Okay, so time for some good news!
After much persistence on my part, I now have an assurance from Natural England that it will publish the wildlife licensing data on, or around, May 7th.
This will of course detail the bird control licences, and also data covering bats, badgers, newts and everything else that Natural England issue licences to control.
I specifically asked if the data would include comprehensive details of each and every bird control licence issued and I have been told directly by a senior official within the organisation that he has requested that the data be 'the same as in 2020', so I am expecting that the FULL data will be published, as it was last year.
That should include every licence issued for bird control, together with all the associated details.
So, there we are, I wanted to share this with you.
It's a result, albeit one I had to fight for!
Let's look forward now to seeing and examining the data.
I'll be honest with you, I was at a (temporary!) low ebb for a couple of days, it seems to be a constant struggle dealing with authorities and organisations, and it's often incredibly frustrating.
On top of that, I witnessed environmental damage caused by idiots in my own locality during the past few days, including the destruction of a wildlife pond and the brutal felling of several trees, all of which left me deflated and a little dejected.
Such crimes against nature seem so widespread that it sometimes begins to feel futile trying to stop it all. But we must try to gain perspective somehow and soldier on.
Good will always defeat bad.
On that note, I know that many of you are busy doing whatever you can to help nature. Whether it is building a nature friendly environment around you, feeding the birds or protesting at industrial destruction of our forests, it does all help and I thank you with all my heart.
This week I have been busy in and around our garden, potting up wild Cherry tree seedlings, planting Elders and delighting in the birds.
Well, back to the business at hand, the wildlife licences and the good news that Natural England will be publishing them soon.
A big and very sincere thank you, each and every one of you, it was only with your support that I was able to convince Natural England to release this data.
We have a whopping 382,129 signatures now and it's growing all the time. Astonishing.
Onwards now, the campaign continues.
Please share the petition far and wide.
Here it is; CLICK HERE
Enjoy the Spring,
What on earth could Natural England be trying to hide from the public?
Is the full data too controversial to share with us?
Perhaps licensing wild bird control, enabling the badger cull and facilitating the destruction of ancient woodland is just the tip of a very murky iceberg?
Fury is building as Natural England appears to have reneged on an agreement to publish its complete wildlife licensing data on time.
This, in spite of the organisation's claim to be 'as transparent as possible going forward'
As many of you will know, I started our campaign in 2018 after discovering that Natural England had been issuing licences to 'lethally control' (ie. cull) thousands of wild birds.
The data surrounding these licences was not in the public domain and I had to use the Freedom of Information Act to uncover the shocking statistics before bringing it all to public attention through my blog and subsequently the national media.
As a result of this publicity and the ensuing public outcry, I had useful and productive discussions with James Diamond, then Natural England's Operations Director, over the licensing process. It seemed we were making significant progress and that my calls for more transparency and openness were being heeded.
The dialogue with Natural England had largely been initiated due to pressure from our petition which very quickly attracted more than a quarter of a million supporters. This has since grown to an unprecedented 378,104, with more people adding their names every day.
Broken promises and empty words?
When David Slater took over from James Diamond late in 2019, he contacted me to confirm that he remained committed to ensuring more transparency surrounding the licensing system. As "Head of National Operational Projects and Complex Cases (Director for Wildlife Licensing & Enforcement Cases)" he is a figure of some authority at Natural England.
This is what he told me when he took the role:-
"We will make sure we publish our annual stats at the end of March each year from now on.
I am keen to be as transparent as possible on our wildlife licensing work going forward."
(David Slater, December 2019)
It now appears that those were empty words.
Sure enough, last year Natural England did publish all the statistics in full, though only after I urged them to do so....
This year, however, it looks as though Natural England has reneged on that promise to be 'as transparent as possible' with us.
The wildlife licensing data they said they would share annually, every March, was a no-show when it was due last month, and as I write we are still waiting for it to be published.
Useless data and lack of detail
And it was looking so hopeful...
On 15th March, David Slater confirmed to me that the data was on track to be released by the end of the month.
It didn't appear.
But then on 1st April (appropriately enough...) he offered to send me a copy of the information that Natural England planned to soon publish.
While this sounded like a very welcome gesture, it transpired that the intention might have been to pacify me with some neatly presented but pretty meaningless figures.
Because it just turned out to be a selectively edited, and frankly quite useless, version of the licensing data which specifically withheld the important information, such as numbers of birds and other wildlife affected by each licence.
I replied that I wasn't happy with the lack of detail and I asked for this to be looked into and rectified prior to publication.
"Rude and insulting"
I have now asked three times for an update and I have received no response at all.
As I write, it is the 9th April and we are still waiting for any data to be published.
Not only is Natural England's attitude rude and, let's face it, ignorant, I feel it is insulting to each and every one of the 378,104 people who have signed our petition.
Palpable frustration towards Natural England is building, and this would be entirely avoidable if they just did the right and proper thing.
Questions upon questions
With such a huge number of people asking for more accountability from the Government's 'adviser for the natural environment', it's just not good enough that we are being given the silent treatment.
If Natural England does not want to publish the figures then they must also be clear about why they don't want to share the information, especially after pledging to be more open and transparent.
It all raises so many questions.
Why will they not honour their agreement to release the data?
What on earth could they be trying to hide from the public?
Is the full data too controversial to share with us?
How much wildlife have they been complicit in killing through their licences?
Perhaps their bird control, together with enabling the badger cull and facilitating the destruction of ancient woodland is just the tip of a very murky iceberg?
Silence and lack of transparency breeds suspicion and doubt.
If they don't tell us the figures then what are we to think?
So, I urge Natural England to publish the complete data, as agreed, without any further delay.
It will be the only way to salvage public trust - already at a very low ebb - in this secretive organisation and its activities.
Petition is HERE, please sign if you haven't already. Thank you.
"The inclusion of species such as Wren, Kingfisher and Chaffinch on the list begs many questions when there are no numbers associated with the licences..."
Here we go again.
For the second year in a row, Natural England seems to be trying to hoodwink us with their licensing data.
The much anticipated publication of Natural England's wildlife licensing statistics is about to land.
The data should tell us how many birds were permitted to be killed last year under licences issued by the government's environmental adviser.
But all is not as it should be.
Nothing to hide?
Ahead of publication, I have been sent the licensing data for last year and it specifically excludes the numbers of birds affected under each licence.
Part of the agreement I ironed out with Natural England back in 2019 was that they should publish all the details of every licence issued annually, including the reason for issuing the licence, species affected and specifically the numbers of birds (and other wildlife) affected under each licence.
Natural England told me that they were keen to be more 'transparent' and that they had 'nothing to hide'.
The limited data provided to me so far only raises questions and suspicion.
There may have been 26 licences issued to kill Brent Geese - but how many Brent Geese? One? Or a thousand? Or Ten thousand?
The inclusion of species such as Wren, Kingfisher and Chaffinch on the list begs many questions when there are no numbers associated with the licences.
This is really not good enough - and I have told Natural England that we need to see all the figures if we are to have a clear understanding of the work that they carry out.
Full disclosure last year - eventually
Last year, when a similar thing happened, the excuse I was given for Natural England's plan to omit the crucial figures was that "It is not straightforward to provide definitive data on lethal control for each individual species".
However I persuaded them that it would be a good idea if they tried a little bit harder and somehow made it more 'straightforward'.
It worked, eventually after a few weeks, we had full disclosure, all the figures published, downloadable and available for public scrutiny.
It soon became clear why Natural England might not have wanted us to see the full data, I found many examples of what I considered to be poor practice, some of which I highlighted on my blog.
Now I fear that Natural England have shifted the goalposts back again.
By withholding the number of birds affected by each licence, any claims by Natural England that they have 'nothing to hide' really are spurious.
Lack of public trust
This isn't a game, though it sometimes feels like Twister, given Natural England's convoluted approach to statistics.
How can Natural England garner any kind of public trust if they fail to disclose the data they promised to share?
What exactly is Natural England, the government's 'adviser for the natural environment', trying to hide from us?
I've asked Natural England to release the complete data.
Let's hope they do the right and proper thing and publish it, in full, before there's another public backlash.
In the interest of clarity, we don't know at this stage how many Kingfishers etc. were affected and whether they were licensed to be killed, disturbed, relocated etc.
We can however be certain (based on previous years) that Natural England approved the culling of very many birds of very many species. How many? Why?
Well, that's the problem when Natural England don't let us have all the data.....
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