My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
As regular readers to this blog will know, earlier this year NE issued licences to control buzzards at a chicken farm and a pheasant shoot. I summarised our concerns and opposition at the time. In the interests of transparency, we published the (heavily redacted) papers we had obtained through an Environment Information Regulations (EIR) request at that stage.
We only learned of these licences after they were issued and enacted in the spring and, unfortunately, there was nothing we could do to turn the clock back. Since then we have made further EIR requests and met with Natural England to discuss our concerns in detail. In view of the very high level of public interest in this issue I am attaching the documents we received from our further information requests and I will summarise the current state of play below.
On 5 July, the pheasant shoot applicant, not satisfied with having destroyed several buzzard nests under NE licence in the spring, submitted further licence requests to kill a total of 16 buzzards and 3 sparrowhawks around four shoots that he manages between August and October this year. This was on the basis that, according to the applicant, nest destruction had no noticeable effect on the numbers of buzzards in the area. No new evidence of damage to the pheasant shoots was provided and Natural England, to their credit, rejected all four licence applications.
Birds of prey are long lived species (or at least they should be!) which have a relatively slow reproductive rate. They are therefore particularly susceptible to the impact of removing adult birds and have a history of being persecuted. So I believe that birds of prey do require special treatment and if a commercial enterprise can only be viable through the routine removal birds of prey then this is neither acceptable nor sustainable. The onus must be on shooting enterprises to find non destructive management measures that reduce levels of predation rather than denying some of our magnificent birds their rightful place in the countryside.
[As far as the chicken farm is concerned we understand that no further licence applications have been made neither are they anticipated. This appears to have been a very unusual and, hopefully, one off case.]
Whilst encouraged by NE’s decision on these subsequent applications I remain concerned at the lack of openness and publicly available information over this issue. For example, most of the relevant background information on shoot returns presented as evidence of alleged serious damage has been withheld. I believe there is an issue of public interest here in a novel, controversial case that potentially sets a precedent for the future. We acknowledge that NE is tasked with the job of considering licence applications within a framework set out by Defra and they do this to the best of their ability. However, in cases such as this I think the public interest and trust in the decision making process would be best served by much greater transparency.
We have repeatedly argued that Defra should change it's policy so that licenses cannot be granted to control/kill birds of prey. The sad reality is that Defra have not budged. We believe that Defra should not have allowed licenses to be granted whilst new research (to reduce conflict between pheasants and buzzards through non-interventionist means) was being explored with us and other stakeholders. But, last year whilst we thought the focus was on research, Defra was telling NE to get on with licensing. Natural England were therefore obliged to respect the Defra direction and follow due process. Meanwhile, there has been no progress on research into reducing conflicts or on assessing the ecological impacts of 40 million pheasants being released into the countryside.
We will continue to monitor bird of prey licensing like a... well, a hawk.
PS It goes without saying that, several lengthy sections of these papers have been heavily redacted by NE. In some cases this makes it impossible to fully understand the justification for licensed control. If you can piece the story together, please do let me know!
Further pheasant shoot licence application 5 July7635.2105_response on further licence applications.pdf8473.Acknowledgement of Wildlife Licence applications_RD..pdf7536.Further Licence Application_RD.pdfWLM 2013 1750-1752 report_RD.pdfRejection letter, Release site recommendations and Site map, references WLM_2013_1750 to 1752 and WLM_2013_1883 to 1886_RD..pdfBackground NE correspondence relating to original licence applications1996_response correspondence request.pdf
Pheasant shootFile A (1).pdfFile A (2).pdfFile A (3).pdfFile A (4).pdfFile A (5).pdfFile A (6).pdfFile A (7).pdfFile A (8).pdfFile A (9).pdfFile A (10).pdfFile A (11).pdfFile A (12).pdfChicken farmFile B (1).pdfFile B (2).pdfFile B (3).pdfFile B (4).pdfFile B (5).pdfFile B (6).pdfFile B (7).pdfFile B (8).pdfFile B (9).pdfFile B (10).pdfFile B (11).pdfFile B (12).pdfFile B (13).pdfFile B (14).pdfFile B (15).pdf
Any party that suffers an electoral defeat goes through a period of reflection and renewal. The crushing reality of leaving government must be a painful experience and it is perhaps not surprising that few parties get back to power at the first attempt. Labour, this week, was trying to demonstrate that the wreckage of the 2010 election defeat is in the past, that the process of renewal is well advanced and that they have the ideas to govern. Commentators will doubtless write tomes on this over the next 48 hours offering their assessment of progress. The ultimate test will, of course, come in May 2015 when the voters get to decide. So, it has been interesting watching, listening and talking to people within the party this week. As an environmentalist, it was good for me to see Ed Miliband recapture his passion for the environment in his speech yesterday - someone who had a leadership role on climate change in government became surprisingly muted when in opposition. Yesterday's speech must not be a one-off. As I wrote recently, we need to hear more about the environment from political leaders.
It was equally good to hear from others about the importance of integrating environmental considerations (including nature) into sectors such as housing and farming. This is the right direction of travel for all sectoral policy development and for all parties.
Having set out their vision and ambition, people will quite rightly ask how the parties plan to achieve their ambition. The parties need to be convincing and we're happy to help any party come up with ideas that we think will work based on our experience.
So, for example, if you want to build 200,000 greener, affordable homes without trashing the environment, you need to do, at least, four things:
We'll say more about these issues in the coming days through our Saving Special Places blog. And, more importantly, we'll continue to share our thinking with any party that is prepared to listen!
It is a treat to wake up in Brighton on a sunny September morning like today. The sea is calm, the gulls are noisy and the joggers seem content. No-one would know that Brighton was hosting a party conference.
At night however, the story is very different. As the sun goes down, the men in suits and ladies in heels stride purposefully up and down the King's Road on the seafront diving into various hotels in search for the next fringe meeting or networking opportunity.
On Sunday night, the RSPB hosted its fringe on the State of Nature. Expertly chaired by journalist Alex Kirby, about 50 people (including many RSPB members) participated in a question time event with Melanie Smallwood, Mary Creagh MP and me. It was a good hour with questions ranging from HS2 and Heathrow, through to Higher Level Stewardship and predation, to wind farms and organic farming. It was also timely to put the Labour party on the spot - at this point in the political cycle they need to be preparing their priorities/ideas for their manifesto for what they hope will end up being their agenda for government. On issues where Labour has been in active oppositional mode, their views are clear: on horsemeat, on the proposed sell-off of public forest estate, on the badger cull for example, they have settled views. Yet, in other areas for example, especially on how to tackle the 60% decline in monitored UK species - as highlighted in the State of Nature report - their views are there to be shaped - definitely a work in progress.
So, this week, we shall be encouraging them, as we do with any political party, to be bold and reflect on the institutional, policy, legislative, funding and delivery arrangements required to kick-start nature's revival.
As this morning's news about seabirds in Scotland warn, it is clear that current efforts are inadequate to deal with crisis facing our wildlife. We need a political arms race where the parties compete with one another for the best environmental policies and then we need politicians to have the courage to implement them even in difficult economic times. And this message is a relevant today as it is to future governments. Governments north and south of the border need to step up their efforts to safeguard our sealife - getting a decent network of marine protected areas in place for seabirds would be a sensible place to start. If you need any more convincing, watch this video...