"It's perhaps our last chance to change the way we perceive, interact and coexist with, our wild birds. We might be the last generation to have that privilege."
After a long wait, Natural England has finally released the bird control licensing figures.
I'm afraid the data is depressing with very many species still suffering at the hands of this controversial organisation.
Let's not forget too that they were NOT going to release the detailed data until I pressed them to do so.
Back in April, Natural England sent me a copy of what they intended to publish. It was a stripped down summary excluding all the relevant detail.
After I told them that it wasn't nearly enough, they delayed publication.
I submitted a freedom of information request, they took the matter to Downing Street - and only now do we have the data.
Quite a journey just to get some statistics.....
So, on to my initial thoughts.
Cormorants targeted yet again
A quick glance at the statistics suggests that among the species targeted in huge numbers are once again Cormorants with no less than 371 licences issued in a little over a year. Natural England has already encouraged the persecution of the Cormorant over several years in order to protect inland fisheries. It is my belief that no species can survive such sustained persecution.
'Fine dining' threatens Black-headed gulls
There are many species that may be experiencing significant population decline due directly to Natural England's licensing system. Though many of the 2020 licences permit action against a small number of birds (suggesting more careful decision making), others still appear to offer a somewhat reckless approach to issuing licences. This includes some amber and red listed species.
Black Headed Gulls, for example, besides being under threat from culling due to concerns over air safety, are even more heavily targeted for their eggs, considered a delicacy by the elite.
This trade in gull eggs is fuelled by 'fine dining' establishments and it's a highly dubious industry, impacting heavily on the species in order to satisfy the appetites of high society.
Is this really appropriate in a civilised country that claims to care about the natural world?
Natural England clearly thinks so, as it approved the removal and sale of several thousand eggs last year alone - and this during a pandemic.
Large scale extermination of geese
Various species of geese appear on the list in large numbers, running into the thousands, these including Greylag Geese, with licences for both their large scale extermination and egg destruction.
The destruction of Mute Swan eggs also continues to be approved by Natural England, for example they issued a licence to 'take or destroy' up to 300 eggs to 'conserve flora or fauna' in Wiltshire.
The problem of 'air safety'
Many other rare and declining species continue to appear on Natural England's now notorious list.
Oystercatcher and Curlew are still there, being lethally controlled to preserve air safety, as are red kites and kestrels.
The numbers are thankfully comparatively small, though this actually begs another question - why do a handful of airports find the birds a threat while most others seem to be able to cope - without resorting to killing them?
Red listed species
Air safety is also given as the reason for issuing licences to lethally control Herring Gulls, Rooks, Starlings, Mallards, Lapwing, Great black-backed gull and many many more.
All in all, though some of the figures are slightly better than in previous years, I remain appalled at the fact that so many birds are being legally killed and controlled by the state.
Natural England is at pains to point out to us the value of the work that it carries out and that the number associated with each of their licences represents the maximum allowed under those licences, but nevertheless they have enabled licence holders to destroy that maximum number, so really that is the only number that counts.
Without details of the actual numbers killed, we have no other figures to judge.
Indeed, Natural England says that it can't publish the actual return figures "due to the complexity of return information" though they insist that "for all bird licences, annual returns show that the actual numbers affected are significantly less than the numbers covered on the licences."
This part of the system remains a little murky to say the least. Natural England has to rely on the honesty and accuracy of licence holders to report their actions - and we can't see these figures anyway "due to the complexity of return information" - whatever that means.
If we have any doubt that our concerns are justified, we must remind ourselves that Natural England has also been an accomplice in the mass slaughter of England's badger population and in facilitating HS2 in their destruction of wildlife and habitat.
To say that our birds remain under threat from the organisation that claims to 'protect England's nature', is an understatement and I'm afraid that we desperately need a complete rethink before we lose entire species from this country as a direct result of a flawed, clumsy and irresponsible licensing system.
We should I suppose acknowledge that Natural England did (eventually) publish the data, allowing us an opportunity to explore the figures. This at least contributes to the transparency promised by the organisation moving forward.
But we now have a responsibility to really examine the data and ask questions, flag concerns and collectively work towards reducing the number of licences issued.
Every bird saved has the potential to re-build populations of many species that have drastically declined in recent years.
Where are the RSPB?
Where indeed.... time and again people ask me what the RSPB has been doing in regard to questioning the licences. It would appear to be very little.
I've worked hard to secure public access to this data while the RSPB stood back with apparent ambivalence.
It should also be noted that the detailed licence data relating to all other animals (aside from birds) is still hidden from the public, with only basic statistics published. This is something that needs to be addressed by those organisations interested in the welfare and protection of other species. Or do they, like the RSPB, expect someone else to do that job for them?
Examining the detail
I'll be taking a more in depth look at the licences over the coming days and weeks. I would urge you all to do the same (see links at end of post). It will be very depressing reading I'm afraid.
Meanwhile, I've captured some screenshots in the video below showing the range of species affected by Natural England's kill licences. Note that these are a small sample of the lethal control licences, and that there were also large numbers of licences issued to destroy the nests and eggs of various species.
The only way out of this spiral of species destruction will be a complete overhaul and reassessment of the system and the ethics behind the decision making.
It's perhaps our last chance to change the way we perceive, interact and coexist with, our wild birds. We might be the last generation to have that privilege.
Link to our petition: HERE
Links to the data: HERE
Video soundtrack courtesy of https://orangefreesounds.com/
Number Ten approves release of Natural England's Licence Data
Well, I know we've had a few false starts over all this, but I think I finally have some good news.
I've just heard from Natural England that the wildlife licensing data for 2020, (including of course wild bird control licences), will be published by the end of this month.
Natural England's Head of National Operational Projects and Complex Cases, David Slater, contacted me today and told me that "It has all been ready for a while but we have had to wait for number ten approval."
(Yes folks, this has been right to the very top - I told you we were making an impact...)
He said "I feel like I keep promising you this – but I am told it will be published by the end of this month."
The fact that we have Number Ten approval for the release of the data is significant news, though as always we must wait and see the actual statistics. We need the full data, that's what this campaign is all about. Only through examining the complete data can we assess the licensing process and its impact on our wildlife.
So, anyway I wanted to update you all, thanks as always for your continued and unflinching support, it really does encourage and inspire me.
I'll let you know when I have a further update.
Petition CLICK HERE (386,000+ Signatures!)
* "Haughty attitude" from Natural England as data is delayed yet again
* Freedom of Information results also delayed
Hey folks, well guess what?
Just as the lethal control licence data was supposed to be published, our friends at Natural England have decided, (after three months of promising that the stats are 'ready to go'), that we the public still are not allowed to see the figures - and they've postponed publication yet again.
I wonder why?
It's almost as though they are trying to hide something isn't it?
Or are they just dithering and blithering?
Take your pick.
Bear in mind that under the agreement I made with Natural England back in 2019, the data is supposed to be published annually in March, so it's already more than three months late.
Last month their Head of National Operational Projects and Complex Cases, David Slater, told me that publication had been rescheduled yet again. "....sadly this is out of my hands...the earliest slot I have been able to get is 10th June..." he said, "would you believe..."
I'm assuming that the lack of a question mark was intentional, his "would you believe" was clearly rhetorical, and he perhaps wasn't interested in an answer.
I contacted him again last week on the morning of 10th June, the big, much anticipated, day of publication, and asked if he could confirm that the data was going live.
I'm still waiting for an answer.... I've not even had the courtesy of a response.
It's this haughty attitude that has given Natural England such a bad reputation with the public. That and slaughtering our wildlife of course.
Freedom Of Information - Delayed
Anticipating this turn of events, last month I decided to submit a freedom of information request to obtain the data, 'just in case' the figures didn't materialise on time.
Well, yesterday as the results of that foi request were becoming due, I heard from an 'adviser' on Natural England's Legal and Governance Team (they have a lot of 'advisers' you know), with this:-
"I regret that we must extend the time limit for responding by 20 days to 09 July 2021 as we are currently clearing the stats through our Comms Team ready for publication".
She helpfully added "...although we hope to reply sooner."
I'm not holding my breath.
"Clearing the stats....for publication".
Weren't the stats supposed to be 'ready to go' months ago?
"We Have Nothing To Hide"
But don't worry everyone, let's remember what I was told back in 2019 when Natural England were imploring us to believe that they were committed to being open and transparent about their work. "We have nothing to hide" they insisted.
Really? It's beginning to look a lot as though they are desperate to conceal everything from the public, at least until they "clear the stats".
Anyway folks, we're here for the long haul I think.
Hang in there people, things are just getting interesting.
And remember, the truth will out.
Campaign Petition: CLICK HERE
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