Seven months ago, I blogged here that a Derbyshire gamekeeper, Glenn Brown, had been found guilty of attempting to illegally trap and kill birds of prey.
What I failed to report was that the gamekeeper later appealed this decision. However, yesterday, we heard that he lost his appeal and the Judge upheld his sentence of 100 hours community service while increasing his costs from £10,000 to £17,000.
I am delighted by this news. There is no place for illegal killing of birds of prey in 21st century Britain.
I am also delighted for all those involved in bringing this case to court including RSPB investigation staff who had to put up with sustained attacks on their integrity from the defence lawyers in both trials.
I am proud that RSPB has such dedicated and professional investigation staff. They work tirelessly with the police to bring these criminals to justice and this verdict sends a signal that those who illegally kill birds of prey will be caught and will be punished.
Crimes such as these illustrate links between driven-grouse shooting and the illegal killing of birds of prey. This is why industry leaders and employers need to do more to stamp out these crimes. It is an inconvient truth that since 1990 there have been over 100 gamekeepers convicted of crimes relating to the despicable persecution of birds of prey.
More needs to be done.
We believe that land managers and owners should be held legally accountable for any wildlife crimes that are committed by their staff, as is the case in Scotland. If you agree, please sign this petition calling for introduction of an offence for vicarious liability for raptor persecution. We shall be encouraging the Law Commission to give this serious consideration as part of its review of wildlife management legislation in England and Wales.
Finally, if you have not done so already, do read more about the investigation here.
And now here is my final guest blog of the week from JohannTasker, chief reporter for Farmers Weekly magazine. He follows contributions from Matthew Naylor, Allan Buckwell and Caroline Drummond. They have all offered their thoughts on how to balance production with conservation in response to a presentation that I gave to the Oxford Farming Conference this week. You can read a copy of my paper here.
Johann's headline is "Farmers an all too easy target".
"It’s all too easy to blame farmers when food leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. And the same is true when it comes to the countryside – or at least the state of the rural environment and the wildlife it supports.
After all, agriculture is our most visible rural industry. The number of farmers may be declining but agriculture remains the UK's biggest land user, with crops and livestock dominating most of the country’s surface area.Yet the average consumer has little idea of what happens on the average farm. The closest most people get to seeing food produced these days is on TV or through the car or train window as they hurtle from one town to the next.It’s hardly surprising. We’re a post-industrial urban-based society. So while an army of celebrity chefs feeds our seemingly insatiable appetite for TV shows about food, few of us actually get our hands dirty producing it.Despite the resurgent popularity of programmes like BBC Countryfile. our understanding as a nation of the complexities facing farmers striving to make a living from the land remains limited.Many of the major factors influencing agricultural productivity and profitability are out of farmers’ hands. The most obvious is the weather. But food producers are also at the mercy of political and economic forces they can do little about.Farmers have done a great job over the past 70 years responding to politicians’ demands for cheap, plentiful food. So successfully, in fact, we now spend under 15% of our income on food – less than half the proportion 50 years ago.Having succeeded on this score, now farmers are being asked to produce food more sustainably. But for this is to work more widely, consumers must keep their side of the bargain too – valuing food more highly and wasting less of it.That’s because the marketplace doesn’t reward farmers for looking after the countryside. Which explains the growing shift in farm subsidies away from food production and towards environmental measures.A new generation of farmers is signing up to environment schemes like never before. And their initially skeptical fathers, reared on a diet of post-war subsidies to boost production at seemingly any cost, are gradually being won over.If anyone is moving too slowly when it comes to rebalancing food production and conservation, it is the policy-makers not the food producers.
In the 20 years I’ve been involved in agriculture, I’ve seen a step change in the way land is managed. Farmers are more than willing to embrace their environmental responsibilities – and more will do so, with wider support."Do you agree with Johann?
It would be great to hear your views.
...I would have seen the Prime Minister interviewed by John Craven on Countryfile. It is worth a watch. I am not for a moment suggesting that it is a substitute for what I called for in yesterday's blog - a key note speech setting out Mr Cameron's vision for the environment - but it is still pleasing to hear support for the environment from the top of the Government.
As context for the interview, John uses footage of Mr Cameron's 14 May 2010 speech to staff at the Department of Energy and Climate Change where he uttered those immortal words "I want this to be the greenest government ever". He then asks whether, following the Chancellor's autumn economic statement, the intent remains.
Mr Cameron said that he does not see a distinction between environmental protection and economic growth, he suggested that he would no more put the countryside at risk than his own family and that he remains supportive of renewable energy. It is a refreshing to hear him speak publicly of the agenda which figured so prominently when he was Leader of the Opposition.
Of course, I disagreed with his analysis about the planning proposals and think that he is wrong when he suggests that protection afforded to SSSIs is not threatened by the reform (read my blog entry here). But I hope that when he engages in the detail of the policy debate he will be supportive of changes proposed by the RSPB, the National Trust and others.
The second part of the interview will be shown next week and a preview suggests that he will outline his support for reform of the CAP so that more farmers are rewarded for protecting the environment. If Mr Cameron begins to find his environmental voice and fights for policies to match his rhetoric, then 2012 may just be a good year for wildlife.
I must remember to tune in next week.
Did you see Mr Cameron's interview? What did you think?
It's all beginning to feel a bit familiar. Yesterday I woke up with another cold to hear reports that the Government is set to include the option of a new airport in the Thames Estuary as part of a consultation on the future of aviation in the UK.
Although deeply depressing, this isn't really a surprise. The Chancellor's Autumn economic statement said that the Government intended to look into all the options for airport expansion, ruling out nothing other than a third runway at Heathrow.
This, remember, was the Autumn statement in which the Chancellor pledged to, "make sure that gold plating of EU rules on things like Habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses". I didn't like this comment at the time. It was an ill-conceived and wholly inaccurate piece of empty rhetoric.
In view of the airport plans, I like this comment even less.
But haven't we been here somewhere before? At around this time last year, the Government launched its consultation into the proposed sell-off of England's public forests. The resulting public outcry resulted in an embarrassing u-turn. The public forests remain in state ownership. Then there was the fuss over the planning reforms. Another consultation, another public fuss - this time accompanied by the unedifying spectacle of Government ministers resorting to childish name-calling. Their ire was directed at the likes of the National Trust, who had dared to oppose them. The result? The Prime Minister was wheeled out to soothe the furrowed brows of, amongst others, his own rural backbenchers.
This is the big one. An airport in the Thames Estuary would involve the large-scale destruction of a vast area of our natural environment and would be entirely inconsistent with any plans that this Government has for meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets.
I don't hear the public clamouring for more airports - the "need" is being driven entirely by business interests. This loose alliance of developers and big business may provide the Government with money, but I am really not convinced that they provide it with votes. The Prime Minister would do well to remember this when he listens to Boris Johnson or George Osborne's latest cunning plan to generate short-term, unsustainable growth at any cost.
"Any cost" may mean an environmental cost, a quality of life cost, and a long-term growth cost, but I would argue that it could also mean a political cost to the governing parties in the coalition. It's not as if this option has not been discussed before. The last Government (which did have some daft ideas about a third runway at Heathrow) produced a White Paper which looked at the airport idea and concluded that it would be bad for business, bad for wildlife and bad for air safety. This Government now risks wasting public money in order to reach the same conclusion.
Be in no doubt: if the option of an airport in the Thames Estuary is included in the draft aviation white paper in March, we will fight this one. Not just because we value the landscape and wildife of the Thames Estuary. Not just because we are opposed to increases in airport capacity which would exacerbate climate change . It's because the economic model on which this is based is fundamentally flawed. We are in favour of smart growth, not dumb, destructive growth.
Over the next few days, I will try to share some of the detailed arguments that will need to inform the debate about the Government's stated ambition to retain its status an international aviation hub. If you care about this agenda and wondering what to do, the first thing you could do is register your view on this online poll. I have a feeling that things may heat up a bit in the run up to the expected March publication of the draft aviation White Paper.
And one final thought - which of you conspiracy theorists out there would make the link between this harebrained airport plan and the Government's anti-enironment rhetoric? Think about it: apart from economics and air strikes, what stands in the way of the airport plan? The habitats regulations, for one thing - it is difficult to see that an airport in the Thames (with so much protected under European law) would pass the test of whether there are no alternative more environmentally benign ways of meeting what I assume will be their stated objective of increasing aviation capacity. Some may say that it was strange that the Government should start vilifying these environmental safeguards in the exact same speech that put airports back on the agenda. Whatever theory you hold, I firmly believe that the coalition Government, if it goes ahead with this plan, will be guilty, once again, of underestimating the public.
Do you agree?
I mused yesterday on the scale of public support for an airport in the Thames estuary. While no direct indication of public reaction, it is always instructive to observe the media response and here it is...
The Times is generally taking the stance that Britain needs a new airport, whatever the consequences. It suggests that Heathrow’s 3rd terminal was only avoided as an election ploy for west London voters. Now it seems, the Tories can’t turn back on it. Many are now warming to the idea. The headline ‘Olympic call for airfields to help avoid ignominy of ‘Third World’ Heathrow’ implies that embarrassment of overcrowding is the main problem. They talk about the temporary terminal but imply it won’t help our economics for long. The conservation side was very much an afterthought on the 2 page spread. However, an opinion piece by Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of International Airline Group gives an entirely different perspective suggesting that the scheme is likely to be politically unacceptable and passengers and airlines will only move if Heathrow is closed.
The Guardian seems fairly sure that Boris’s leaking of info to the Telegraph has killed off his plans with the Lib Dems opposition to any expansion in South East. There are two full articles in guardian online. Juliette Jowitt has a kinder introduction into the birds it will impact and the significance of the protected areas involved. Damian Carrington’s environmental blog is calling the government’s claims to be green, cynical. He points out that if a cavalier attitude to carbon emissions doesn’t worry you, it should.The Daily Mail seems positive about the Thames options being explored.The Daily Telegraph " href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/9023815/Nick-Clegg-threatens-to-veto-unviable-vision-of-a-new-airport-in-the-Thames-Estuary.html">The Daily Telegraph blames Nick Clegg for threatening to ‘sink’ Boris Island airport. They have a pro and con box of Boris Island, Lord Foster’s proposal, Stansted, Gatwick and Birmingham. Boris Island comes off pretty well, followed closely by Gatwick. The Independent provides a much more balance two page spread introducing the environmental argument early on. It highlights the conflicts of local people as well as the wider environmental impact. A for and against box from Simon Calder, Travel Editor and Michael McCarthy, Environment editor discusses the possibility of cutting emissions and increasing flying. Again, Gatwick is mentioned as least objectionable proposal.
And as for the broadcast media, our man Rolf Williams, appeared on the 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock news as well as Newsight (about 30 minutes in). The latter is worth a watch. Rolf is great and I think that there are enough arguments in this clip to kill off the idea.
It seems that there is going to be a consultation, that the Thames Airport will feature as an option and my best guess is that it will be dropped. It is a huge distraction and will generate great unease for the communities in the Thames. But we will not be complacent. We will fight this.
What is your assessment of the public mood about new airports and what do you think we should do to manage demand for flying?