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.
So, please keep sharing.
"A Significant Public Health And Safety Risk" Says Natural England As It Justifies Its Decision To Kill Red-Listed Herring Gulls
*Environment Agency is linked to decision, claiming that 'excessive gull numbers' are 'undesirable'
*Licence holder is a 'bird control business' - but doesn't seem to know one species from another.
*Hundreds and hundreds of birds killed - and applicant refers to them all as 'seagulls'
So finally, after many people contacted their MPs (thank you!) and after I submitted a complaint to the ICO, Natural England responded to my Freedom Of Information request relating to the example Herring Gull kill licence.
I've been wading through the documents they sent me and trying to make sense of what still seems to be utterly senseless killing.
This licence was just one of many that the agency issued to kill red-listed Herring Gulls (and as we now know dozens of other species too).
I wanted to know the reasons behind the decision to grant these kill licences. That's how this particular FOI request came about.
Though there is a bit of an overload of information, I'd ask you to please bear with me, both now as I provide an initial overview, and later as I examine the details of this and other licences further.
"Public health and safety risk" - Natural England's answer? Shoot the birds.
In 2015, Natural England prepared a 'Technical Assessment' of this particular application to kill Herring Gulls (and additionally Black Headed Gulls which were also on the same licence application).
This licence was a renewal, permission having been granted for the applicant to kill Herring Gulls since at least 2010, a year after the species was red listed as being of critical conservation concern.
Natural England approved the killing to take place at "a number of landfill sites in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Hampshire", where according to the application, scaring and other methods of control had not been considered effective enough.
They issued the following judgement as part of their assessment.
"The presence of gulls, which scavenge on waste food at the landfill sites, creates not just a public health [risk] (transfer of disease, especially via droppings, on and off site) but also creates a public safety risk for operatives working on the sites, including the obscuring of the vision of drivers when gulls take flight in large numbers immediately ahead of site vehicles."
They decided that the answer to this 'problem' was to shoot the birds.
Among the licensing criteria that Natural England include in their assessment is a question: "Is there clear evidence that the species in question is causing or is likely to cause serious damage?" to which they have answered 'yes'. This seems to me to be a highly contentious response.
In its conclusion and justification for issuing the licence, Natural England state that "The HG [Herring Gulls] and BHG [Black Headed Gulls] on these landfill sites present a significant public health....and public safety risk...The EA [Environment Agency] has made representations to the landfill site owners / operators about excessive gull numbers, which the EA consider could breach the terms of the operating licence."
They add, "The licensed shooting of a limited number of gulls, as an enhancement to existing scaring techniques clearly reduces the numbers of adults and juveniles frequenting the landfill site..."
Is the Environment Agency behind disturbing plan to kill the gulls?
And that brings me to perhaps one of the most illuminating pieces of information that has emerged so far; in the case of this example licence at least, the Environment Agency seems to be the driving force behind the whole sorry situation. Yes, the Environment Agency, whose original 'vision', was that they "...want people to have peace of mind, knowing that they live in a clean and safe environment, rich in wildlife and natural diversity - one they can enjoy to the full, but feel motivated to care for".
Rich in wildlife and natural diversity? But presumably that doesn't include Gulls then?
The Environment Agency is, like Natural England, a non-departmental government body, sponsored by DEFRA. So it's not surprising that the two bodies might work closely together.
But that in itself suggests the absence of an independent free-thinking outlook.
The presence of a large number of gulls is 'undesirable' - Environment Agency
The documents sent to me by Natural England include copies of the licence, renewals and various notes and returns.
The notes (of which there are many), state (as I mentioned earlier) that "The EA [Environment Agency] has made representations to the landfill site owners / operators about excessive gull numbers". What constitutes 'excessive' and who decides the figure?
They also state that "Environment Agency staff carry out spot-checks on the landfill sites and consider the presence of [a] large number of gulls undesirable...."
Licence holder is a 'bird control business' - who doesn't know one gull from another...
The actual application for this Herring Gull kill licence (and the subsequent renewals of the licence) is apparently linked to one individual man, described by Natural England as someone 'who runs a bird control business'. He has the contract to kill the gulls at a number of landfill sites in the South West. But he doesn't appear to know much about birds...
In a letter he wrote to Natural England in 2014, he referred to 'seagulls' three times and also to 'Lesser Black Headed Gulls' As we know there is no such thing as a 'seagull', let alone the, hitherto unknown, Lesser Black Headed Gull... all of which illustrates that the person pulling the trigger is very unprofessional and ignorant. Who knows whether he did in fact shoot the actual species for which permission had been granted or just hundreds of random 'seagulls'?
And shouldn't Natural England have picked up on this huge error?
"Help in the future would be larger culling numbers..." says licence holder
In 2013, the same licence holder wrote to Natural England and said "we have to keep the site management and the Environment Agency happy but stay within your licence. Help in the future would be larger culling numbers or speed to increase licence conditions". He added that "to help us through the most active periods this year we spent more time culling corvids." Nice people....
Of course Natural England has withheld any information that might identify him.
At least they thought they had..... I seem to have found a clear reference to his identity within the documents that they sent me - which, considering that Natural England is always so vociferous about the need to protect an applicant's privacy, shows a shocking lack of attention to detail and illustrates that the agency doesn't actually protect the applicant's identity very well at all. I won't be so bold as to disclose the applicant's identity here, he is after all only the person contracted by the companies that run the landfill sites.
But although we don't need to know the identity of the person who carries out the actual killing, especially when it is an individual, we have every right, in my opinion, to know who is asking for the lethal control of our birds, whether it be local authorities or, as in this case, the companies responsible for running landfill sites. And quite why the Environment Agency has so much sway in the whole process is very questionable.
The public must be allowed a voice, every bit as loud as that of the EA.
Is Natural England's famous 'five point test' just guff?
This licence of course is just one of very many that the agency issues to kill Herring Gulls - and, as we know, dozens of other species of our native birds too.
The red-listed status doesn't seem to mean very much when Natural England is making decisions. Though they are keen to tell me, often, all about their 'five point test' when assessing applications to kill birds, it might appear to some of us that the test really isn't very robust given the shockingly high numbers of birds killed.
Independent monitoring body urgently needed
So, these are my first impressions of the information. I'm sure most of you will be just as frustrated and angry as I am that all this information does is to underline the fact that Natural England, and quite probably other government agencies too, are not acting in our best interests.
We need to have a say in the licensing decisions.
And to know that those carrying out any actions under licences are competent.
There needs, urgently, to be a totally independent body established to oversee Natural England's shambolic licensing system, and we need full transparency over each and every licence - without having to chase overdue FOI requests.
If you haven't already signed the petition, please do so, CLICK HERE
Natural England has failed to respond to a Freedom of Information request, regarding the shooting of Herring Gulls - in spite of being legally obliged to do so.
I submitted the request, relating to an individual licence, as part of my enquiries into the agency's licensing system, having been advised to do so by Natural England's Operations Director, James Diamond.
The licence in question, issued to an applicant in Devon, permitted the shooting of 100 red-listed Herring Gulls and was just one example of many that were approved by the agency.
In fact the total number of Herring Gulls killed under similar licences might potentially be several thousand.
Herring Gulls are a declining, red-listed species of serious conservation concern, so I was interested to discover the reasons behind Natural England's decision to allow the shooting of thousands of these birds.
Information Requested Following Advice From Natural England Operations Director
Mr Diamond informed me that this information would have to be obtained through a FOI request, and so I selected a typical individual licence from the agency's data and asked very specifically, as advised by Mr Diamond, for details of the original application together with Natural England's technical assessment.
I made it clear that I would like to know the precise reasons provided by the applicant explaining why they felt it was necessary to kill Herring Gulls, together with Natural England's response to the applicant and details of the process via which the agency arrived at their decision to approve lethal control of this red listed species.
I also requested return figures if they were available, detailing the numbers of birds finally killed under this individual licence.
That was on 5th July.
On 6th July I received an acknowledgement from a paralegal at Natural England confirming the following:-
"Thank you for your request for the information detailed in your email below, which we received on 5th July 2019.
We are dealing with your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
Your request is being considered and we will send out our response within the legal deadline of 20 working days which is 6th August 2019. If, for any reason, we are unable to meet the deadline we will keep you fully informed of the reasons for this."
Today is 7th August.
The legal deadline has passed.
I have not heard from Natural England and so they have failed in their legal responsibility to either provide the information requested or to keep me 'fully informed' of any reasons for not meeting the legal deadline.
There may be three reasons for this failure to comply with their legal obligations.
It may be because they have information that they prefer to hide.
It may be because they don't even know the reasons behind the decision themselves.
Or it may be that they are simply so disorganised that they don't have a clue what they are doing.
Whatever the reason, this is a massive failure on their part to comply with their legal responsibility.
Such blatant disregard for the law is shocking.
Where do we go from here? Anybody's guess.
But one thing has been made very clear indeed:
Natural England are definitely not fit for purpose.
This is a short story I published on Medium.com a few days ago.
A stream of consciousness, but one that might well betray my innermost thoughts and fears......
The world was coming to an end.
Few people had noticed.
There were some who waved banners outside government buildings, others who marched and held aloft placards depicting trees, and even some who went on television, looking very concerned and worried, who spoke of emergency measures.
None of them mattered very much. Because the world was ending anyway.
The ones who knew the truth had sensed it long ago. Now these few were staring up at the sky, into the infinite unknown, where hope might just spring eternal, where life might remain beautiful as it once had been here, though it was too late for this world.
Some people stood looking out to sea, studying the outlines of the giant skeletal remains of wind turbines. If ever there were a testament to mankind’s folly, this was it. Insanity takes the form of many things but this was the work of hysteria, brought about through the ramblings of deranged minds. And a thirst for money. But money could not save this world after all, even though many people had invested heavily in lunacy.
“The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind,” promised the Bible. And it had come to pass.
Now that every animal species was extinct, apart from a few insects and still fewer mammals that had adapted to the toxic concrete wilderness that mankind had created, people still could not believe that this was the end. Flights of fancy had replaced sanity. Compassion had been twisted, thought distorted, and deluded humans had killed all the birds. Yet even now politicians spoke of critical new policies and even now hypocrites brushed their teeth with bamboo toothbrushes before getting in to their cars to go to work. Work which meant nothing but provided a reason for being.
The world could go on for a while. Humans were, after all, used to failing health; they accepted taking drugs that would temporarily make them feel as though they were better. Researchers, backed by big business and fuelled by a futile desire to live forever, continued to seek a cure for all manner of disease. An obsession with keeping carefully chosen people alive as the world around them died.
But it wouldn’t be long now. There would be no life, no light. There would be no cure for dying. There would be no anything.
Only peace. The peace that some of us sought in life would finally come to every living, sentient being. And the book of life on earth would be closed, never to be read again.
Humankind would be forgotten.
Done, dusted and gone.
And what of the universe? Well, the universe would sigh.
And carry on.
While the number of supporters of our petition continues to grow, the lack of interest and engagement from Natural England continues to be a source of frustration and mounting discord.
My revelations about the Brent Geese licences went viral across Twitter, leading to a hasty, some might say panicky, response from Natural England's operations director. He disputed the figures but confirmed that the agency had issued licences to kill thousands of the migratory, amber listed species. The fact that Natural England were nitpicking over the figure didn't go down well with the public, who are becoming increasingly irritated by what they perceive to be Natural England's smug attitude in the face of criticism and questions over their licensing system. "Talk about trying to divert attention from the main issue, by arguing about numbers" was typical of the hundreds of comments I received.
Smoke and mirrors?
But what the Brent Geese episode proved is that when pushed into a corner by the thought of thousands of angry people questioning a seemingly shambolic and horrific licensing system, Natural England were very quick to access some of the data that they have previously led me to believe is 'held remotely'. When I enquired a few months ago about licences issued to kill Coots and House Sparrows, I was told that there would be a delay as it required information, some of which they would 'need to unlock from remote storage'. Many people at the time suggested to me that this response was merely 'smoke and mirrors'.
Anyway, I received a message from Natural England, shortly after I wrote about the Brent Geese, in which they thanked me for updating my blog with their side of the story and adding "if you have specific questions we can answer them."
Well, of course I have many questions and so I immediately asked about a licence the agency had issued for the removal of Blue Tit eggs. They promptly got back to me with an explanation that actually seemed plausible, if perhaps controversial (it was permitted as part of a university research project). But it was a quick response at least and it looked as though the huge and angry public reaction to the Brent Geese licences had finally brought Natural England to the realisation that it would be best to answer questions quickly and openly to avoid further social media storms which might create bad publicity for them.
Killing Blue Tits
Okay, I thought, I'll enquire about another licence. This one, issued in 2018, also involved Blue Tits - only this time it was a licence that Natural England had issued to kill them - 25 of them - and the same licence, approved by the decision makers at Natural England, permitted the killing of several other species including Coal Tits and Great Tits, in addition to Crows, Jackdaws and Jays. Unusually the location of the activity was missing, replaced in the data with 'N/A'.
But maybe there was a straightforward explanation, so I asked them.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my enquiry this time was met with a polite, but certainly less than helpful, response from Natural England's operations director; "could I ask you please to request these from our freedom of information team on the email address you have..." He then added "I am afraid I don’t have the capacity to manage these requests individually." Hmm. Passing the buck perhaps or just a delaying tactic, as obtaining data through a freedom of information request generally takes nearly a month.
We haven't come very far then have we, when a simple request for some fairly straightforward data is not available due to a lack of 'capacity'. The information I asked for is basic stuff, it should be readily available - and if not then why not?
It doesn't seem unreasonable that we should expect Natural England to allocate a member of staff to answer our enquiries. Indeed it seems an entirely sensible thing to do.
This type of information should be available for public scrutiny and this is one aim of our campaign.
What about the killing of Treecreepers, Willow Warblers and Linnets?
I have also spotted another licence that Natural England issued, permitting the killing of a variety of species including Treecreeper, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Linnet and Goldfinch, among others. The method of capture attached to that licence ("cage trap using a Magpie as a decoy") suggests that the use of Larsen traps was involved. This seems very odd in relation to most of those particular species. The Larsen trap is a highly controversial method of luring birds into a cage, normally employed in the lethal control of corvids but quite how or why it might be used to catch a Treecreeper is mystifying.
I have now asked for details of that licence too....
FOI requests in pipeline
So I currently have three freedom of information requests in the pipeline. One is regarding Natural England's approval to kill Herring Gulls, a second is in relation to that licence they issued permitting the killing of Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits etc. in the mystery location. And I've also asked them why they granted the licence approving the killing of Treecreepers, Goldfinches, Willow Warblers et al.
When I finally have the explanations, I'll be happy to enlighten everyone.
Meanwhile we are getting more support every single day for the petition from a public whose patience with Natural England really is running out.....
(if you haven't done so already, you can sign the petition HERE)
I received an email from Natural England this evening following my piece about the lethal control licences they have been issuing to kill Brent Geese.
They tell me that they don't recognise the figures in my article, explaining that specific interpretation of the data reveals a different total.
They have provided me with confirmed figures for the number of Brent Geese permitted to be killed under lethal control licences and I am reproducing this information here in the interests of clarity and accuracy.
As you will know, our interpretation of their data led us to believe that they had, from 2014 to 2019, issued licences to kill around 6000 Brent Geese.
They tell me that between 2015 and 2018 they issued lethal control licences to kill 3222 Brent Geese.
Even so, using their guidelines for interpreting the data, we still come up with a figure of just under 4000 (2014/19), (granted, that's less than the 6000 we originally suggested).
The figures Natural England have now provided for the number of Brent Geese licensed to be shot are as follows:-
(They have not included the figures for 2014 and 2018, which I did.)
They were also keen to point out that final reported figures for geese actually shot are considerably lower than the potential number permitted to be killed under licence.
"In fact between 2015 and 2017 we licensed less than one thousand geese per year to be shot and just over one thousand were actually shot in total across the three years. Data for actual numbers shot for 2018 is still being collated."
We will have to take their word for the final numbers actually shot, as we cannot access this information, presumably without submitting a FOI request to obtain further data.
Indeed, one of the main aims of the petition is to make such data freely available for public perusal. Then these questions might not have to be asked....
To quote from the communication I received from them this evening, Natural England tell me that "Licences to shoot Brent Geese are issued to aid scaring to protect agricultural crops which are vulnerable to grazing damage." They go on to say that "Natural England issue licences to control Brent Geese via lethal control to farmers who are able to provide evidence that the geese are causing serious damage to their crops, despite their undertaking non-lethal activities to scare them away."
Natural England are also keen to point out "We do lots of other work for Brent Geese too…..
We welcome spectacular flocks of wintering Brent Geese to our National Nature Reserves such as Holkham and Lindisfarne every year.
We also advise the owners of special wildlife sites such as the Exe Estuary and Essex Coast on how to enhance their land and better meet the needs of Brent Geese.
We help landowners access schemes such as Countryside Stewardship to help support their management for the geese and we work with developers and local authorities to ensure that the needs of wintering Brent Geese are properly accommodated alongside economic growth in places such as the Solent."
There we are.
I assured Natural England that I would reflect their response here on my blog and via Change.org. highlighting the information which they have now provided. Apologies for the discrepancy in numbers, I hope you will all forgive me!
Meanwhile, I will continue to press for change, the current system with its confusing data (!) still needs to be overhauled.
And I continue to call for more transparency and accountability within the licensing system - which will avoid any potential misunderstandings and anomalies in the future.
*Since writing this article, Natural England have been in touch with me and have disputed the figures.
They have confirmed that they issued licences to kill 3222 Brent Geese between 2015 and 2018. In the interests of clarity and accuracy, I have written a second blog post to reflect this, you can read it HERE. Many people have since contacted me and suggested that even a figure of 3222 is unjustifiable, and that issuing licences to shoot an amber listed migratory species cannot be defended under any circumstances.
Every year the beautiful Brent Goose arrives from Siberia, and other areas of extreme cold, to spend the winter here in the UK. The species is amber-listed, being of conservation concern. The RSPB explain that this classification is due to "the important numbers found at just a few sites." In fact the UK population is estimated to be in the region of just 100,000 birds.
So it might shock you to learn that between 2014 and 2019, Natural England issued licences to kill more than 6000* Brent Geese while they overwintered around our coast.
The primary explanation, given by England's nature watchdog for this potential mass slaughter, is that the bird causes 'serious damage to crops, vegetable or fruit', although the Wildlife Trusts tell us that these small geese feed "mainly on Eel-grass and seaweed on sandy estuaries and saltmarshes."
The agency approved the shooting of the birds in various coastal locations across the country, including Kent, Lincolnshire and Essex.
6000* protected, amber listed geese, a species of conservation concern - and yet Natural England deemed it acceptable to approve their mass slaughter while they spent their winter in our country.
Figure could be even higher
The figures come from freedom of information data provided by Natural England themselves, though their figures are so muddled, confused and disorganised that the number of geese killed could potentially be higher.
In addition, among the hundreds of licences issued for the species are some examples which don't even specify a number. So it's anybody's guess as to how many geese were permitted to be killed under those individual licences.
Licensing system is an utter shambles...
Based on the data that they themselves provide, Natural England's licensing is clearly an utter shambles and the agency should be thoroughly ashamed of the system that it relies upon, which is very obviously not fit for purpose. I challenge the agency to take a look at its own statistics and defend the use of a database that is misleading, confused and chaotic.
Just another sorry statistic from Natural England's notorious kill list.
I've been revealing the extent of Natural England's horrific bird slaughter since I obtained official figures earlier in the year. As more and more truly terrifying statistics come to light, we can see the scale of the killing. No wonder we are seeing fewer birds in this once wildlife-rich country.
Natural England smugly ignore growing public protest
Our petition calling for a complete overhaul of the agency is approaching 350,000 signatures, yet Natural England seems to be smugly ignoring the public outcry over its actions.
My attempts to engage with them have been slow and frustrating. I think they are hoping I just get fed up and disappear. I won't.
I will continue to reveal more shocking data in the coming weeks to alert the public to this appalling national disgrace. Perhaps then Natural England will acknowledge the voices of ever more people who are demanding that this failing organisation responds to the widespread questioning of its activities.
Natural England have a stark choice to make: listen to us - or be ready to face an increasingly tenacious public backlash.
346,000+ Sign Petition Demanding Action As Natural England's Licensed Killing Of Beleaguered Herring Gulls Continues....
The story so far......
*Natural England have issued licences to shoot thousands of Herring Gulls
*Population of the species has collapsed
*Dozens of other species on kill list
*A licensing process that is shrouded in secrecy
*An agency that doesn't want to engage with 346,000 petition supporters
It is patently obvious to most of us that we should not be killing a species that is in severe population decline. The fact that the killing is being officially sanctioned by England's nature watchdog is mind-boggling.
I've delayed writing this in order to give Natural England time to respond to a question about their licences, specifically the lethal control licences that they issue to kill Herring Gulls. Although their Operations Director, James Diamond, is polite and approachable, he hasn't as yet fully addressed my concerns (on behalf of the 346,000 supporters of the petition) about Natural England's approval (which as far as we know is ongoing) of licences to shoot this endangered gull.
This chapter of the long running story begins a few weeks ago when I asked, as part of our ongoing discussions, why the agency sanctions the lethal control of this red listed species, whose population has collapsed in recent years. I cited one example licence (from a long list of similar licences) where Natural England granted permission to an applicant in Devon allowing them to shoot 100 of the birds.
Initially Mr Diamond himself placed a Freedom Of Information request on my behalf relating to this example Herring Gull kill licence. I had wrongly supposed that he might have more immediate access to licensing data - being the Operations Director - rather than having to submit a FOI request in order to procure the basic information that I had asked for, but sometimes these organisations work in ways which baffle the logical mind.
Long-winded and frustrating process to get minimal information
When, after nearly a month, the requested information eventually came through, it revealed less than nothing.
I wanted to know for what purpose the licence had been granted. This information was missing. I complained and was advised to submit a further request, which I have since done; but it is a long-winded and frustrating method of obtaining what should be very simple and accessible data.
Is Bureaucracy Hindering Simple Logic?
While waiting for the results of this second request, and in the wake of much public consternation at the Herring Gull licence controversy, I asked again why the agency deemed it appropriate to add to the pressures on this red listed species by sanctioning kill licences at all. I suggested a statement from Natural England might shed light on the reasons why they felt it necessary to kill the birds. Perhaps they could justify this action in some way that would pacify those for whom the whole business seemed less than decent. Natural England has been keen to point out that a review of the licences might happen at some point following a repeat national survey of seabirds, "Once we have that updated information and evidence it seems likely we will need to review again our approach to gull licensing".
But I believe that we do actually have enough data right now to know that Herring Gulls are in severe decline, and many of us agree that Natural England should have already stopped issuing lethal control licences for the species.
Isn't that just common sense?
I suggested this to them but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
While I am sure that the agency no doubt carries out some excellent conservation work, sometimes bureaucracy gets in the way of simple logic, it is patently obvious to most of us that we should not be killing a species whose population has crashed. The fact that the killing is being officially sanctioned by England's nature watchdog is mind-boggling.
Should we be worried...?
Let's not forget that Natural England issue kill licences for dozens and dozens of other species too, it's not just the beleaguered Herring Gull that deserves more protection.
Should we be worried that Natural England is in charge of our wildlife licensing system? Should we be worried that it is shrouded in secrecy? And that it is making decisions that will resonate for decades to come?
Yes, I'm beginning to think we should be very worried indeed.
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