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Natural England – you need to look in the mirror

Our latest victory to protect moorland habitat was a victory against Natural England, the government agency and regulator whose job it is to protect such habitats.

Just read that sentence again.

The government agency which we pay to protect the environment has been forced, eventually, to do the right thing because of a legal challenge taken by an individual. How low has Natural England fallen?

This was not a technical error, a mere slip-up, by NE – I believe this was a deliberate decision somewhere in the organisation to pander to shooting and landowner interests at the expense of the environment and public interest. If I am right, that is a corrupt system that can no longer command public support or respect.

The new interim Natural England Chief Executive, Marian Spain, should institute an enquiry into what went wrong here, heads should roll and a statement be made about how Natural England will put its house in order.

Natural England’s Board should ensure that this matter is not ignored or papered over but is investigated and resolved. We cannot expect the landowner and shooting representatives on Natural England’s Board to push for this so it will fall to the likes of the BTO’s Chief Executive, Andy Clements, the former head of the Wildlife Trusts, Simon Lyster, and the newest Board members to ensure that this scandal is investigated.

While Ms Spain and the Board are at it, they should look at whether the recent paper they received on restoration burning is fit for purpose and whether it fully reflects the views of their specialists or has it been watered down by the internal system, why Natural England’s Hen Harrier tagging analysis has still not been published and why it has taken so long even to be analysed, why Natural England has not been tough with landowners to prevent burning of protected blanket bogs, why Hen Harriers fail to nest successfully at Walshaw Moor, and why Natural England has licensed brood-meddling of Hen Harriers at the demand of grouse shooters and against the opposition of nature conservationists.

Natural England must ask itself how it came to pander to powerful interest groups in the uplands and to turn its back on its regulatory duties, the environment and the public it is there to serve.

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