"We can't stop stupid people from being stupid - but we can refuse them licences to carry out their stupidity...."
Many of you will have seen a considerable amount of media coverage in the past few days, relating to the story I broke on my blog last week...
Following my revelations about the licences that Natural England had issued to destroy Mallard eggs, interest in the news spread quickly across social media.
I had obtained data, through freedom of information requests, which shockingly revealed that one of the justifications provided in a licence application to destroy duck eggs was that wandering Mallards were a hazard to passing cyclists. I decided to highlight this ridiculous assertion because it illustrated just how absurd Natural England's licensing system really can be, in approving the destruction of wildlife on the grounds of such irrational nonsense.
As the news began to go viral and public anger grew, the story was picked up by The Independent. The resulting article was both excellent - and accurate, creating a good deal of publicity and awareness over Natural England's highly questionable licensing system.
When Chris Packham tweeted the news and shared it on his facebook page, there was another huge surge of interest and the whole sorry saga of Natural England's dubious activities was once again under the spotlight - and rightly so.
A few angry cyclists claimed that the media coverage would result in anti-cycle prejudice but most knew that this was never the intention of publicising the whole affair; indeed one of the aims of the story was to call out a misguided attempt by the licence applicant to partly justify the destruction of wild bird eggs by citing a spurious risk to cyclists.
Several cycling groups, websites and journals ran the story and thankfully most realised that we are in fact on the same 'side', we don't want cyclists being made any kind of scapegoat for a failing wildlife licensing system. In my opinion any blame for ill judged licensing decisions lies entirely with Natural England themselves.
The news began to make waves internationally with articles published in The Netherlands and France and more, taking it to new audiences who were shocked to hear about England's wildlife killing spree in the name of health and safety.
As with any media story that spreads virally, as this one did, inaccuracies creep in - and when The Telegraph decided to run an article about the Mallards I noted that they had apparently taken the figures from my blog (where I outlined several licences issued to destroy a total of 4,500 Mallard eggs) and focused the whole story on a park (which they named) in Bedfordshire, implying that this one site had permission to destroy all 4,500 eggs. Unless The Telegraph was privy to information that I did not have, I think they have got this wrong. That figure of 4,500 eggs covered multiple licences across a number of counties, primarily Bedfordshire and Suffolk - but it did not refer solely to the park in Bedfordshire that had indicated a risk to cyclists in their application. I feel that their article was misleading in this respect, though it did cause a massive amount of discussion and debate about the activities of Natural England - which is no bad thing I suppose...
But I do not condone the fact that The Telegraph published information that identified the licence holder, who was quite possibly acting within the terms of their licence, albeit a licence that I consider should never have been issued.
While I question the ethics, motives and common sense of the applicant, (whose identity, incidentally, was not revealed to me within the foi information), again the fault here lies with Natural England for approving the licence in the first place. We can't stop stupid people from being stupid but we can refuse them licences to carry out their stupidity.
One of the aims of our petition is that the public should have a say in licensing decisions, especially those where action such as culling is proposed in a public place, for example a park. And that might entail disclosing an applicants' identity in some cases. But until that procedure is in place, and an integral part of the licensing process, I don't feel it is correct to reveal a licence holder's details in the press, and especially in the midst of a highly charged debate over a particular licence.
All that said, the publicity generated from the Telegraph article was considerable and will have helped to highlight our concerns over the system - a system which I will continue to examine and research, independently.
In conclusion, the petition is forging ahead, I have ongoing and significant contact with Natural England and I will continue to reveal more of the horrors emerging from the agency's licensing data. While Natural England's licensing system remains secret and out of sight of public scrutiny, I will campaign for change and for more accountability, compassion and intelligent decision making from those in positions of influence.
Overhauling and reforming the entire licensing system remains top priority, saving thousands of birds and other animals from needless and irresponsible slaughter will be the result.
"....there is a safety concern as there is a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them....we would like to take action now before the population becomes uncontrollable"..... quote from licence applicant.
Just when you though that Natural England couldn't get any more controversial, I have discovered that one of the motives cited in a licence application to destroy Mallard eggs was that the duck poses a threat to cyclists!
I know - it sounds like an April Fool joke but alas this turns out to be the truth.
Natural England approved the licence in 2015 which permitted the destruction of 500 Mallard eggs because according to the licence holder "there is a safety concern as there is a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them"
A number of other 'reasons' for needing to destroy Mallard eggs were also provided by the applicant, including the prevalence of duck poo around seating areas.
I am struggling to find the words to express my disbelief and despair that Natural England decision makers thought it appropriate in any way to issue a licence to an applicant that seriously considered ducks to be a threat to cyclists. Surely someone at the agency should have challenged this stupidity at an early stage rather than proceed to issue a licence that legitimized the wanton destruction of wild birds eggs for such spurious reasons. This individual licence holder claimed to have destroyed only 127 eggs in their annual return, although (as we have noted before) it is up to the 'good practice' of the licence holder to submit accurate data. Other licences issued by the agency permitted the destruction of thousands more Mallard eggs.
The staff at Natural England need their heads examining if they think that they can defend this decision. The real or imagined problems caused to humans by ducks could surely be solved much more rationally than resorting to clumsy egg destruction.
"The proposed action is likely to reduce the risk of disease to people" - Natural England
In their application to Natural England, the aspiring egg saboteur described the 'problem' of ducks to Natural England by including the following explanation as part of their reasoning for wanting a licence.
"Mallards congregate around the [location withheld] where they are fed. This includes outside seating areas of restaurants. Faeces are a problem in these areas. Where the Mallards gather in numbers on paths there is a safety concern as there is a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them...."
The applicant goes on to say that "we would like to take action now before the population becomes uncontrollable".
As part of Natural England's assessment of the licence application, they decided in their wisdom that (quote) "the proposed action [destroying eggs] is likely to reduce the risk of disease to people".
Natural England saves us all from 'uncontrollable' ducks...
Natural England apparently agreed that ducks were indeed a threat to the public and so they asked the applicant for details of any qualifications they might have for carrying out the egg destruction. "In previous employment," responded the licence applicant, "I have had experience of oiling Canada Goose eggs." Based on this, Natural England concluded that the applicant was suitably qualified for destroying wild bird eggs in large numbers......
And now we, the general public (and especially passing cyclists...), can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that Natural England has saved us all from the 'uncontrollable' ducks.
Inconsistency and more questions
Incidentally, the licences to destroy Mallard eggs primarily covered the counties of Suffolk and Bedfordshire, and one wonders why the birds apparently pose no such danger to the public in other areas of England. This in itself illustrates the inconsistency of the whole shambolic licensing system.
So there you have it. Ducks posing a menace to passing cyclists by running out in front of them and Natural England taking the astonishing decision to approve the destruction of wild birds' eggs based on this questionable threat, together with the danger of bird poo and the potential of uncontrollable ducks.
Yep, the world has gone mad. And Natural England seems to be at the heart of the madness.
It is time to disband this ridiculous organisation.
Natural England approved the destruction of more than 4,500 Mallard eggs and birds under licences issued since 2018 - I am waiting for them to explain why...... but I already have my suspicions .....and the whole thing stinks....
A number of years ago, whilst out rambling, I fell face down into a cow pat. It was very unpleasant. It was also hilarious, especially to those who witnessed my misadventure - but you know, it's a funny thing, I didn't find myself wanting to go and kill the cow that left the offending pat.
So why is it that some halfwits are seeking to kill birds simply because of an irrational fear of bird droppings, citing the poo as a public health and safety issue? Of course, it seems ridiculous (to those of us who have a modicum of common sense) that the first thought occurring to those who happen across animal faeces is to apply for a licence to kill the animal responsible for the poop. And yet that is exactly what is happening, in these strange times, where health and safety paranoia has taken over from rational thinking.
Bird Poo - A Threat To Public Health And Safety? Really???
As I've reported in earlier blogs, Natural England, the country's official nature watchdog, has been handing out licences to unknown individuals and authorities (their identities kept private) to kill hundreds of birds - coots and moorhens for example - simply because they are pooping in parks. Natural England decided that the bird's droppings present a significant danger to passers-by, who they seem to suggest would be unable to take evasive action and might slip on the offending pieces of poo.
Whilst researching one example case where Natural England approved the killing of coots due to the birds' vulgar habit of going to the toilet, I was informed in an email from Natural England's Operations Director that "A highly significant amount of fouling to pubic areas was evident." I think he meant public rather than pubic but, either way, the agency clearly decided that the droppings presented such a serious health and safety risk that licences were issued to destroy hundreds of the birds. When I broke the story, readers were understandably outraged.
I know the vast majority of sensible people in this country would be opposed to the killing of wildlife simply because that wildlife, in common with every other living organism, has to defecate.
Approved: Destruction Of Thousands of Mallard Eggs
I'm currently in the process of investigating, through another of my now ubiquitous freedom of information requests (still the only way to obtain data), just why Natural England have been busy approving the destruction of thousands of Mallard eggs. My hunch is that it might have something to do with the danger presented by their droppings - the Mallard's droppings that is, not those emanating from Natural England whose droppings are surely gold plated and therefore present no risk to public health....
The Mallard is one of Britain's most loved birds, a favourite duck, immediately recognisable, comical to watch and altogether a delightful addition to the nation's wildlife.
Oh dear but Natural England have apparently decided that we have too many.
Licences Issued To Destroy 4,500 Mallard Eggs Since 2018...
So, since 2018, they have issued licences approving the destruction of more than 4,500 Mallard eggs and birds.
One licence permitted the 'oiling and pricking' (aka destruction) of 1000 eggs to 'preserve public health'.
Another single licence approved the destruction of an unbelievable 2000 eggs which they said might prove to be a risk to health and safety and air safety.
Other reasons given for the destruction of hundreds more eggs were 'falconry and aviculture'.
The agency also issued licences to shoot the ducks for damaging crops, presumably outside of the 'open season' for shooting Mallards when the birds can be freely killed for what is laughingly known as 'sport'.
Although the Mallard is not considered to be of conservation concern, one wonders how long this will remain the case when, in addition to the hunters, Natural England are themselves on an unseasonal and unpalatable killing spree of their own.
I'll await the details of the Mallard licences. I expect that those issued to 'preserve public health', will, as with the Coot licences, be due to an irrational fear of the danger posed by their droppings - but we'll see. Perhaps Natural England will for once present a convincing case as to why they decided that thousands of wild birds eggs needed to be destroyed.
Has anyone ever, ever, died due to a close encounter with duck poo? It seems unlikely. I survived having my face immersed in a cow pat, perhaps that instilled in me a sense of balance, not to say humour. I think many of us would gladly accept the risk involved in encountering a bit of bird poo if it meant saving the life of the 'offending' creature.
Our petition calling for a complete overhaul of Natural England's licensing system, - covering ALL of our native wild birds - can be signed HERE
As the petition to overhaul Natural England continues to garner more and more signatures, I thought I'd use this update to review our progress to date, to examine the influence we have had both on public awareness and official policy, and to consider how best to roll out the next stage of the campaign.
Unsettling Natural England....
Back in the autumn of 2018, I noticed increasing interest from the media as support for the petition grew. The campaign had previously focused on saving one bird, the iconic Raven, from the bloodied hands of Natural England and I had already had some press coverage at a local level from those counties affected by the potential culling of this species. But now, with my revelations that Natural England had been issuing licences to kill more than sixty five other species too - many of conservation concern - the campaign really began to take off. Soon we had 100,000 signatures demanding an end to the killing and the media were clearly amazed at the remarkable amount of support.
By the close of 2018, Natural England themselves were becoming unsettled, even alarmed, by the level of public outrage, and calls for a thorough examination and investigation into their activities were being widely shared across social media.
Natural England issued some dreary statements in a halfhearted effort to head off the criticism but several national newspapers (with some notable exceptions...) had run with the story and highlighted the horrific slaughter of our wildlife at the hands of England's nature watchdog, an organisation ironically tasked with protecting nature in our country.
With all this publicity, the campaign began to fly.
Special thanks must go to The Independent and their excellent journalist Jane Dalton, who wrote an extensive and thorough article which was the first to focus on the whole sorry saga of Natural England's callous kill licences.
A high profile piece in The Times and another article in The Mail added to the momentum and we also gained international coverage from as far afield as the USA, Latin America and Europe. Natural England's shameful and shocking activities were making news around the world.
A clear picture beginning to emerge, of carnage in our countryside (and towns)...
In addition to my own freedom of information requests through which I gleaned some of the shocking statistics, a number of my blog readers also sent me data resulting from their enquiries too, and so we began to form a clearer picture of both the secrecy behind Natural England's operations and the chilling extent of their kill licences.
I began to highlight some of the data on my blog, revealing exclusively just how abhorrent the whole nasty affair really was. The shooting of thousands of birds was being approved by the agency that was supposed to be looking after our wildlife.
The figures beggared belief - the agency approved the shooting of several thousand red-listed Herring Gulls, thousands of migratory Brent Geese, hundreds of Coots and even the extermination of songbirds.
Discussions with Natural England
In February 2019, a full page feature in The Guardian alerted yet more people to our campaign and the plight of our wildlife.
In the wake of all the publicity, Natural England's operations director James Diamond offered to meet with me to discuss, privately, the concerns of the huge number of people who were now backing our call to overhaul the agency.
I shared with him these concerns and several matters of contention, and the result of those discussions was an assurance from Mr Diamond that Natural England would publish full details of all licences that the agency issued annually, beginning before the close of 2019.
This promise was a major success and proof that people power really does work and we await the implementation of this policy by the end of the year.....
But, impressive as this result was, it was nowhere near enough to satisfy the demands of those supporting the petition, whose patience was running out.
I called on Natural England to consult more widely during the decision making processes, allowing the public to have a say in whether or not licence applications were granted, especially in those cases where bird culling was planned in public spaces such as parks. People wanted the opportunity to oppose plans for bird culls which they often considered vile and unnecessary. When, for example, I revealed that Natural England had approved the culling of harmless Coots in a public park, people were both shocked and outraged. We had all largely been unaware of the mass slaughter taking place under our noses in our towns and countryside under licences issued by Natural England who, it turns out, operate quite secretly, some might say furtively, as they go about their business from behind closed doors.
James Diamond later told me that in principle he had no problem with the public having an opportunity to object to licence applications in certain situations, though there remains no obligation for licence holders, even those whose carry out bird culling in public spaces, to involve the public in any way at all.
Licence applications, even those which could result in the slaughter of thousands of birds, are decided by Natural England's office staff, who appear to dish out the lethal licences with gusto. Very few licence applications are refused and the monitoring of active licences is woefully inadequate, meaning that the potential for irresponsible action is huge. It is practically impossible to know whether the terms of the licences are being adhered to.
Shockingly inadequate monitoring
The system is a shambles, so much so that nobody really knows how many birds are being shot or even what species are being killed. As I discovered whilst examining a licence that Natural England had granted to shoot Herring Gulls, the licensee was so ignorant that he didn't seem to know the difference between species and so might have been gleefully shooting birds regardless of whether they were covered by the licence or not. Not that this worrying state of affairs seemed to matter much to Natural England, as they had no hesitation in renewing his licence without fuss.
Supporters feel 'let down' by RSPB - and cancel membership in protest
The public have been shocked and disturbed by the figures emerging from the secretive lethal licensing system, many have contacted their MPs, some of whom said they were sympathetic with the aims of the petition but offered little practical support. Even more have called on the RSPB for advice but they were generally very disappointed by the society's wishy-washy response. Most of those who contacted the RSPB, many of them long standing supporters of the society, received a standard banal reply with little or no sign that the nation's 'protector' of birds was really very bothered by the kill licences. The apparent lack of interest shown by the RSPB resulted in a number of people cancelling their membership and the lack of action from the RSPB has worried supporters of the petition; the organisation that many had turned to for reassurance seemed to be something of a wet rag when it came to any criticism of Natural England. The hope that the RSPB might be key to bringing about change proved to be woefully misplaced.
So, now in the Autumn of 2019, thousands of our birds are potentially still being killed under our noses, without our consent and with precious little monitoring.
Our campaign has influenced policy and created widespread awareness
Currently the petition is at 353,000 signatures.
Undoubtedly our campaign has already influenced policy, being a catalyst for some of the shake-ups we have seen in the whole sorry licensing system. Wild Justice, whose recent, and well publicised, legal challenge forced Natural England into an uncomfortable corner, acknowledged that our campaign (albeit with its different objectives) has helped pile pressure on Natural England to listen and react.
Perhaps the most successful aspect of our campaign to date is the fact that a general public, previously unaware of the officially sanctioned mass slaughter of our wild birds - is now fully aware. And not only aware but furious and demanding change.
Plans for the future
So what of the campaign's plans for the future? Well they are likely to include a peaceful demonstration to gain still more public awareness. We might also hand in our petition, especially if we can reach our goal of half a million signatures. The demo is tentatively penciled in for spring 2020, I'd be very happy to hear from anyone who might have an interest in attending. It might take place in London or perhaps near to one of Natural England's regional offices responsible for overseeing the licences.
But for now, my thanks to you all for your continued support.
Licences issued by Natural England between 2014 and 2018 granted permission for nearly 2,000 eggs to be taken from Mute Swan nests and destroyed by oiling or pricking.
Mute Swans face many man-made threats to their survival in the UK, including poisoning through absorption of residual lead from fishing, hooks and nylon line left by irresponsible anglers and general pollution of our waterways. This has led to the much loved and iconic species finding its way on to the amber list of conservation concern.
But in spite of the majestic Mute Swan's protected status, it seems that hundreds of their eggs are being destroyed under licences issued by decision makers at Natural England, who also allowed a small number of the birds to be shot as they posed a threat to air safety.
Licences issued between 2014 and 2018 granted permission for nearly 2,000 eggs to be taken from Mute Swan nests and destroyed by oiling or pricking.
Reasons given for this disturbing practice included 'preventing serious damage to growing timber' and 'to preserve flora and fauna'.
Wiltshire: worst place to be a Swan
Wiltshire seems to be the worst county in England in which to be a Mute Swan. Licence applications from that county alone won the approval of Natural England to 'take or destroy' 1,500 Mute Swan eggs over a three year period.
Greater London: Swan eggs destroyed to 'preserve public safety'
Though Wiltshire was the worst offender, a single licence holder in Greater London was officially permitted by Natural England to destroy 100 eggs in order to 'preserve public safety'.
Aside from the seriously questionable decision to destroy the eggs of an amber listed species, this mistreatment of such a beloved and treasured bird is incredibly sad, and perhaps yet another metaphor for the crass and clumsy attitude of the human race towards nature.
Time to close down the Natural England killing machine?
With actions like this being sanctioned by Natural England, the ethics and judgement of the government's 'nature agency' continue to be a great cause for concern, and with the horrific and hugely controversial badger cull now being rolled out across wide swathes of the country, we must ask again: is it time to close down the Natural England killing machine?
Natural England approved the shooting of more than 400 Moorhens and the destruction of 4,225 Moorhen eggs under licences they issued between 2014 and 2019.
The figure is likely to be even higher as I have been careful to avoid duplicate licences, nest destruction and various other anomalies from the data they sent me.
Threat to Public Health?
Justification for killing the birds and destroying their eggs include (in Natural England's opinion) the threat they pose to public health and safety, falconry and aviculture, and to prevent serious damage to crops, vegetables or fruit......
These latest revelations are just more examples that I've pulled from Natural England's disturbing licensing statistics and follow the posts I've written about Herring Gulls, Coots and many many more species that have been targeted for destruction by the agency.
Though Moorhens are not currently considered a vulnerable species, the bird faces a series of threats that include everything from over zealous hunting to the perils of pollution and environmental destruction. With Natural England adding to the pressure by issuing licences for the birds' destruction, it surely won't take long before we see the Moorhen joining the ever growing ranks of red and amber listed species of conservation concern.
More accountability urgently needed....
As I have been saying since I started the campaign to overhaul and examine the agency, it is imperative that Natural England becomes accountable to the public. There needs to be much more transparency throughout the licensing system and a much greater public influence over licensing decisions.
The feedback I receive from concerned members of the public shows overwhelmingly that they would not support culling of birds in public spaces such as parks, and would strongly oppose licences being granted should they be given the opportunity to object.
Natural England promise to publish details of all licences issued - starting this year
Natural England's Operations Director, James Diamond, has assured me that all licences issued in the previous year will be published openly for public scrutiny within the following twelve months, starting before the end of 2019, and then annually.
However, I want to see much more transparency. While it's great that we will be able to examine all licences the agency has already issued (together with every detail associated with those licences), our goal is that the public must have more influence over the actual decision making, in particular with regard to those licence applications relating to bird control in public spaces.
It should be our right to protect our birds from those who might not be acting in the best interest of our native wildlife.
Petition at 351,000 Signatures - next goal half a million!
The petition is at 351,000 signatures and we are now looking towards the next goal of half a million. Please keep sharing.
And thank you for your support.
This issue has now been resolved. It is business as usual for the campaign!
Sincere thanks to all who contacted Change.org about this.
Updates are now being emailed to supporters.
Doesn't it sometimes feel as though our efforts to do good - 'the right thing' - are thwarted along the way...?
It's with a weary heart that I write to tell you all about a setback with our campaign....
As many of you will know, I've been running a petition challenging Natural England's shocking licensing system which is responsible for the slaughter of thousands and thousands of our wild birds.
As the petition reaches a huge landmark figure of 350,000 signatures and we head on towards the dizzying figure of half a million, gremlins at Change.org, the platform hosting the petition, and one of our main tools in spreading awareness of the campaign, have put a great big spanner in the works, stifling debate and discussion by apparently disabling our important email updates.
Discussion and debate silenced...
A few days ago, many supporters alerted me after they suddenly stopped receiving their regular email updates about the campaign. I had just revealed (via my blog) some truly shocking data relating to licences the Natural England had issued, approving the taking of baby birds from nests and the killing of songbirds for scientific research.
As always I was keen to inform petition supporters of this latest news and so I issued an update via Change.org as usual. This time, as the news began to go viral across social media, the Change.org emails were not sent.
I tried several times but no emails were sent out.
The updates, which keep people informed of latest developments surrounding the campaign, are normally emailed automatically by Change to every supporter who has chosen to receive them. With 350,000 supporters, this meant that potentially hundreds of thousands of people regularly received the latest news about the petition and a cause which they loyally and eagerly support.
So the updates have been highly effective as a way of keeping supporters 'in the loop'.
Along with social and mainstream media, the petition updates also spread awareness and have even contributed to some useful dialogue that I have had with Natural England themselves.
While updates are (currently at least) still appearing on the Change.org website itself, the fact that tens of thousands of interested parties are not receiving the emails means that the lively discussion and debate we have come to expect following each update has been effectively silenced.
Supporters becoming suspicious...
Now, I'm not saying there is anything sinister afoot (though others are) but the whole situation is disturbing.
We have put our trust in one of the largest petitioning platforms in the world, thinking that we could rely on a dependable service.
Now, at a critical point for the campaign, Change.org has let us down badly.
350,000 people, many of whom have made direct payments to Change.org, really deserve better than this.
Some have suggested to me that the whole affair smacks of 'outside interference', or even 'censorship'. I don't believe this to be the case, but we do need Change.org to respond with a reasonable explanation....
Change.org response unsatisfactory and unhelpful
I have of course contacted Change.org but the responses I have received from them regarding this problem have been entirely unsatisfactory and really quite patronising.
Change.org's ironically named 'Help Center' wrote to me apparently suggesting - ludicrously - that each one of the petition's 350,000 supporters must have a problem with their individual accounts (yes, all of them!). They told me that they had found "no reason why the updates would not be sent. If the supporters are not receiving them," I was told, "it´s probably something related to each individual account, therefore, every supporter who experiences this should approach us individually."
But prior to this, I alerted a contact I have at Change's UK office about the problem and he later told me he'd 'cleared it' (thereby acknowledging that there was indeed an 'issue').
But it wasn't cleared. The emails were still not sent out. And he is now mysteriously out of the office 'until May 1st'.
I have also contacted Change.org's CEO, Ben Rattray together with a number of other high profile people within the company but I have yet to receive so much as an acknowledgement from any of them....
In the meantime I really need to reach out to as many supporters as I can - and for this I need a huge effort from everyone who has signed the petition.
Call to action - and the fight goes on.
So, tens of thousands of people, who relied on the Change email updates, are being kept in the dark about developments with the campaign. This is very worrying, and as I have no way to contact them, I'd ask everyone to share this message widely to try to alert as many supporters as we can to the problem. I'm using social media to inform people but it's clearly impossible to reach everyone.
The campaign has been hugely successful in spreading awareness of a serious matter of public interest but the restrictions imposed (knowingly or unknowingly) by Change.org on the petition threaten to derail the whole campaign.
We won't let this happen of course, and though I am a little jaded from this latest setback, the fight goes on.
The petition is only a part (albeit an important part) of the campaign and I will continue to highlight the plight of our wildlife at the hands of Natural England, regardless.
In addition to sharing this, please contact email@example.com, quoting the petition url:-
to register your dissatisfaction at not receiving email updates.
Meanwhile, thank you all for your continued support.
Natural England Approved Removal of 175 Blind Nestlings And Killing Of Songbirds - For Scientific Research
Natural England approved the trapping and killing of Willow Warbler, Dunnock, Coal Tit, Wren, Starling, Blackcap, Goldfinch, Chiffchaff and Long Tailed Tit in the name of 'science, research and education'.
The agency also permitted the removal of 175 baby birds from nests in the wild, under a single licence application.
I now have the results of the latest Freedom Of Information requests from Natural England, the ones relating to two more example licences that I'd asked them about.
Each licence allowed for a number of species of wild birds to be captured and killed in the name of science, research and education. Blue Tits and several other small native birds, including Goldfinch, Chiffchaff and Wren were among the species affected. Some of the birds are classified as amber and red listed, being of conservation concern.
Make of the following information what you will, for now I'll just report the facts. Some might well question Natural England's wisdom in approving licences to kill even small numbers of endangered species for scientific research purposes.
Killing Songbirds For Research Into Sperm Production....
The first licence was issued to researchers who wanted to trap and kill birds in order to (quote) "understand the energetic costs of making sperm of different sizes and designs in passerine birds".
In 2016 Natural England granted the licence in which they approved the trapping and killing of male birds. Any female birds captured were to be released, assuming they could be correctly identified whilst still alive.
Natural England granted permission for several species of small wild birds to be trapped and killed under this licence including Willow Warbler, Dunnock, Coal Tit, Wren, Starling, Blackcap, Goldfinch, Chiffchaff and Long Tailed Tit.
Among them, as mentioned earlier, are a number of amber and red listed species of conservation concern.
The applicant, who cited his '40 years of ornithological scientific research', asked to take two males of each species, except for the finch species of which he said he required six.
In an email to the applicant Natural England said "This licence allows birds to be taken using mist nets and cage traps. Up to a total of 40 males of the species listed in this licence may be killed. All females and any males that are not required for this research should be released at the point of capture. In addition to the species listed above, the Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) may be taken and up to two males of this species may be killed."
They added "Birds may be taken from publically-owned sites in [location witheld] provided that written permission has been obtained in advance."
(Note the questionable spelling of the word 'publicly', more about this later.)
An earlier email asked "Could he [the applicant] also include something on the application about how the trapped birds will be killed."
Natural England have not sent me the applicant's response to this question, so we don't know how exactly the birds were killed.
Natural England approved the 'taking of nestlings before they are able to see'
The second licence, issued in 2018, was a renewal of an earlier licence and permitted the taking of a larger number of birds, specifically nestlings.
I believe this licensee to be associated with a well-known university.
In Natural England's 'technical assessment' sheet relating to this particular renewal, it appears that the decision to issue this licence was made by just one person at Natural England, and that the assessment was carried out by telephone. The decision maker at Natural England was asked as part of the process, "Have you consulted with any colleagues (e.g. SSP or other specialists) in NE on this case?" The answer: "No", although a further note suggests that "the application has been previously assessed by [name witheld] (NE Ornithologist), who has agreed to consent the research."
Anyway, the licence was approved and it permitted the taking of 25 birds each of seven species, these being Blue Tits, Crows, Jays, Magpies, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Jackdaws. The aim of the research in this case was "to investigate the development of memory for food locations, and other aspects of memory"
The assessment of the project reveals that it would involve "taking of nestlings before they are able to see and hand raising them in captivity and the use of birds in experiemnts to judge 'congnitive' abilities of different species."
(I quote this directly from Natural England's assessment, complete with spelling mistakes).
Careless spelling mistakes suggests lack of attention to detail....
Speaking of 'congnitive' abilities, in the technical assessment sheet once again we can see there are some glaring spelling mistakes and I am bound to ask whether the person who prepared the technical assessment report is sufficiently educated to be carrying out this duty. At the very least it might reflect a worrying lack of attention to detail, which one hopes is not typical of the rest of the licensing system....though I fear that it may be.
On the licence itself, Natural England stipulated that "If birds are to be released after the experiments have been completed, all birds will be examined and if considered fit will be released at the site of capture provided they do not pose a disease risk. Any that cannot be released must be humanely destroyed."
The applicant submitted a 'nil' return for an earlier version of this licence, suggesting presumably that no action had been taken in the period 2016-18. Whether anyone from Natural England checked this is open to question, after all the agency's operations director, James Diamond, told me directly that they rely on the 'good practice' of licensees to provide accurate return information.
Nevertheless the applicant asked for a renewal of the same licence 'with alterations', details of which were removed prior to the information being sent to me by Natural England.
So there we are, the latest results of the FOI requests.
Removal of blind baby birds and the killing of songbirds for scientific research.
Please feel free to leave your comments below, I'd be interested if you think this action is justified in the name of science and education - or whether, like me, you feel uncomfortable that wild birds are being used in this way.
Our petition calling for more transparency and independent monitoring of Natural England is now at c.350,000 signatures. I'd love to get to our next goal of half a million.
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