Just thought I'd check in with an update and see how everyone is bearing up in these strange and challenging times.
In spite of the current situation, Natural England have today told me that the 2019 licensing stats are still scheduled for publication towards the end of this month, though (as with everything at the moment), constantly shifting events mean that nothing is entirely certain.
I will of course keep you up to date with this as and when I have more information, and I'd like to thank Natural England for keeping channels of communication open and for offering to discuss the data with me when it is released.
If current events have taught us anything, then it is to work together and to communicate, even when we have different perspectives and opinions.
The news that is assailing us from all parts of the world is shocking and often worrying, yet on this, the first day of Spring, there is still much to celebrate. While the human race is tested, the rest of nature carries on, following the seasons as it has since time began. Tides still ebb and flow, the buds on the trees are bursting open - and the birds are singing loudly.
Indeed, while we all try to make some sense of what we are experiencing, many people have been noticing that wildlife is undergoing something of a resurgence.
With the sharp drop in numbers of people travelling, industry shutting down, and a general reduction in human activity, birds seem to be much more visible and vocal everywhere, including parts of China where, in some areas, people have heard bird song for the first time. Dolphins have appeared in the canals of Venice, and here in the UK I've heard reports of wild mountain goats wandering through the streets of Llandudno and peacocks strutting along Bangor high street!
It all goes to prove what many of us already suspected, that when humankind becomes less demanding, wildlife can flourish and the planet can begin to recover from the damage we, as a species, have caused.
As someone put it recently on social media, with this coronavirus, nature seems to have pressed the 'reset' button on us.
Nature will heal us too - if we show some respect.
When we come through it all - and we will - lessons will need to be learned from this unique episode in human history. Will we learn? Who knows.
Meanwhile, though times are going to be extremely challenging and hugely difficult for many of us, life will go on.
I wish you all good health.
Stay safe and be kind to yourselves, to each other - and to nature.
Disappointing news to report today.... Natural England have told me that the long awaited and much anticipated 2019 wildlife licensing statistics, scheduled to be published by the end of this month, will NOT include detailed numbers for each species affected under their licences. This in spite of the fact that they had told me they hoped to include this key information going forward.
2019 licence stats were expected to include detailed figures...
After I complained that the 2018 statistics (published in January) were lacking some significant detail, interim operations director David Slater told me that "as part of our plans to publish the 2019 data in March we hope to include the numbers, similar to what we gave you for your FOI".
However now it seems that the 2019 data may be just as basic and ambiguous as the previous set of figures.
"....the total numbers for each licence type won’t be part of this package at this time...."
This news is likely to cause consternation among the supporters and followers of our petition who have been asking, for a considerable time, why Natural England appear to be reticent in providing detailed figures for the wildlife actions they licence, in particular the licences they issue approving lethal control of thousands of our native birds.
As many of you will know, it was only through freedom of information requests that I was able to obtain statistics and reveal the shocking numbers of birds killed under licence. Subsequently, a stunned public, previously unaware of the scale of this officially sanctioned killing, began to demand much more transparency and accountability from Natural England and its secretive licensing system.
So, I was dismayed when, on Monday, Natural England informed me that "we do plan to publish the 2019 data at the end of March.......[but] the total numbers for each licence type won’t be part of this package at this time".
I asked Mr Slater for an explanation of this decision and he told me "There are quite strict rules when we publish data, it needs to be defendable and explainable and the maximum numbers do give a exaggerated picture of actual numbers of animals that were subject to controls. While we do have that data for some species - the data is much more onerous to collect for others so it would be an incomplete picture anyway."
I have questioned this decision and have suggested to Mr Slater that publishing the maximum figures attached to each licence is relevant and would be of public interest as (either in theory or in practice) this is in fact the actual number for which Natural England has issued approval. For example, if Natural England issue a licence to kill 1000 Herring gulls then, regardless of how many gulls the licence holder finally kills, he or she would have permission from Natural England to kill up to 1000 of the birds. This may, according to Natural England, give an exaggerated picture of the actual final numbers killed but nevertheless that maximum figure is permitted and perfectly achievable without any wrong doing on the part of the licence holder. In other words, the figure appearing on the licence, exaggerated or not, is the figure approved by Natural England.
Mr Slater has invited me to discuss the data with him and raise any questions I might have.
My intention, when the data is published later this month, is indeed to examine some of the individual licences and ask some relevant questions.
So watch this space.
This may be a small step backwards but the campaign goes on....
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