"The horrors of Natural England's activities are now well known at home and abroad. Indeed my blog has registered interest from more than 170 countries, with readers from every conceivable part of the world. We are one planet, what we do here in Britain naturally has consequences for the global ecosystem, so it is not surprising that alarm bells are ringing far and wide as Natural England casually carry on issuing kill licences in the face of public consternation."
As we approach the end of another year, I thought it was a good time to take a quick look back at some of the things we have discovered about Natural England's (now notorious) approach to managing the country's wildlife and to review just how far we have come with our campaign aimed at overhauling the agency's licensing system.
Delay in publishing licence data...
In particular, it has become clear that we need to keep pressure on Natural England to honour the assurance they made to me, during our discussions earlier this year, in which they promised to publish (by the end of 2019) full details of each and every licence issued in the previous twelve months (2018), moreover vowing to make this an annual declaration that would be freely available to the general public.
Fulfilling this commitment has been delayed due to the general election....though I have asked for confirmation that it will be available immediately following the election.
More on this in a moment.
Natural England - the biggest threat to England's wildlife?
In February I broke the news that Natural England had sanctioned the killing of more than 70,000 birds spanning more than 65 species over a four year period. I was terribly shocked by this discovery (which came through freedom of information requests, as the data is otherwise hidden from the public), and there was a huge and furious reaction from the public who had never imagined such widespread culling and destruction was being carried out by the very people we all assumed would be protecting England's natural heritage. It became clear that the government's own nature watchdog was sanctioning the slaughter of thousands and thousands of native wild birds - apparently without any adequate monitoring or public consultation - and in secret.
March 2019: petition reaches 250,000 signatures
By March the petition I had started with the aim of overhauling the whole of Natural England's licensing system, had realised a quarter of a million signatures, illustrating just how strongly the public felt over the slaughter of the country's wildlife - which was being carried out without their permission - or knowledge.
After I openly complained that Natural England appeared to be smug and unwilling to engage with the public, in spite of the widespread concerns over their activities, I was surprised but pleased to find myself invited to meet with the agency's operations director, James Diamond, to discuss the matter.
In April I finally had the opportunity to discuss the issue with Mr Diamond and we made some progress. Indeed discussion is imperative to progress; it's all too easy to complain and criticise without any attempt to see another's viewpoint and so I felt it was important to talk - and listen.
So it was that as a direct result of dialogue arising from our campaign, Natural England agreed to publish full and complete details of every licence they issue. This information would be available for public scrutiny and would not only include figures for birds but also any other creatures for which the agency had granted lethal control licences. Though the retrospective data would essentially be a year old by the time it was published, this was still a major breakthrough.
Certainly it was an unprecedented result - but (as I said to Mr Diamond at the time), the public still wanted much more transparency from Natural England. For example a voice in licensing decisions and an opportunity to oppose culling of wildlife in public places such as parks for example. With this in mind, I continued to promote the campaign calling for an overhauling of the whole licensing system, and I have maintained dialogue with Natural England in order to express the serious misgivings of the public and the widespread skepticism arising from the agency's less than transparent activities.
More shock revelations - and international condemnation of Natural England
Throughout the summer, I revealed more statistics from Natural England's covert licensing data; the agency's role in killing endangered Herring Gulls, their approval to cull Coots in public parks and the slaughter of migratory Brent Geese. Then came the unbelievable news (again discovered through a freedom of information request) that Natural England had sanctioned the removal of baby songbirds from nests for use in scientific research. It felt as though the 'government's adviser for the natural environment' was nothing more than a vast official killing machine, responsible for decimating our wildlife.
In September I broke the news that the agency had approved the destruction of 200 Mute Swan eggs, 400 Moorhens and 4000 Moorhen eggs. And then I revealed that they had also approved the destruction of several thousand Mallard eggs too, a story that captured media attention, not only in the UK but around the world. The Mallard is such a recognisable and well loved bird that this news proved almost the last straw for those whose tolerance of Natural England was already wearing very thin.
Publication of licence data - postponed....
A couple of weeks ago I had a communication from Natural England advising me that, due to the upcoming general election, they would not now be able to publish the promised licensing data as soon as they had intended. This was because of guidance issued to civil servants and public bodies with respect to communication activities during the pre-election period. They have assured me that all the information is collated and ready so I have asked them to confirm that it will still be published prior to the end of the year. They have yet to respond. My hope is that they will do the right thing and so I am calling on Natural England to publish the promised licensing data, without delay, immediately following the general election.
This would show their commitment to restoring confidence in their work. Lord knows they need to do this if they have any hope of salvaging their integrity among vast swathes of the public....
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