So, as we approach Christmas and look forward to the beginning of a new year, I have some good news from Natural England.
Let me first start by thanking Natural England's outgoing operations director James Diamond, with whom I had an open and informative dialogue.
I found James to be helpful, and I have conveyed my thanks and appreciation to him for the assistance and advice he has provided during 2019, as we discussed the aims of our petition and various issues surrounding the agency's controversial wildlife licensing system.
Our initial dialogue resulted in a pledge, on behalf of Natural England, to publish details of licences the agency had issued (during the previous year) and to make the publication of all wildlife licensing data an annual declaration.
Statistics will be published in January, and then annually from March
The incoming director of operations, David Slater, has now been in touch with me, with details of when that licence data will be released.
Due to the election, the publication of the statistics was delayed slightly - but I now have an assurance that [fanfare!] it will be published and available for public inspection in early January, 2020.
Moreover, Mr Slater has confirmed to me that "we will make sure we publish our annual stats at the end of March each year from now on".
The stats will be freely available for public perusal and scrutiny and should include details of every individual and class licence Natural England has issued, including the number of each species affected and the reasons for approving the licences.
Natural England ready to address public concerns....
Receiving official confirmation of this is a major development and a sure sign that Natural England have acknowledged our campaign and are addressing our concerns over the agency's accountability and responsibility to the public.
There's a way to go yet, but I think this is a very good start.
Less secrecy leading to more public awareness....
It is clear that through our campaign and petition, the British public have demonstrated a real desire to be part of licensing processes and to be kept aware of decisions made by Natural England which affect the treasured wildlife of our country.
Decisions which cannot be kept secret any more.
I have been greatly encouraged by Mr Slater's assurance that he is happy to discuss facts and figures with me and that he is "keen to be as transparent as possible on our wildlife licensing work going forward".
I am hopeful.
And it's not a bad note on which to start 2020, is it?
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