Well, in the midst of the mayhem that we find ourselves living through, Natural England has released the bird licensing statistics for 2019.
In fact, for some reason, they have tagged them on to the 2014 to 2018 data that we had already seen, and reissued the whole thing, meaning that there are huge numbers of licences to wade through.
But they include a comprehensive list of licences issued to control birds last year, and into the early part of 2020.
Unfortunately even at first glance it makes for depressing reading.
I'll be seeking to obtain more details in due course (this may not be easy at the moment with everyone in lockdown) but Natural England has already shown a willingness to engage with me further over the details.
Threatened species remain on the list.....
As in previous years, a number of threatened species appear on the list, including the much persecuted Herring gull and even the rare Curlew, in spite of the species being under extreme pressure in the wild, while the eggs of Mute Swans were also still being destroyed.
Moorhen and Coot were again on the list, along with several species of Geese, and our old friend the Mallard, whose eggs continue to be oiled or smashed in the name of 'public safety'. And all with official approval.
But some licences stand out even more than others. One issued to 'capture' or 'possess' a staggering 1,500 Marsh Tits needs explaining for example.
It is fair to reiterate Natural England's own words of caution here, they point out that "Annual returns show that the actual numbers affected are significantly less than the numbers covered on the licences. Due to the complexity of return information it’s not possible to publish these figures."
But, while it's true to assume that the numbers associated with each licence may be overstated , it is also true to say that Natural England gave permission to 'affect' the total number on each licence. Potentially many thousands of birds could have been legally captured or killed.
So the figures are not clearly defined which is a problem, and that's not helped by duplicate, renewed and amended licences appearing throughout the data. With such complexity it is difficult to whittle the figures down into anything of great clarity, which means many questions are left to be asked.
And ask I will.
Indeed it is important to remember that each of us has a moral responsibility to look at the figures and, where necessary, to ask questions, more of which later.
Evaluating the campaign
Meanwhile, enforced self isolation during the past few weeks has given me some time to evaluate our campaign.
I feel we have made progress but I also feel that each of us must vow to take some individual responsibility for the welfare of our wildlife. Most of you reading this already do so, from the heroic rescuers dedicating their time to saving wildlife in distress to the social media stalwarts who share relevant links and opinions far and wide.
I am pleased to have played a part in spreading public awareness of the whole wildlife licensing process in England, and indeed the rest of the UK, and alerting people to the scale of the lethal control actions being carried out under the umbrella of government bodies.
Prior to launching the campaign, it seems that the British public were largely unaware of the killing, and it was a shocking revelation to most, especially the large scale control of some of our most loved native birds. All this was being sanctioned from behind the very firmly closed doors of Natural England, so it's no wonder we were all in the dark.
Since starting the campaign back in 2018, so much information has come to light. And so many people have signed the petition; in fact, as I write this, the figure is an incredible 356,739 signatures. Change.org told me some time ago that our campaign was one of the most successful on its platform.
I've been fortunate to have a good deal of mainstream media coverage too, most of the big national newspapers have covered the story from time to time as the campaign has developed.
Progress and results
This time last year I had useful talks with Natural England - a result in itself - and further major developments followed, in particular the promise from Natural England to publish annual statistics covering many details of their wildlife licences.
This is hugely significant progress.
Furthermore, Natural England has vowed to be more open with information going forward. I have found them to be (ultimately) helpful, though I have to say there were times of very great frustration along the way!
We must not underestimate the successes we have achieved.
As a result of our campaigning, we can all see and analyse the data for ourselves. Data that was previously hidden. We can see just how many licences are being issued each year, we can see for what species action is being taken and we can even see the numbers and the reasons and method of control.
We have also succeeded in spreading awareness, nationally and internationally, and we have encouraged Natural England to become more transparent.
Public examination of data imperative
Of course we all want to see the actual numbers of licences reduced. We want to see fewer birds being killed. This was, and remains, the aim of the campaign. The hope is that, with widespread public examination of the figures, Natural England might be more careful and considered about the licences they issue. And there are some signs that this might be happening with certain species.
Now that we are all able to peruse the figures, we must do so.
We can hold Natural England accountable.
If we notice something on the list of licences that concerns us, then we should ask questions. This is something I will continue to do and indeed this is something Natural England has invited me to do.
Should the campaign continue...?
I had, at one point recently, considered winding the campaign down, but on reflection I think there is still work for me to do.
But I'm very keen to have public input with this.
That is why I'm asking everyone to take a look at the latest figures (link at end of post), bearing in mind the cautious approach I mentioned earlier, and pick up on any particularly worrying licences.
If you message me through my website, quoting the licence number, then I can ask Natural England directly for an explanation.
For example, I'm already vexed by the continued issuing of licences to those who supply the 'gourmet' restaurant trade with eggs of amber listed Black headed gulls, and I'm currently writing an article on this shameful trade.
But there are many other questionable licences there too. I'll work my way through them all in due course - but, as I said, please do take a look and feel free to contact me with your own concerns.
I'll put those concerns directly to Natural England on your behalf.
Anyway, in the meantime, I'm sending everybody warmest wishes from my part of the world to yours.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay well - and most of all enjoy the Spring :)
NATURAL ENGLAND DATA LINKS: CLICK HERE
CAMPAIGN/PETITION: CLICK HERE
Bad Taste: The 'Gourmet' British Restaurants Serving Gull Eggs - With The Approval Of Natural England...
* Thousands of Black Headed Gull eggs are collected each year for human consumption, to satisfy the expensive tastes of restaurant goers....
* Natural England issues the licences that permit the taking of the gull eggs from the wild.
* Black Headed Gulls are amber listed of conservation concern.
A resurgence of nature might be one of the very few positive things to come out of this very harrowing chapter in human history. While the human race fights a battle against a virus, nature is flourishing and certainly much more visible in many parts of the country where human activity has decreased dramatically.
On a less positive note, I've recently seen the latest installment of wildlife licensing data from Natural England, covering licences that they issued last year. The sheer number of species for which Natural England issued lethal control licences is alarming, and includes red and amber listed species of conservation concern - as in previous years.
I'm wading through the data as I write and will be asking questions of Natural England in due course. And the data does beg many many questions.
'Gourmet' restaurants fuel trade in gull eggs - with approval of Natural England
One particular area of concern that stands out immediately is that of the trade in eggs of Black Headed Gulls, which are served up by 'gourmet' restaurants on their fancy menus. Yes, in 2020, it's quite astonishing that the eggs of an amber listed species, of conservation concern, can be collected - under licences issued by Natural England - and sold to elite restaurants, so that the well heeled can indulge themselves in this 'delicacy'.
All at the expense of a declining species.
This scandalous trade has been highlighted in the media over the past few years, yet it still continues - with the approval of Natural England.
Greed and gluttony - dining out on the eggs of a declining species is not acceptable
We can't blame Natural England entirely for this of course, they are merely licensing a trade that is being fuelled by greed and gluttony. Indeed if it were not for the licences then there could be a free-for-all with absolutely no regulation.
So perhaps we should apportion a big part of the blame to the restaurants themselves for demanding that the eggs appear on their menus.
I'd love to hear from restaurateurs who think that serving eggs of a threatened species is acceptable - and there must be many of them because between 2018 and 2020 Natural England approved licences to collect thousands and thousands of eggs, from the wild, in locations such as North Yorkshire and Hampshire. It's a bizarre anachronism in these environmentally aware times, and it is clearly not acceptable.
Natural England issued many other licences affecting Black Headed Gulls for other reasons too, meaning that this vulnerable species is under serious threat from the very organisation that is tasked with 'looking after' wildlife.
Natural England's licensing of gull egg collection must stop
While the restaurateurs serving gull eggs should hang their heads in shame, so should those loons (no disrespect to the bird of the same name) who think it's in any way appropriate to dine out on the eggs of a threatened species.
However, judgement will finally fall on Natural England who are issuing these licences in the first place.
How in any way can they justify taking the eggs of an amber listed species to satisfy the whims of high end restaurants?
Natural England, in their role of "helping to protect England’s nature," should surely make a stand and refuse any further applications to collect gull eggs for the restaurant trade.
Perhaps this year at least Black Headed Gulls will be safe from the egg collectors, while restaurants are forced to close under lockdown measures.
It might perhaps be a good time for Natural England to rethink these particularly distasteful licences....
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