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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Protecting our diminishing wildlife - this is what Natural England is all about

Hi Lee,

I have been through a battle with Natural England in two Public Inquiries trying to prevent the unnecessary destruction of a commuting and roosting site, here in Oxford, for 13 species of Bats, including two which are nationally rare. In the name of wider economic interests, Natural England are now obliged to issue such licences for the destruction of protected species. This new obligation is known as the Hampton Principle (after a report by the corporate businessman, Philip Hampton, published in 2004).

The findings of the Hampton Report became Statutory Law on April 6th 2008, after over 300 business and governmental organisations were consulted. However, not a single environmental charity was given the chance to comment.

That law was implemented by the Labour Party.

Forcing them to adhere to the Hampton Principle, Natural England recently abandoned its legal action against the Walshaw Moor grouse estate for the burning of blanket bog.

At the first Public Inquiry into the Evergreen 3 proposal (a rail scheme by Deutsche Bahn to provide a new, high speed rail link between Oxford and London, Marylebone) Natural England initially refused a license to destroy the bat site because the rail company and Network Rail would not agree to keep services down to 30 mph though a sensitive tunnel, even though the tunnel is within a mile of the next stop in both directions.

The Inspector duly did not recommend the proposal.

However, Justine Greening (Secretary of State for Transport) ordered Natural England and Deutsche Banh to "resolve their differences". They met behind closed doors for four weeks and when they emerged, Natural England had reversed their position, on the basis of a mitigation scheme for the bats.

The Government wanted to grant the Order, but we forced them to a second Public Inquiry on the grounds that this decision had been made in secret. At the second Public Inquiry Natural England employed a Barrister and a team of six to argue in favour of destroying this site by allowing trains to travel at 70 mph through the tunnel.

The Natural England witness to the Inquiry did not know how many species of bat existed in England, did not know the level-flight speed of any bat, and did not know of any avian predator of bats, let alone their level-flight speeds. However, he did maintain that if the bats were killed by fast trains "it did not matter".

In tests of their lighting scheme for excluding bats from the tunnel during train passes, the best figures they could produce excluded a maximum of just 60% of the bats present. That still left 40% of the bats present, with a fast train approaching, either remaining to forage in the tunnel, failing to crawl into safe crevices, or actually entering the tunnel ahead of the train.

Natural England know this means bats, including rare species, will be killed at this site at an unsustainable attrition rate in the future, but "that does not matter".

By keeping trains to the existing 30 mph limit through the tunnel - something bats have co-existed with for many decades - the new, vastly improved, journey times would be increased by just 46 seconds, between both Oxford and Bicester or Oxford and London.

But Natural England refused to support that measure, in the name of the economic interests of Deutsche Bahn and their commuters.

These trains are scheduled to start and terminate at Oxford, with a turn-around time at Oxford station of 14 minutes!

Natural England, Deutsche Bahn and Network Rail won the day.

All my evidence to the second Public Inquiry was redacted in the Inspector's Report. Every word removed. The reason for this was because Justine Greening, in being forced to hold a second Public Inquiry ruled that we could discuss anything we like about bats, vibration and noise, but we must not talk about speed.

Therefore all my evidence about the level-flight speeds of bats, compared to the speeds of on-coming trains, was removed. All my evidence about the co-evolution of bats, owls and sparrow hawks and their comparative level-flight speeds was removed. All my evidence about the extent of different bat calls, the furthest distance these bats could detect an on-coming train and, therefore, the time between detecting a train, travelling at 70 mph, and the train hitting the bat (a matter of hundredths of a second) was removed.

That is how Governments can control Public Inquires. Deutsche Bahn and Network Rail had not wanted a speed restriction at any price, and so it was arranged. First, they twisted Natural England's arms, and then they restricted the Public Inquiry's terms of reference.

I have written about this on oxonbirds, and extensively in the Oxford Times, though the more damning letters were not published. One of those not published pointed out which organisations refused to support me in my defense of this bat site.

I was refused support by the Bat Conservation Trust (after they heard that Natural England were now supporting the development, they emailed me to say they were too small a charity to fight a Public Inquiry), Oxford Bat Group - who were very interested, then suddenly stopped answering my emails or responding to phone messages asking for help, BBOWT, who said they could not oppose Natural England over bats because they receive grants from them and had to work together, and the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, who said they, too, were too small to take on "every fight" even though they incorporate the Mammals Trust.

I was refused support even though I was a long-standing member of both BBOWT and PTES/Mammals Trust.

Now, Natural England is under its Triennial Review, where it is proposed to be merged with the Environment Agency with the main aim to be the "support of Government Policy", rather than speaking out for wildlife.

Recently, the Government Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport, denounced the European temporary ban on neonicotinoids, obviously deciding that the precautionary approach regarding the health and the very existence of bees was not worth applying - because "the consequences of such a moratorium could be harmful to farming communities".

And then there is the Department of the Environment's Chief Scientist, Ian Boyd, who not only supports the scientifically flawed Badger cull (an experiment with just two sample sites, when there has already been a wide-spread experiment which produced the result that the positive effects were tiny compared to the cost) but also claims such a cull will be "good for biodiversity".

When the Government want a tame scientist, judge or organisation, they can always find one. We have a long and disgraceful history of corrupt Inquiries. Only when all the guilty are dead is the truth allowed to come out.

We all know that this Government are determined to squash the environmental lobby in the name of economic development and B I G money. By neutralising Natural England, which they have done with the legislation passed by the previous Labour administration, they have silenced the only Environmental organisation with Statutory powers.

Confronted by this about-turn - my letter to the Oxford Times was originally titled "Natural England Turned Poacher" - I have personally witnessed conservation charities collapse into compliance. They see their grants as being more important to them than fighting for their principles.

As for things to come, during my Rooks survey I came across an angry game keeper who wanted to shoot out Red Kites because "I don't care what they say, Red Kites take young Pheasant". He was already preparing to shoot out the Rooks "as soon as they fledge". Well, Natural England is your new friend... it is only a matter of time.

No Cheers,

keith Clancy