"We can't stop stupid people from being stupid - but we can refuse them licences to carry out their stupidity...."
Many of you will have seen a considerable amount of media coverage in the past few days, relating to the story I broke on my blog last week...
Following my revelations about the licences that Natural England had issued to destroy Mallard eggs, interest in the news spread quickly across social media.
I had obtained data, through freedom of information requests, which shockingly revealed that one of the justifications provided in a licence application to destroy duck eggs was that wandering Mallards were a hazard to passing cyclists. I decided to highlight this ridiculous assertion because it illustrated just how absurd Natural England's licensing system really can be, in approving the destruction of wildlife on the grounds of such irrational nonsense.
As the news began to go viral and public anger grew, the story was picked up by The Independent. The resulting article was both excellent - and accurate, creating a good deal of publicity and awareness over Natural England's highly questionable licensing system.
When Chris Packham tweeted the news and shared it on his facebook page, there was another huge surge of interest and the whole sorry saga of Natural England's dubious activities was once again under the spotlight - and rightly so.
A few angry cyclists claimed that the media coverage would result in anti-cycle prejudice but most knew that this was never the intention of publicising the whole affair; indeed one of the aims of the story was to call out a misguided attempt by the licence applicant to partly justify the destruction of wild bird eggs by citing a spurious risk to cyclists.
Several cycling groups, websites and journals ran the story and thankfully most realised that we are in fact on the same 'side', we don't want cyclists being made any kind of scapegoat for a failing wildlife licensing system. In my opinion any blame for ill judged licensing decisions lies entirely with Natural England themselves.
The news began to make waves internationally with articles published in The Netherlands and France and more, taking it to new audiences who were shocked to hear about England's wildlife killing spree in the name of health and safety.
As with any media story that spreads virally, as this one did, inaccuracies creep in - and when The Telegraph decided to run an article about the Mallards I noted that they had apparently taken the figures from my blog (where I outlined several licences issued to destroy a total of 4,500 Mallard eggs) and focused the whole story on a park (which they named) in Bedfordshire, implying that this one site had permission to destroy all 4,500 eggs. Unless The Telegraph was privy to information that I did not have, I think they have got this wrong. That figure of 4,500 eggs covered multiple licences across a number of counties, primarily Bedfordshire and Suffolk - but it did not refer solely to the park in Bedfordshire that had indicated a risk to cyclists in their application. I feel that their article was misleading in this respect, though it did cause a massive amount of discussion and debate about the activities of Natural England - which is no bad thing I suppose...
But I do not condone the fact that The Telegraph published information that identified the licence holder, who was quite possibly acting within the terms of their licence, albeit a licence that I consider should never have been issued.
While I question the ethics, motives and common sense of the applicant, (whose identity, incidentally, was not revealed to me within the foi information), again the fault here lies with Natural England for approving the licence in the first place. We can't stop stupid people from being stupid but we can refuse them licences to carry out their stupidity.
One of the aims of our petition is that the public should have a say in licensing decisions, especially those where action such as culling is proposed in a public place, for example a park. And that might entail disclosing an applicants' identity in some cases. But until that procedure is in place, and an integral part of the licensing process, I don't feel it is correct to reveal a licence holder's details in the press, and especially in the midst of a highly charged debate over a particular licence.
All that said, the publicity generated from the Telegraph article was considerable and will have helped to highlight our concerns over the system - a system which I will continue to examine and research, independently.
In conclusion, the petition is forging ahead, I have ongoing and significant contact with Natural England and I will continue to reveal more of the horrors emerging from the agency's licensing data. While Natural England's licensing system remains secret and out of sight of public scrutiny, I will campaign for change and for more accountability, compassion and intelligent decision making from those in positions of influence.
Overhauling and reforming the entire licensing system remains top priority, saving thousands of birds and other animals from needless and irresponsible slaughter will be the result.
"....there is a safety concern as there is a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them....we would like to take action now before the population becomes uncontrollable"..... quote from licence applicant.
Just when you though that Natural England couldn't get any more controversial, I have discovered that one of the motives cited in a licence application to destroy Mallard eggs was that the duck poses a threat to cyclists!
I know - it sounds like an April Fool joke but alas this turns out to be the truth.
Natural England approved the licence in 2015 which permitted the destruction of 500 Mallard eggs because according to the licence holder "there is a safety concern as there is a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them"
A number of other 'reasons' for needing to destroy Mallard eggs were also provided by the applicant, including the prevalence of duck poo around seating areas.
I am struggling to find the words to express my disbelief and despair that Natural England decision makers thought it appropriate in any way to issue a licence to an applicant that seriously considered ducks to be a threat to cyclists. Surely someone at the agency should have challenged this stupidity at an early stage rather than proceed to issue a licence that legitimized the wanton destruction of wild birds eggs for such spurious reasons. This individual licence holder claimed to have destroyed only 127 eggs in their annual return, although (as we have noted before) it is up to the 'good practice' of the licence holder to submit accurate data. Other licences issued by the agency permitted the destruction of thousands more Mallard eggs.
The staff at Natural England need their heads examining if they think that they can defend this decision. The real or imagined problems caused to humans by ducks could surely be solved much more rationally than resorting to clumsy egg destruction.
"The proposed action is likely to reduce the risk of disease to people" - Natural England
In their application to Natural England, the aspiring egg saboteur described the 'problem' of ducks to Natural England by including the following explanation as part of their reasoning for wanting a licence.
"Mallards congregate around the [location withheld] where they are fed. This includes outside seating areas of restaurants. Faeces are a problem in these areas. Where the Mallards gather in numbers on paths there is a safety concern as there is a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them...."
The applicant goes on to say that "we would like to take action now before the population becomes uncontrollable".
As part of Natural England's assessment of the licence application, they decided in their wisdom that (quote) "the proposed action [destroying eggs] is likely to reduce the risk of disease to people".
Natural England saves us all from 'uncontrollable' ducks...
Natural England apparently agreed that ducks were indeed a threat to the public and so they asked the applicant for details of any qualifications they might have for carrying out the egg destruction. "In previous employment," responded the licence applicant, "I have had experience of oiling Canada Goose eggs." Based on this, Natural England concluded that the applicant was suitably qualified for destroying wild bird eggs in large numbers......
And now we, the general public (and especially passing cyclists...), can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that Natural England has saved us all from the 'uncontrollable' ducks.
Inconsistency and more questions
Incidentally, the licences to destroy Mallard eggs primarily covered the counties of Suffolk and Bedfordshire, and one wonders why the birds apparently pose no such danger to the public in other areas of England. This in itself illustrates the inconsistency of the whole shambolic licensing system.
So there you have it. Ducks posing a menace to passing cyclists by running out in front of them and Natural England taking the astonishing decision to approve the destruction of wild birds' eggs based on this questionable threat, together with the danger of bird poo and the potential of uncontrollable ducks.
Yep, the world has gone mad. And Natural England seems to be at the heart of the madness.
It is time to disband this ridiculous organisation.
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