy. When carried out in accordance with the law, shooting for sport is a legitimate activity, and our position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities should they wish to do so. Landowners are free to manage wildlife on their land, provided it is carried out appropriately and legally, in accordance with any the relevant wildlife legislation. Hen Harriers It is encouraging to learn that there are four hen harrier nests this year which have chicks, given that in 2013 there were no known hen harrier fledglings in England. Some of these fledglings will be tracked with satellite tags we have funded. The Uplands Stakeholder Forum Hen Harrier Sub-group was set up in 2012 with senior representatives from organisations best placed to take action to address the decline in Hen Harriers. These include Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Parks Authority and the RSPB. Defra welcomes the involvement of all parties. The Sub-group has developed a draft Joint Action Plan containing a suite of complementary actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. We are working with Sub-group members to finalise the Plan. Illegal killing of birds of prey The killing of birds of prey is illegal, all wild birds being protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone who kills or injures a wild bird is committing an offence and could face jail if convicted. Bird of prey persecution is one of the six UK wildlife crime priorities. The England and Wales Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group leads on action to address these crimes through prevention, intelligence and enforcement activity. The National Wildlife Crime Unit gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey, providing assistance to police forces when required. Earlier this year the Government confirmed that the Home Office and Defra would together provide funding until 2016, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime. Alongside this, there have been successful conservation measures which have led to increases in buzzard, peregrine and red kite populations over the last two decades. Peatland In February 2013 we, along with the devolved administrations, made a statement of intent to protect and enhance the natural capital provided by peatlands in the UK. In September 2013 the Pilot Peatland Code was launched with the aim of promoting the restoration of UK peatland through business investment. It is intended that the Code will assure restoration delivers tangible benefits for climate change alongside other benefits such as restoring habitats for protected species and improving water quality. The last decade has seen increasing numbers of conservation initiatives (such as Nature Improvement Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest) many of which are focussed on peatland restoration in the UK. We are working with a wide range of partners on peatland restoration, including land owners and environmental NGOs. Rural Development Programme We are committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the English uplands, which are endowed with natural assets that are important for delivering a range of valuable “ecosystem services”, including food and fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for health and wellbeing. We will be investing over £3 billion in agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship and its successor) in the next Rural Development Programme 2015-2020. Addressing loss of biodiversity will be a priority for the new Programme. In addition funding will look to maximise opportunities to deliver biodiversity, water quality and flooding benefits together. Defra is working with a wide range of interests to finalise scheme details in good time for 2015. This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

View the response to the e-petition

Thanks,

HM Government e-petitions http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/

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Do readers think it actually addresses the issue?  There are some excellent comments made about it on Avery’s blog post.  Unless I need to go to specsavers there is very little which provides any confidence that there is serious intent to tackle the crime.

The petition currently has 16,912 – help get it to 100,000 so that they have to discuss the issue in the Westminster village.

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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?

 

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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?

 

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?

Is “gardening” for wildlife an alternative to nature conservation?

August 4, 2013

I wonder, is gardening for wildlife a better option that trying to conserve habitats and species?  Is the challenge to stem the decline too much and should we simply build biodiversity instead, on land that the developers and agri-industrialists don’t want (for now)?

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We’ve heard much about the State of Nature published following collaboration by some 25 organisations.  Some pretty horrendous statistics were revealed.  In all probability it seems that they are only the tip of the iceberg?

The report catalogues the continuing failure of Government and NGOs to even stem the decline of our wildlife.  It looked at some 3,148 species (but a minute fraction of the nation’s wildlife species, ones that data is held on such that meaningful analysis can be had), 60% of these have declined over the last 50 years and 31% have declined strongly.  One in ten RDB species are at risk of extinction, if that’s true then Thorne and Hatfield are in for some hefty losses.  Conversely I’m sure there are some who would step up and offer to introduce some iconic alternatives which would be better suited to climate change or a country park regime and badge it as a community outreach project.

So, given that speakers at the conference admitted that in 2010 they had missed the targets of halting biodiversity decline, what will they now do?  Some wondered where they had gone wrong, clearly they’d not really been listening to the likes of Iolo Williams.  They’d been drifting along chasing funds for projects, delivering projects designed for building biodiversity – hand outs from developers mitigation.  Why has the challenge been dummed down, why did Natural England back off from taking the Walshaw case through as a compalint from Europe, why did the RSPB have to pick up the gauntlet?

Natural England happily sign off authorisations for badger culls, but they will not enforce reparation of damage to SSSIs.  Similarly the Rural Payments Agency refuse to investigate reports of damage insisting it is Natural England’s role to enforce.  It’s political ping pong – inactivity which might be likened to Nero fiddling whilst Rome burnt, or the ongoing decline of the UKs wildlife or SSSIs failing to reach favourable condition status.

Amongst the various responses of the ‘conservation agencies’ was the announcement of a(nother) meeting (sorry Iolo) – then the production in autumn of a challenge document and finally action will follow .  I’ve heard it all before and whilst I’m absolutely certain that those speaking mean well, perhaps if I may be forgiven for considering myself an unsung hero, but here in South Yorkshire I’m not prepared to hold my breath.  The 25 NGOs plan to repeat the event and reconvene in three years time, to talk maybe not about species recovery but what they’ve been doing about it – like Iolo I really hope they actually do DO something about the continuing decline which I see no sign of abating.

The Ghost Orchid Declaration produced in 2009 by Plantlife is an earlier call to arms, but it too like so many other variants from the spectacular array of special interest or focus groups pleads that agri-environment schemes are better targetted.

Apathy, avarice, competition between agri-industrialists and conservation play a significant part in the ongoing failure.  The Common Agricultural Policy and its subsidies to the fat cats of agri-industry (not farmers) who tell us they are the guardians of the countryside so should receive public money to deliver nature conservation.  Natural England appear to subscribe to that view because they continue to dole out extra support by way of HLS for otherwise unproductive corners of otherwise efficient businesses.  Defra programmes designed to encourage land owners to be green create improvement schemes for example where land owners are advised on how best to receive additional funds for short term involvement to create ‘corridors’ or pocket handkerchief ponds.  It might be suggested that the nations’ back gardens deliver better value for money but taxpayers are not recompensed, instead they appear to be expected to continue funding those who have played a significant role in the depletion of species.

Preventing a wasteful “double payment” for the same environmental activity from agri-environment schemes would at least be a start.  Monitoring for tangible outcomes through truly independent analysis might also begin to offer credibility.

As someone who used to be a member of approaching a score of organisations do I think they represent value for money?  If we read the future as suggested by Anna Bawden in the Guardian recently then its pretty bleak.  Mark Avery in his excellent blog is currently analysing NGO performance and there are some interesting comments made by his readers.

So, what of the future, what will be left for the next generation?  While you give thought to what you think should be done, I’ll offer a little grassroots activism news …. for those readers interested in invertebrates the Forum are shortly to present the findings of an invertebrate survey on a piece of peripheral lagg fen.  Thus far some 8,000 specimens of coleoptera alone have been deterined and amongst them some RDBs, some species are relocated classics as recorded by the old Victorian naturalists who made occasional visits to Thorne Moors (Hatfield Moors was less accessible).

 

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So, I hear you ask what does that prove (aside from quality habitat still exists at Thorne), well I offer that in the main the determination to get this project off the ground and then implemented was through the tenacity and committment of a handful of people – thank you to my colleagues and associates you know who you are.

It follows then (perhaps) that if we can deliver worthwhile projects then just think of the capacity of the NGOs and their statutory allies.  Better still bring on ‘moor’ local action?

Remember the words of Edmund Burke who said The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing and considered that Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.

Images: Martin Hammond & Helen Kirk.


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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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