Today I had a lovely message from a lady called Paula Bolton.
"I follow your blog and campaigns on behalf of bird life - thanks for all your efforts! I've been inspired to write a song I call 'Bird List'...."
The words of Paula's song encompass a love and appreciation of our native birds - while the sorrow at losing them is reflected in the rolling plaintive melody, lamenting the destruction of the habitat and environment that support all of our treasured species.
Ultimately the result of all this has been the tragic decline in the numbers of birds that we see around us, from Bullfinches through to Ravens and Swans and many others in between; Paula names many of these threatened species in her 'Bird List'.
Paula explained that her song, "was inspired by your great efforts in exposing Natural England's horrendous licensing decisions and by Isabella Tree's book 'Wilding'. It's a message that needs to be heard, though I wish it wasn't necessary..."
Although the loss of our birds is a result of many factors, there is no doubt in my mind that Natural England's contentious licensing system, in officially sanctioning lethal control of many species, contributes to their steep and rapid decline.
It's a sad state of affairs when loss of biodiversity is partly as a result of government led policy.
And that is why our campaign continues.
Below you will find Paula's song performed by her husband Tarquin, who set her words to music.
I think it's great, and it captures the ethos of our campaign. Take a look and give it some YouTube 'thumbs up'.
Tarquin is himself a rare breed, a maker of violins, who also made the very guitar he is playing in the song!
Sincere thanks to both Paula and Tarquin for this really touching reflection on the plight of our native birds and for supporting our campaign in this way.
p.s. Just an additional note: following my recent revelations about the annual Starling cull on a Somerset farm, I have now put some more questions to Natural England, including enquiries relating to the killing of Jackdaws, and the oiling of Common Tern eggs and Tufted Duck eggs, all of course sanctioned by Natural England.
So watch this space for an update in due course....
* A farmer, who allegedly shot Starlings illegally in 2010, was subsequently granted licences by Natural England to cull the red-listed species over a ten year period.
* Police were called after locals found dying Starlings and lead shot in their gardens.
* Natural England maintain that the birds are "potential carriers of diseases"
The story begins in 2010.....
According to the results of a foi request I submitted to Natural England, in 2010 Avon and Somerset Police received complaints from householders that Starlings were being shot in a local farmyard and that dying birds and lead shot were falling into adjacent gardens.
The farmer allegedly responsible for shooting the red-listed birds told the police that he had a licence from Natural England to kill them.
However, it was later established that the licence had expired months earlier.
Shooting the birds without a valid licence would surely constitute a wildlife crime.
So why did Natural England subsequently decide to renew the farmer's licence - for the next ten years?
It appears that Natural England sent their representative out to 'discuss' the initial renewal application with the farmer.
This is what they say in their technical assessment of that application: "The problem with Starlings and lead shot falling into nearby gardens was discussed by [name withheld] and he was asked to only shoot in the direction of the fields and not towards the village, and to pursue wounded birds wherever possible."
Natural England acknowledged that 'pursuing wounded birds' would be difficult where the birds were landing in private gardens.
The farmer was told that the Police would not be reporting him for shooting Starlings without a licence on this occasion, but warned him against it happening again.
Natural England in their wisdom concluded that the farmer should nevertheless be granted another lethal control licence and duly issued one, in spite of the shocking wildlife crime that the farmer had allegedly committed.
This licence was further renewed without fuss for the next three consecutive years between 2010 and 2013.
In 2014, staff at Natural England had a telephone conversation with the farmer who told them that Starlings were still causing him a problem. Based on this, the agency casually issued yet another licence approving the culling of 50 more of the birds.
According the data I have, it appears that the farmer did not submit the required licence return for that year, so Natural England presumably had no idea at all how many birds the farmer actually culled.
2015 - 2017:
Late in 2015, Natural England received another licence request from the gun touting farmer.
In their humdrum assessment of that application, they explain that "The application form confirms the presence of Starlings on the farm, with concerns about the presence of Starlings on the cattle feed, resulting in the cattle suffering from scours. Large quantities of Starling droppings are also being deposited on the metal work in the farm yard."
So, guess what?
Yes, that's right, Natural England issued yet another licence to shoot Starlings, in spite of the fact that shooting Starlings for the previous five years had apparently had little or no effect in resolving the continuing 'problem'.
That licence permitted the shooting of 50 more birds. It's not entirely clear whether a report of action was submitted or not for that year but either way, true to form, the agency decided to issue a renewal anyway, and between January and March of 2016 the farmer was permitted to cull more Starlings, with the approval of Natural England.
A further renewal covered the period 28/11/2016 to 31/3/2017, during which the farmer claimed to have culled another 50 birds.
2017 - 2018:
Later in 2017, Natural England, assessing the situation with depressing detachment, explained its decision to renew the licence going forward, "The applicant indicates on the renewal form that Starlings are still causing problems .... and [name withheld] requests a licence, start date 1/11/2017. "
So they issued one.
And then, yes surprise surprise, another one for the following year covering 2018/19.
Last year Natural England summed up its reasons for continuing to licence the trigger happy farmer during 2020; "Starlings continue to take cattle feed from the farmyard at [location withheld] and are also potential carriers of diseases that could be transmitted from Starlings to cattle. A licence to shoot up to 50 Starlings, as an aid to enhance existing scaring techniques should be granted."
Ten Years Of Culling A Red Listed Species
So, Natural England have been renewing this farmer's licence every year for at least 10 years, despite the fact that his track record allegedly includes shooting the birds illegally and failing to submit the obligatory reports of action taken.
Ten years of killing a red listed bird, with little or no evidence that the culls have achieved anything other than satisfying the blood lust of a blithe farmer.
Natural England promotes 'Starling murmuration spectacle', while issuing licences to kill them...
The farmer himself reportedly maintains that the culling has "assisted in reducing the scale and impact of the problem."
But the 'problem' remains - and so the culls have continued on the same scale for ten years.
Has it not occurred to the experts at Natural England that perhaps, after ten years of culling Starlings, the problems at this particular farm might have less to do with troublesome birds and more to do with sloppy farming practices?
One wonders how other farmers up and down the country appear to manage this 'problem' without resorting to an annual Starling cull.
Natural England have noted that there is an RSPB reserve fairly close to the farm where 'many thousands of starlings gather to roost each night'.
With no sense of irony, they go on to say that "This public spectacle is being promoted by Natural England, in conjunction with the RSPB and Somerset Wildlife Trust."
Lack of common sense decisions
It's just too easy to pick, at random, any one of Natural England's licences and find, as in this case, ineptitude and a lack of common sense behind the decision making.
Each year Natural England issues thousands of licences, relying on the 'good practice' of licence holders to act honestly and responsibly under the terms of the licence.
This system is, of course, wide open to misuse, with often little or no monitoring of the actions being carried out.
If this shoddy state of affairs is reflected across the licensing system as a whole, then it casts even more doubt on the competence of Natural England, whose reputation is already in tatters.
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