Natural England's latest plans to 'protect' endangered gulls appear to be inept....
Last year, I complained to Natural England that far too many gulls were being slaughtered under licences that they were issuing to 'pest' controllers and others.
I called for a suspension of all Herring gull licences due to the population of this iconic bird being in free-fall, some estimates suggesting an 82% drop in the birds' numbers.
Through freedom of information requests I had discovered truly shocking figures that suggested excessive extermination of the birds and for often spurious reasons.
I received reassurance, from then operations director James Diamond, that new measures would be considered to protect gulls, including red listed endangered Herring gulls.
In July, 2019, Mr Diamond told me that "it seems likely we will need to review again our approach to gull licensing, both individual and class licences...."
Gulls' Decline Is "Worrying Trend," Says Natural England
Today I note with interest that Natural England have modified the licensing criteria for two species of endangered gulls. From now on Herring gulls, together with Lesser black backed gulls, will be afforded a little more protection through slightly stricter licensing rules.
Marian Spain, interim chief executive of Natural England said today "Populations of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls have declined significantly in recent years and it’s essential that we do all we can to reverse this worrying trend."
Er, yes, well we could have told you that a long time ago - oh hang on, actually we did.
Too Little, Too Late
Though today's announcement from Natural England is welcome, their action really is 'too little and too late'.
Although licences for gull control and management in rural areas are likely to be significantly reduced in number, a statement from Natural England said that "Control levels of nests, eggs and chicks will not be limited in urban areas, where populations are thought to have better breeding success rates."
That is a mistake.
It leaves the door open to largely un-monitored persecution of red listed and declining species of gull. It is absurd to assume that urban gulls are in less danger than rural gulls - and yet that is exactly what Natural England have decided.
It will therefore still be possible for 'pest' control companies and others to kill these magnificent birds in urban areas if they can persuade Natural England that there is a threat to 'human life and health'. In practice, I doubt that this will prevent Natural England from issuing hundreds or thousands of licences to those who make their living from killing birds, as they have been doing for years. No wonder that the gulls are in steep decline.
No Confidence In Natural England Or Defra
Natural England said that they are "working with Defra to explore options for filling current gaps in evidence around urban gull populations, which would enable us to refine our licensing approach in future."
By the time these clunky organisations get their 'evidence' together, threatened gulls will be in even more danger. I have very little confidence that either organisation is competent enough to trust with the future of our beleaguered wildlife.
Public Pressure Can Bring More Change
But let us not forget that it is a very small step towards real change.
Without the support of all the people who continue to sign our petition, and the pressure this support has brought to bear on Natural England, I doubt that even this limited review of gull licensing would have happened. People power has again brought about change, a change that will doubtless save very many gulls, albeit not enough.
We will continue to push for change, for more protection for our native wildlife.
Meanwhile, for those hundreds of thousands of you who have signed the petition, next time you spot a gull, please remember that, but for you, that gull might not be there.
Well done. Now onward, there is much more work to do.
Please continue to sign and share the petition: HERE.
Access Complete Data File, Via My Blog, Today....
Following Natural England's publication of licensing data last week, I contacted them and expressed the disappointment many of us had felt over the lack of certain details, especially the absence of statistics specifying the numbers of birds (and other animals) covered by each licence.
I shared with Natural England my belief that, by withholding this vital information, they were reinforcing the growing public concerns over their activities.
After some further discussions with their national operations director, David Slater, I'm pleased to say that I now have Natural England's permission to share some further licensing information with the public in much more detail, via my blog, today.
And some very welcome news, beginning in March, with the next published instalment of wildlife licensing data, Natural England plan to include the numbers associated with the licences - this is a great step forward and shows a firm commitment from Natural England to strive for more transparency and accessibility over their work.
So today I am happy to provide a link to the raw data (for birds only), detailing all the individual and class licences that Natural England issued between 2015 and 2018, including the numbers of birds affected by each licence. I feel it is correct that the public can have access to these statistics in order to have an informed opinion.
The data file can now be freely accessed by the public* via the link below.
LINK: CLICK HERE
(It should be noted carefully that this raw data includes duplicate licences which need to be taken into account, in order to avoid overstating the number of birds affected).
I think this is an excellent outcome and I thank Natural England for their kind co-operation over this matter, and for listening to public concerns.
Special thanks to all the supporters of our petition, without whom this could not have happened.
I hope this information is useful and I hope too that we can now look forward to much more openness from Natural England going forward.
*Please bear in mind that this data remains copyright and cannot be misused in any way.
Please see the further information below for details of this:-
FOI data information: Please note that the information we have supplied to you is subject to copyright protection under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. You may re-use this information (not including logos) free of charge in any format or medium, for the purposes of research for non-commercial purposes, private study, criticism, review and news reporting. You must re-use it accurately and not in a misleading context. The material must be acknowledged as Natural England copyright and you must give the title of the source document/publication. However, if you wish to re-use all or part of this information for commercial purposes, including publishing and the information is not covered by the Open Government Licence you will need to apply for a licence. Applications can be sent to Enquiry Service, Natural England, County Hall, Spetchley Road, Worcester, WR5 2NP.
This information may also contain third party copyrighted material and you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned before you re-use it.
Well, was it worth waiting for?
While Natural England have published some wildlife licensing data on their website, as per our discussions last year, the information they have released is not what we were anticipating or hoping for.
Frankly, I was expecting something better than this.
The published data does contain some information on a wide range of species (birds, mammals, amphibians and more) for which Natural England has issued licences.
This includes the bird lethal control licences which are at the heart of our campaign - but with one important set of figures missing - the actual number of birds approved to be killed under the licences. It is perhaps not surprising that this detail is missing as it is a shocking figure that would no doubt prove highly controversial if it were in the public domain. As I've revealed through freedom of information requests, it is the sheer numbers of birds that Natural England has permitted to be culled under these licences that is the biggest issue - and this, crucially, is missing from the published information.
I was, however, led to believe that these statistics would be included.
So, on behalf of the 356,000 concerned supporters of our petition, I am hugely disappointed and a little irritated.
Natural England told me that it is their intention to be much more transparent going forward.
If this is Natural England being more transparent then they have a very long way to go.
And I will be asking for an explanation from them in the next few days.
You can see the published data HERE
And please keep sharing our petition HERE
"It's too big a risk to assume that these sensitive, magnificent and ancient creatures will adapt to the clumsy experiments of humankind."
As deaf whales are washed ashore in Taiwan, with hearing loss being the 'primary reason' for their demise, I ask the question: are stranded British whales and dolphins casualties of the offshore wind industry in this country?
Practically every day brings new reports of stranded whales and dolphins around the British coast, the numbers are on the rise and nobody seems to know why.
Ever expanding wind farms are beginning to dominate our coastal seas.
Is there a link?
I've suggested in previous articles that it might be wise, indeed essential, to halt the further proliferation of offshore wind farms until we have safely established whether or not giant fields of humming wind turbines are causing havoc to sound-sensitive marine mammals - but the industry seems to be oblivious to the signs. Something is definitely awry.
With research showing that beached whales were stranded after becoming deaf, it's surely time to stop the madness and reassess the wind industry.
Damaged hearing - the 'primary reason' for the beaching of whales
In April last year, a headline in Taiwan's Taipei Times read "Beached whales’ hearing badly damaged". Taiwan's Ocean Conservation Administration (OCA), discovered that scans on beached Pygmy Killer Whales showed abnormal shadows in their middle ears, concluding that it was a loss of hearing that caused them to become stranded. Indeed a beached Pilot whale that survived was placed under observation and was found to be completely deaf; according to observers the whale appeared to be "anxious and unable to swim normally." It was duly noted that "this was the primary reason for its stranding."
The definite cause of the whales' hearing loss is not known, conservation specialists have suggested that it might have been caused by 'some disease'. But it has nevertheless led to renewed concerns about the widespread construction of offshore wind farms in Taiwan, and there have been warnings that critically endangered Humpback Dolphins could be wiped out entirely by human activity, including wind farm development, off the coast of the island nation. The Taiwan conservation organisation MFCU said in statement that "the large-scale off-shore wind power plants along the western coast may also threaten the dolphins' survival due to low-frequency noise by wind turbines".
Warnings from science - but UK continues to champion offshore wind industry...
As we know, many marine mammals rely on sensitive sonar to navigate through our oceans, and infrasound from offshore wind turbines (along with other ocean noise such as seismic surveys and military sonar) can interfere with this, causing them to become confused and disorientated. Yet in spite of warnings from experts and scientists, the gung-ho and irresponsible proliferation of wind farms in our seas continues unabated.
The UK already has the largest offshore wind farm in the world, in the Irish Sea, and work is beginning on an even bigger development in the North Sea, which will comprise 87 turbines each 260 meters high. They will join the staggering 2,590 turbines already operating in the area.
The glaringly obvious potential for whale and dolphin strandings, caused directly by the giant offshore turbines, is apparently being largely ignored by authorities in the UK and many other countries, while the plans to recklessly expand offshore wind are hailed, by the gullible, as the answer to climate change and the energy crisis.
Since I last reported about the perils posed to marine life by the offshore wind industry, dead and dying whales and dolphins have continued to wash up in significant numbers around the UK coast, often in close proximity to the giant wind farms that have, without our permission, become a blot on our seascapes and perhaps the biggest folly of modern times.
And with developers and politicians clamoring to jump aboard the wind farm bandwagon, there seems little hope that the insanity of rampant offshore wind development will cease any time soon.
Whale beachings up by 15% in UK
Both wind farm construction and operation cause noise that affects whales and dolphins and many of us believe that this could be a significant cause of strandings.
The cautionary advice from Taiwan adds weight to this theory.
A quick look at whale strandings around the British coast shows that an alarming number of them take place close to offshore wind farms. Not so surprising as Britain's coast is quickly becoming dominated by forests of enormous turbines.
According to research by the CSIP (Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme), whale beachings in the UK rose by 15% in the period 2011 to 2017, a total of 4,896 whales, dolphins and porpoises died. The actual number of deaths is likely to be much higher as not all carcasses are washed ashore.
A report in Science Focus points out that, in addition to other threats such as disease and plastic pollution, cetaceans are highly susceptible to environmental noise pollution, suggesting that "chronic noise from shipping and off-shore wind farms can drive animals away from their usual habitats and into dangerous environments".
It seems logical to conclude that at least some of the whale deaths might be due to noise pollution from offshore wind farms.
Hundreds of 'unexplained' whale deaths - not caused by fishing, plastics or ship strike
Over a period of seven years, post mortems were carried out on about 1,000 specimens of whales and dolphins stranded on British beaches, in an attempt to discover the cause of their deaths.
According to the results, accidental entanglement in fishing gear (trawlers are commonly blamed for killing whales and dolphins) actually only accounted for around one in four deaths of Common Dolphins, and one in 10 of Harbour Porpoises. A further 25 individuals had been struck by a ship and just one single Cuvier's Beaked Whale died after ingesting marine litter.
This leaves potentially hundreds of cetacean strandings around the coast of the UK with no conclusive explanation of exactly how and why the creatures died.
Damage to the delicate hearing of these animals might be a contributory cause, and the increasing noise from wind farm construction and operation in the seas around the UK should be taken into consideration as a possible factor in the mammals' deaths.
While this seems worthy of investigation, there is much complacency within the industry and its army of supporters; birds and bats, we know, are being slaughtered by offshore turbines in large numbers, but nobody can see the dead bodies at sea. Explaining away stranded whales and dolphins might prove to be more of a challenge....
Whale and Dolphin deaths continue in areas where offshore wind farms proliferate...
Last month alone, two dead dolphins were washed ashore in Selsey and East Wittering on England's south coast, close to Rampion offshore wind farm.
A whale was washed ashore on a beach in Walney, Cumbria, just a short distance from the world's biggest offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea, an area that has been overwhelmed by industrial wind farm development in recent years.
But it's the tip of the iceberg - the news was full of similar reports during 2019. And already in the first few weeks of 2020, the news is depressingly familiar with dolphins and whales appearing all too regularly, stranded on British beaches, including the terribly sad sight of a Killer Whale washed up in Norfolk, a very worrying event that begs further questions over the wisdom of building even more wind farms in the North Sea, an area, as mentioned earlier, already saturated with vast banks of turbines.
Has the whale, for so long a symbol of conservation, now become a casualty of an industry that markets itself as a saviour of the planet?
With so much environmental damage already attributed to the wind industry - on and off-shore - the modern fanciful folly that is wind energy might turn out to be one of the biggest contributors to environmental destruction that we have seen in recent times.
More research BEFORE more offshore wind farms
Who knows how many whales and dolphins are swimming around with hearing damage caused by the construction and operation of wind farms? And who knows how many will perish? The answer is simply that we do not know. And while we do not know, shouldn't we just stop and think? It's too big a risk to assume that these sensitive, magnificent and ancient creatures will adapt to the clumsy experiments of humankind.
As I have often repeated, we need much more independent research into the potentially catastrophic effects on wildlife before further offshore development is permitted. Alas, such research looks unlikely to happen on any significant scale; and would the industry and gullible politicians listen to words of warning anyway?
Perhaps the financial gain has become more of an incentive than the survival of our wildlife. That sounds familiar.
When the world finally wakes up to more dead whales on more beaches, it will probably be too late.
It seems that humankind will never learn, we have almost wiped out these incredible creatures several times before in our short history.
Somehow they have survived.
Now, with mind boggling stupidity, we might finally drive them to extinction through greed and a bumbling attempt to 'save the planet' pursuing wind energy.
If we continue to indulge this very dubious industry, we might stand to wipe out not only some of our rarest birds, bats and insects, but also earth's greatest living mammals.
It would be the ultimate, tragic irony.
Firstly Happy New Year to you all!
I thought I'd provide an update on the long awaited and much anticipated Natural England wildlife licensing data, which should have been published by now....
Discussions and Developments
My revelations last year about the shocking extent of wild bird control including mass culling sanctioned by Natural England, led to discussions I had with the agency in which I shared public concerns over the secrecy surrounding the wildlife licensing system and the quality of Natural England's decision making processes.
With the weight of hundreds of thousands of supporters behind me, I was able to secure a promise from Natural England's then operations director, James Diamond, that in future all licences issued by the agency would be published in full, annually, beginning before the end of 2019.
The information (the first installment of which I have been assured was all collated and checked as early as last October) should include (at least) 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. In other words, these will be statistics from which the public can draw their own conclusions and opinions about the effectiveness and suitability of Natural England's licensing system.
I was told yesterday by interim national operations director David Slater that the data would be live on the government website today (Friday 10th).
Unfortunately I received a further email from him late last night advising me of a further delay. He had misread the date, and publication was actually scheduled for next Friday.
Mistakes happen, but hundreds of thousands of people have been waiting very patiently to view this data and there is bound to be a backlash if it does not appear, on time, next week or if it is not as comprehensive and clear as we have been led to believe it will be.
Mr Slater told me in December that he is "keen to be as transparent as possible on our wildlife licensing work going forward."
That indeed bodes well for the future.
A good start will be to have a transparent look at the licensing statistics next week.
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