Natural England has failed to respond to a Freedom of Information request, regarding the shooting of Herring Gulls - in spite of being legally obliged to do so.
I submitted the request, relating to an individual licence, as part of my enquiries into the agency's licensing system, having been advised to do so by Natural England's Operations Director, James Diamond.
The licence in question, issued to an applicant in Devon, permitted the shooting of 100 red-listed Herring Gulls and was just one example of many that were approved by the agency.
In fact the total number of Herring Gulls killed under similar licences might potentially be several thousand.
Herring Gulls are a declining, red-listed species of serious conservation concern, so I was interested to discover the reasons behind Natural England's decision to allow the shooting of thousands of these birds.
Information Requested Following Advice From Natural England Operations Director
Mr Diamond informed me that this information would have to be obtained through a FOI request, and so I selected a typical individual licence from the agency's data and asked very specifically, as advised by Mr Diamond, for details of the original application together with Natural England's technical assessment.
I made it clear that I would like to know the precise reasons provided by the applicant explaining why they felt it was necessary to kill Herring Gulls, together with Natural England's response to the applicant and details of the process via which the agency arrived at their decision to approve lethal control of this red listed species.
I also requested return figures if they were available, detailing the numbers of birds finally killed under this individual licence.
That was on 5th July.
On 6th July I received an acknowledgement from a paralegal at Natural England confirming the following:-
"Thank you for your request for the information detailed in your email below, which we received on 5th July 2019.
We are dealing with your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
Your request is being considered and we will send out our response within the legal deadline of 20 working days which is 6th August 2019. If, for any reason, we are unable to meet the deadline we will keep you fully informed of the reasons for this."
Today is 7th August.
The legal deadline has passed.
I have not heard from Natural England and so they have failed in their legal responsibility to either provide the information requested or to keep me 'fully informed' of any reasons for not meeting the legal deadline.
There may be three reasons for this failure to comply with their legal obligations.
It may be because they have information that they prefer to hide.
It may be because they don't even know the reasons behind the decision themselves.
Or it may be that they are simply so disorganised that they don't have a clue what they are doing.
Whatever the reason, this is a massive failure on their part to comply with their legal responsibility.
Such blatant disregard for the law is shocking.
Where do we go from here? Anybody's guess.
But one thing has been made very clear indeed:
Natural England are definitely not fit for purpose.
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