Open letter to Natural England

Dear Tony

Open letter to Natural England Chair, Board and staff

It was good to meet you and Marian two weeks ago and discuss policy issues. We didn’t agree about everything (and we note the news of another missing brood-meddled Hen Harrier since then) but those are differences of opinion that are part and parcel of debate. This letter is not about those.

We write to you about Natural England’s conduct to Wild Justice, and in particular Lord Blencathra’s remarks, as a Board member of NE, to the EFRA Select Committee on 21 May.  And quite specifically Lord Blencathra’s remark  ‘It is disingenuous for Wild Justice to say “We did not want Natural England to pull the licences immediately. We are quite happy to let them to continue to next year” ‘.

It is possible to find a range of synonyms for ‘disingenuous’ but in any list you will find these: dishonest, deceitful, underhand, underhanded, duplicitous, double-dealing, two-faced, dissembling, insincere, false, lying, untruthful, mendacious. To use this term of a Natural England stakeholder organisation in public evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee is a serious matter, going as it does, to their reputation and character. We cannot recollect Natural England having used such words about, say, the Moorland Association, the NFU or the RSPB and we object to you labelling us in this way, and refusing to correct this calumny.

We have been called worse, all of us, many times, and we are not sobbing into our handkerchiefs in despair at Natural England’s rudeness, but we object to this rudeness from a Board member of a public body. We are asking for an apology from Natural England; ideally from Lord Blencathra himself, but we would be content with an apology from yourself as Chair of Natural England on the organisation’s behalf.

It was not the least bit disingenuous for Wild Justice to state that we were happy for Natural England to let the General Licences continue to next year as this was the remedy that we sought in our Pre-Action Protocol letter which was written on the best legal advice available to us. Indeed, before sending that letter we discussed, with our legal team, whether we should ask for immediate withdrawal of the licences or not, and we chose ‘not’ on the basis that revocation of these licences would cause considerable inconvenience to a large number of people.  To have chosen this course of action, on the basis of legal advice, cannot possibly be disingenuous and we ask Natural England to withdraw this baseless accusation and apologise.

You will have noted that NRW and SNH are revising their general licence schedules under somewhat (not entirely) similar circumstances to those in England but have at no stage abruptly revoked the licences as did Natural England.  They have, essentially, followed the process that we asked Natural England to follow.

Just to recap, we have very little interest in Lord Blencathra’s personal views about us as Wild Justice, or as individuals, but he was not speaking as a private individual; this is a matter of how a public body behaves.

You, Tony and Natural England, have two courses of action. Either you apologise in writing and we publish that apology on the Wild Justice blog, and that will be an end of the matter, or you do not apologise and we will take it that Natural England as a public body regards all three of us as deceitful. The latter choice by Natural England is a serious matter.

We look forward to receiving an apology from Natural England in a speedy fashion.  Failing that, our next step will be to take this complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman having exhausted the Natural England complaint procedure.

We attach a few other factual matters as Annex 1.

Yours sincerely

Wild Justice

Dr Mark Avery, Chris Packham CBE and Dr Ruth Tingay

Annex 1

  1. Natural England evidence to EFRA Committee

Natural England’s evidence to the committee contained many errors which we have documented and pointed out and

2. Natural England complaint process

We have pursued this matter through Natural England’s complaints process receiving an email from Natural England on 9 September (reference Complaint 7418).

That response was seriously inadequate;

  • Although the sender of the email said that he had reviewed the transcript of Lord Blencathra’s remarks in fact he misquoted those remarks (and in a way that would have made them seem less seriously pointed at Wild justice).  This was careless of Natural England and suggests that the complaint was not reviewed thoroughly.
  • Natural England’s response mostly defends Natural England’s decision to revoke the licences rather than the remarks by Lord Blencathra about which we specifically complained. Our complaint was not about what Natural England did (foolish though we feel that it was) but about what Lord Blencathra said about us.
  •  Our email to Marian Spain on 20 August included this passage ‘Our main complaint about NE’s conduct is that Lord Blencathra referred to Wild Justice, in public evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee, as disingenuous. There were other errors in NE’s evidence to that committee which we have corrected but only Natural England can correct the slur against our integrity made by your Board member. We regard this as a serious matter and you can be assured that we will publicly and robustly seek an apology. ‘. That is what we are still doing and the Natural England response of 9 September did not address the use of the word ‘disingenuous’.
  • Natural England’s response to us of 9 September stated ‘We have also shared this information with our Chair, Tony Juniper, who agrees that an apology is not appropriate in this case.’ But when we met you recently, you, Tony, did not appear to have looked at all carefully at this matter so we are drawing it quite firmly to your attention now.
  • We do not believe that the Natural England complaint process addressed our main concern and appeared to us not to have taken this matter the least bit seriously.