Boris Calls for CAP to be scrapped: Farmers warn this will cause the sun to explode

From Farmers Weekly:

“Boris Johnson calls for CAP to be scrapped

Tuesday 30 September 2014 09:00
Boris Johnson

London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for the CAP to be scrapped.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said he agreed with Ukip there was a “need to scrap the Common Agricultural Policy, which costs every family £400/year in extra food costs”.

Mr Johnson included the controversial plan in a wishlist of reforms he would like to see if the UK were to continue its membership within the European Union.

See also: Read more news on: CAP reform

He set out his proposals for EU reform in a speech dubbed the “Boris Rally” at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Monday (29 September).

Mr Johnson said it would be “easy” for the UK to leave the EU and sign up to a free-trade agreement.

He told delegates: “In an ideal situation, I would like to see a reformed EU where we remain squarely at the heart.”

But he said if the UK were to leave the EU, it would be “very easy to set up a free-trade, tariff-free zone”.

In an interview with the BBC last November, Mr Johnson attacked the CAP, labelling it as an “anomaly” and an “anachronism”.

Mr Johnson has been selected as the Conservative candidate in the safe Tory seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip at next year’s general election. He has already said he will not seek a third term as London Mayor in 2016.

His selection as prospective MP has added fuel to speculation that his goal is to replace David Cameron as Conservative Party leader.

In 2013, European farmers received a total of £49bn in farm payments provided by the CAP – roughly 43% of the total EU budget of £104bn.

France received the largest share of the budget (about 17%) and the UK netted 7%.”

Naturally Farmers have warned that scrapping the CAP will cause food riots, cause millions of children in Africa to starve, and generally lead to a breakdown in civilisation and the end of life on earth. Alright, maybe I exaggerate a little.

This is hardly new news of course. Johnson has been calling for the CAP to be scrapped for some time, including back in February in the same august organ, the Telegraph.

Posted in agriculture, Boris Johnson, Common Agricultural Policy, NFU | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The strange case of Dr Earth and the UKIP environment policies

Dr._Strangelove jpeg

Dr Strangelove

Curious to discover whether UKIP could justify new(ish) recruit Mark Reckless’ position on the protection of Lodge Hill (he is currently for its protection), I went in search of their environmental policies. I had already subjected myself to “ordeal by UKIP agriculture policy“, and the scars having nearly healed, I braced myself to read what they had to say about nature, wildife and so on.

It doesnt start well. The Environment in UKIP land is a subset of Housing. I suppose the thinking behind this is that farmland is for farming, and everything else is for housing, so the environment is where houses are built. Perhaps I’m overinterpreting here.

I was also intrigued by the UKIP slogan “vote purple keep The UK (represented by the Union flag) green.” Are UKIP now trying to grab the “greenest government ever” trophy from the LibCon coalition.

Their housing and environment spokesman is Andrew Charalambous, who is, variously, a Barrister, a Colonel to the Governor of Kentucky, a trooper in the Territorial Light Cavalry, and a Knight Grand Commander of the Byzantine Order of Holy Sepulchre.  He claims to be descended from Roman Emperors, Norman Kings and the Doges of Venice, styled himself Doctor Earth, and set up an Eco Club, which entailed clubbers flying to Ibiza for their green club experience. Friends of the Earth got very cross when Charalambous tried to associate their name and logo with his antics.

You can read all about Dr Earth’s beliefs here on his facebook page. It is quite strange. He says he has completed one of the profoundest spiritual journeys in history. I find it a bit odd that someone who is as enlightened as Jesus or Buddha would end up as UKIP’s housing spokesman, but I understand the path to enlightenment is full of temptations, dead ends and traps.

Charalambous is also a property developer and private landlord, owning over a thousand properties. So he should know something about housing and the private rented sector in particular. He has profited greatly from it, earning over £750,000 from housing benefit paid via tenants to his properties in Haringey, North London, many of them immigrants.

But he is also, according to this wikipedia page, a Professor of Environmental Sciences at the Universitas Sancti Cyrillus, which also  bestowed upon him a Doctorate of Divinity. This University is based in Valletta, Malta, and is closely linked to the Byzantine Order of Holy Sepulchre, in which Charalambous is a Knight Grand Commander.

I was curious to find out more about the University of St Cyril, but there was little information, other than its own promotional websites. Until I found it listed here and here with other degree mills and bogus universities. Could this really be true?

Anyway, enough about UKIP’s colourful environment spokesman: what of their policies?

Well on climate, we know about UKIP – but they are keen to stop banging on about carbon and start tackling other issues, like the culling of the Amazon Rainforest. Is that like Badger Culling, but hotter?

They will bring in Clean Streets inspectors, with powers to fine councils who fail to keep their streets clean. And ensure at least one dustbin per every 3 residents; presumably this will help all Dr Earth’s tenants to clean up their front gardens.

UKIP love trees – just as the BNP do, especially Oaks. UKIP wants to reforest Britain, so I guess they support George Monbiot’s re-wilding campaign. George will be delighted to receive such high profile support, especially from Dr Earth. According to UKIP deforestation causes lung cancer, not smoking. I wonder if they got confused with the pro-smoking astroturf outfit called FOREST. Its a complicated business adn there must be so little time available for Dr Earth to study all this, in between running his housing empire, raking in housing benefit, being a Professor in Malta and a Colonel in Kentucky.

UKIP would ban all tree-felling and provide a 100% grant for tree planting, including labour AND make it tax-deductible (eh?) for individuals and businesses. Trees according to UKIP make the soil less acid and more calcium rich (it’s magic) “causing more prolific carbon sink”.

UKIP want cleaner rivers, and to achieve this they will create a “Marine Environment Corps” which will go round collecting rubbish.  Tougher fines from polluters will fund the corps. UKIP will also insist on shampoo bottles having labels warning consumers of the nasty chemicals inside.

On our declining wildlife habitats UKIP is clear what the problems are, unclean water and rubbish.

“Our priority is to preserve the wildlife habitat of endangered species, particularly by replenishing sources of clean drinking water required for their survival.”

Finally – the missing piece of the jigsaw. Our wildlife is disappearing because it doesnt have access to clean drinking water. Even the plants. It reminds me of Dr Strangelove and the paranoia that the Ruskies were intent on poisoning “our precious bodily fluids“.

UKIPs Wildlife Rangers (paramilitary?) will scour the country collecting “inappropriate refuse” which can trap or injure birds of animals. UKIP are worried about wild plants and would commission an investigation into which ones are threatened – which is something we could really do with. And already have. They also mention amending Section 13B of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which doesn’t exist.

On greenbelt, UKIP is immovable. The Green belt is “effectively the lungs of Great Britain“. The green belt shall never be surrendered. Dr Earth is worried

“We breach the green belt. We start with the shrub lands. Where do we draw the line? Who makes the assessment as to what is to be kept green and what is to be concreted”

Who could resist the call to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dr Earth if the green belt was breached and the shrub lands were lost? Not I.

UKIP have probably the strongest brownfield first policy of all the parties, and here stand shoulder to shoulder with CPRE. That must make their Chief Exec Labour man Shaun Spiers very uncomfortable.

I will leave you to explore the remoter corners of Mr Charalambous’ website, in search of nuggets of green inspiration.

What can we tell from this rambling, shambolic hotchpotch of paranoia, fantasy and ignorance? Dr Earth’s take on the environment has a distinctively new-age tinge to it, combined with a barely hidden authoritarian urge to create quasi-military eco-squads, planting trees, fining litter bugs and preventing the contamination of the drinking water. This is coupled with the usual anti EU, anti immigrant and anti climate change positions that are well known, and a smattering of “the market knows best” neoliberalism.

I wonder if Mark Reckless has read this stuff – after all Dr Earth will soon be visiting Lodge Hill with him to expound on the virtues of building houses on Brownfield land.


 Photo of Dr Strangelove from the Film by Directed by Stanley Kubrick, distributed by Columbia Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Weird: UKIP is now the main political party defending Lodge Hill from development.

Who would have thought that Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester, including Lodge Hill SSSI, would have defected to UKIP? Well I certainly did, just a couple of weeks ago. He had been on the fence between the Tories and UKIP for quite a while, as I noted back in March.

What is really interesting to me, is that all the main parties in Rochester, at the Local Council level, voted in favour of destroying Lodge Hill for development. The Medway Planning Committee voted unanimously in favour of the development. The leader of the Medway Labour group, Vince Maple, has been perhaps the most vociferous supporter of the Lodge Hill development, arguing with RSPB’s Martin Harper on the Today programme only a few days ago. I have asked Labour shadow Defra team if they will commit to revoking the planning permission for Lodge Hill – silence from them. But they have committed to building up to 200,000 new homes per year by 2020.

Mark Reckless, who had previously railed against the SSSI notification, is now opposed to it. Mark Reckless is now the UKIP candidate for Rochester and Strood in the forthcoming byelection. Reckless has mentioned the Lodge Hill debacle in his reasons for leaving the Tories. He said, in front of the UKIP Conference yesterday:

“In particular we promised to do away with Labour’s top-down housing targets that forced us to concrete over our green fields.

Yet, now I find that, under government pressure, our Conservative council in Medway is increasing its housing target from the annual 815 we had under Labour, to at least 1,000 every year.

Despite the promised EU referendum, it is assumed that current rates of open door EU immigration will continue for at least twenty years.

In my constituency that means they are giving permission to build 5,000 houses in a bird sanctuary on the Hoo Peninsula, despite it having the highest level of environmental protection as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. If that goes ahead, where will it stop?

I promised to protect our rural Hoo Peninsula. I cannot keep that promise as a Conservative. I can keep it as UKIP.”

So there we have it. Apart from the Greens, UKIP is now the party who say they will protect Lodge Hill SSSI, while Labour, the Libdems and the Tories, have all voted to destroy it through housing development. Now that is a turn up for the books.

There was another slightly less bizarre twist in the saga earlier this week, when Eric Pickles, disqualified himself from deciding whether to call in the Lodge Hill planning permission, to be determined at a public inquiry. Why? because Pickles is an RSPB member, and RSPB is one of the organisations calling for the call in. This seems overly cautious to me, but perhaps DCLG are looking ahead to the possibility that any decision to call in the planning permission might be challenged by the developers Land Securities, through Judicial Review. Who knows.

What it means is that one of the other planning ministers will make the decision. I would put my money on the decision being made by Minister of State Brandon Lewis. What can we deduce from Lewis’ previous form?

Well one thing stands out, and it is that Lewis is front and centre of the Government’s deregulation agenda, removing “red tape” or regulatory protection of public benefits as it is also known. A recent consultation was slipped out on 31st July, with a response deadline of 26th September, neatly removing any opportunity for MPs to debate them. These include

An end to EU gold-plating

Today’s proposals would remove the unnecessary gold-plating an EU directive which slow down the process, by reducing the numbers of homes and other urban development proposals that would be screened unnecessarily for environmental impact assessments. This would reduce both the cost and time taken to get planning permission for these projects.

Now you can tell this consultation was really rushed out by the basic grammatical errors in it.

Far from protecting communities or giving them more say in how their local decides on new housing, the proposed amendments will do precisely the opposite.

At present, residential, urban or industrial development proposals which cover an area of more than 0.5ha requires the local planning authority to carry out a screening decision. This means that planners have to consider whether the development is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. The environment here means everything from traffic, emissions, light and noise through to nature and landscape impacts. If, having carried out this initial screening process, the Council decide they think the development might have a significant effect on the environment, they can require the developer to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment. This is usually a large tome, produced by Environmental Consultants. They can be very expensive, and it has been joked that the cost is by weight of the documents, on account of some Consultants padding out their EIAs by copying out whole tranches of legislation, unnecessarily adding hundreds of pages and kilos of extra paper.

The current threshold for triggering a screening decision is 0.5ha, or about an acre. The Government propose to increase that by ten times, to 5ha.  This means that housing developments below 150 units would not require screening.

I would suggest that a 150 house housing development would be quite likely to have an environmental impact. The Government says only 20% of planning applications which led to an EIA found likely significant effect, and on this basis it is gold plating of the Directive. I would suggest that a 20% hit rate was remarkably high and a sign of success. But is that really the point? The EIA mechanism is there to help local communities identify the Impacts of Development on the Environment. If they no longer have the power to do that for areas below 5ha or 150 houses, it means that those impacts are more likely to be approved in ignorance.

Still, Lewis is aware that the National Planning Policy Framework places reasonably good protection on SSSIs like Lodge Hill, and will be aware that Medway Council rode roughshod through these policies to approve the planning application. Hopefully he will decide that he has no option but to call in the Lodge hill planning permission.




Posted in deregulation, EIA, Lodge Hill, Mark Reckless, UKIP | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Great News: Defra decides Neonics are safe to bees after all and allows their use

Neonics are back in the news.

Two days ago the BBC reported on how flea beetles were feeding on the newly planted autumn sown Oil Seed Rape, and farmers were interviewed weeping and wringing their hands, saying the end of food production as we know it was nigh. It sounded very much like it was the NFU that had been pushing the Beeb to run a piece on the flea beetle blighters. It was not a balanced piece – the only person put up to counter the views of the farmers was Dave Goulson, the Bumble Bee man. He pointed out that damage at this time of year cannot be used to predict the success of the final crop.

Today Defra has announced that two Neonic sprays have been licenced for use on – yes you guessed it – Autumn sown Oil Seed Rape.

Anyone who might have been expecting the NFU’s influence at Defra to have been reduced, with the changing of the guard from Owen Paterson to Liz Truss, can relax again. Ms Truss’ constituency is North West Norfolk, with plenty of influential farmers to advise her.

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The Matt Ridley Prize for Hypocrisy

Just a short one today as I am away from home on the ipad, which is much more limited for using wordpress.

After being accused of having no sense of irony by a climate change denier on twitter yesterday, I found this extraordinary thing.

Matt Ridley, the Irrational Optimist, has a prize for “writing exposing pseudoscience behind eco-projects” . Sir Matthew is a hereditary member of the House of Lords and brother in law to Owen “Badgers Moved the Goalposts” Paterson, former Secretary of State against the Environment. Ridley, some may also remember, was chair of Northern Rock when it collapsed, leading to the first run on a British bank in over 200 years.

That Ridley should be offering a prize for pseudoscience is deliciously ironic, since he has repeatedly used pseudoscientific arguments to justify his denial of the impact of climate change on humanity and nature, opposition to neo-liberal economics, GMOs, the badger cull, and indeed many other things.

One wonders whether he has a highly developed sense of irony, or none at all.

This could start a whole series of ironic prizes:

The Genghis Khan prize for peace studies

The Owen Paterson prize for badger welfare

Any other suggestions?

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Labour commits to building 200,000 new homes a year: Great: where?

At the Labour Conference both Hilary Benn, Shadow CLG Secretary, and Ed Miliband, both promised massive new house-building, up to 200,000 new homes a year by the end of the parliament.

Benn said ” … we will give communities, as Sir Michael Lyons’ report will recommend, the powers they need to tackle land banking; put together the sites; get the design right; put in the infrastructure; and work with small and medium-size and large builders to build the homes that local people need where local people want.

And Conference, we’ll work with councils so that they can build more council houses.”

Ed Miliband in his very long speech yesterday committed Labour to build the houses the country needs, which is a fairly thin promise, but I understand this is due to the fact that the Lyons report has been delayed. He did promise to double the number of first time buyers getting a house. If this was double from now, it would mean a massive 60,000 first time buyers a year, as pointed out in the guardian. There was no similar commitment to the actual number, or proportion, of new council or social housing in the 200,000 figure.

Going back to Benn’s suggestions of giving communities the powers to “put in the infrastructure”, I don’t think this means we all roll up our sleeves and start digging trenches for superfast broadband. It sounds more like giving local councils more powers to require developments that have the infrastructure integrated into the master plan, rather than having piecemeal housing developments, which make an insufficient contribution towards the delivery of that infrastructure, at some unspecified point afterwards.

It could mean Labour return to the new town concept, which they unsucessfully tried to camouflage last time as Ecotowns. They didn’t got down well, despite having some very powerful concepts, such as a high proportion of green space and nature areas. This Government has been vaguely luke warm on Garden Cities, though none have actually come forward. Will MiliLabour actually deliver, if they get in?

As ever with housing, the most important choice is Location Location Location. Even if a development is superbly well masterplanned, all the infrastructure is factored in and paid for up front, the wrong location can still spell disaster. Take Lodge Hill for example. On paper, building 5000 homes, along with GP surgeries, two new primary schools, etc etc sounds ideal. But plonk all that on a 350ha SSSI, with the largest Nightingale population in England and one of England’s largest areas of surviving unimproved wildflower grassland – and you’ve got the wrong place.

Where is the right place?

As with Lodge Hill, all too often, the places housing gets built is dictated by developers buying options to develop private land. This is in part influenced by local plans identifying suitable places for houses to be built (the SHLAA process) – but this process is again heavily influenced by developers. Until this is changed to enable local communities to seriously influence where new housing goes in their area, problems will continue to arise.

Inevitably with such a dramatic change of land-use to housing land, their will be losses of biodiversity, history and community values. How will these be dealt with – will Labour also continue to develop the biodiversity offsetting approach beloved of Owen Paterson? Let us hope not.

Personally I think it makes sense for large scale housing development to take place as new towns or large new extensions to existing towns, such that they benefit from existing transport infrastructure. Placing a new town in a previously undeveloped area with poor transport links requires so much more infrastructure to connect it to other places where people will work and travel for other reasons. It made sense to put Milton Keynes on an existing major train line, for example.

Taking the area of Lodge Hill as an example, building 200,000 homes a year means building on 40 Lodge Hills – each at around 300ha. That is actually only 12000ha a year.

I have already suggested one place which could be used – bungalow-land.

12000ha a year is really not very much land – there is over 9 million hectares of farmland in England, much of it devoid of any wildlife interest, with its above ground historic features long since swept away.  Its not as though we need all of it to feed the world.

Another advantage of developing farmland is that a tax on land value uplift could generate billions of pounds to spend on the infrastructure needed in new and existing towns and cities, including the NHS.



Posted in biodiversity, biodiversity offsetting, bungalows, housing, Labour, Lodge Hill | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The CLA in Wales cares more about protecting meadows than CLA in England

dyers greenweed in meadow

a wildflower meadow (c) Miles King

In these days where devolution is in the air, it’s worth considering how differently two UK countries use regulation to protect wildlife.

This press release from the Country Landowners Association Cymru, was picked up by Farmers Guardian.

CLA Cymru reminds members to pay heed to EIA regulations before ploughing or cultivating their unimproved land. 

“We have become aware of members who have been caught out following random inspection visits and who now could face prosecution as a result,” says CLA Cymru Director of Policy Karen Anthony, who points out the regulation has in fact been in force since 2002 and were revised in October 2007.

The EIA – the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – refers to anyone who is thinking about ploughing, re-seeding, harrowing, rotavating or putting in new drainage.

The question you need to ask is “Does the work I intend to carry out require EIA screening?” says Mrs Anthony, who stressed that permission is needed before you go ahead.

Its purpose it to stop agricultural practices affecting the environment especially sites that have significant environmental, historic or cultural importance. It also covers harrowing, rotovating and clearing scrub. 

Ultimately, the regulations apply if you intend carrying out an agricultural improvement project on any uncultivated or semi-natural land ranging from moor to meadowland and where the area has less than 25 percent  improved agricultural species. If you do, you need a screening decision from the Government BEFORE you proceed. 

You will need to submit a Screening Application Form [EIA2(W)] to your local WG Divisional Office and wait for a response which can take up to 35 days. There is no charge and the decisions are valid for three years.

I spent a long time researching the EIA (Agriculture) Regulations, raising concerns with Defra, meeting the Welsh Assembly Government, and ultimately taking a complaint to the European Commission. Sadly, before the complaint could be resolved, The Grasslands Trust went under, so it was never seen through to completion.

Since then Natural England has finally taken a successful prosecution under the EIA regs in England. Whooppee! Sadly, hundreds of hectares of valuable meadows were lost in the preceding 7 years while NE failed to secure any prosecutions and were actively prevented by Defra from pursuing any miscreants.

The situation in Wales has been quite different. The Welsh Government from the beginning took a much more positive approach to implementing the EIA regulations, especially through withdrawing CAP payments. To my knowledge this never happened in England. And this press release from CLA Cymru proves that by applying a regulation, it becomes more effective, through the deterrent effect.

CLA Cymru’s position compares favourably with CLA England’s view of the effectiveness of EIA (agriculture) in England. CLA England support the Government’s deregulation drive, reducing the capacity of public bodies to protect the public interest against private profit. In evidence  to the EFRA committee last December they said “Grassland is sufficiently well protected under the EIA Regulations” (point 46).

This could be translated as “we know grassland isn’t well protected by the EIA Regulations, but that’s fine because other things we think our members care about, such as having the freedom to destroy nationally important wildlife habitats to make more money, are more important”.

I guess CLA Cymru think its members have a different take on what’s more important.



Posted in agriculture, CLA, deregulation, EIA, grasslands, Wales | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Director of Lodge Hill Developer Land Securities withdraws from becoming London Wildlife Trust trustee

Here’s an interesting story, just published in the Guardian.

A Director of Land Securities, the FTSE 100 company who are the developers behind the planned destruction of Lodge Hill SSSI, was about to be appointed as a Trustee of London Wildlife Trust. Marc Cadwaladr had been about to be brought onto the LWT Trustee Board for his  “fantastic finance skills along with experience with one of London’s largest property developers”. Financial skills, and perhaps his numerous contacts in the City, who could provide philanthropic support for the charity.

At the last minute he has withdrawn from the appointment saying “it doesn’t feel right to let my name go forward for election as a trustee of the London Wildlife Trust.”

Given that Medway approved planning permission for Lodge Hill SSSI to be destroyed by Land Securities on the 5th September, it does make one wonder why he felt that it was right to become a Trustee of a wildlife charity at that point, and indeed for the preceding period when Land Securities had been planning the destruction of Lodge Hill (about 5 years.)

The article emphasises the fact that Charity Trustees act as individuals and should not seek to influence the work of the Charity to benefit their business interests, and I am sure that Mr Cadwaladr would not have had the slightest intention of doing that.

But there is another prospect: that Land Securities would have benefited from one of their Directors being a Trustee of a prominent wildlife charity. Perhaps it might have put them in a different, more positive light when appearing at a Public Inquiry, defending their “mitigation” proposals for Lodge Hill, for example: or Biodiversity Offsetting as it is also known. Mitigation proposals which include moving Lodge Hill’s nightingales to an SPA salt marsh in Essex, and moving over 30ha of nationally important scrub/grassland mosaic to an adjacent farm.




Posted in biodiversity offsetting, Lodge Hill, SSSis | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

NFU special pleading knows no bounds

NFU President Meurig Raymond’s image is front and centre of the new NFU 2014 manifesto. He appears to have popped up from a hole, perhaps arising from an underground chamber: is this is satirical take on NFU’s relationship with badgers?

NFU pic jpeg

The NFU has 50,000 members. This is 5% of the RSPB membership. CPRE has more members than the NFU. But the NFU members own or have control over most of the farmland in England. They also have a direct line to Defra ministers and Secretaries of State, which gives them unrivalled influence over agricultural and environmental policy forming and making. So an NFU manifesto has real clout.

I had a quick look through the NFU manifesto and I thought I would summarise it for you:

1. Give us more money.

Note that English Farmers receive over £2 billion pounds a year from UK taxpayers, just for owning or renting land. Nothing else.

2. Take away all those pesky rules that stop us from Feeding The World.

Note that it is rules such as the Nitrates Directive that have prevented drinking water from being polluted with cancer-causing nitrates, derived from farm fertilisers.

It is rules that have banned Neonicotinoids (or at least temporarily + on some crops) the evidence now stacking up that these are global  persistent biocides worse than DDT.

If the NFU really cared about the starving millions, why does it lobby for public subsidies for farmers to grow maize to produce biogas, or grow wheat to make ethanol? And why is about a third of English farmland used to grow wheat to feed to cows?

3.Adopt a “science-led approach”

That means give the global agro-industry free rein to determine farm and environmental policy, under the guise of  a “science-led approach”.

4. Farmers are the custodians of the countryside.  

As they are best people to look after wildlife, archaeology history and the other values society places on land, there is no need for things like SSSIs, scheduled ancient monuments, listed buildings or planning restrictions.

After all, who could be more responsible for the state of the English countryside today than Farmers?

plastic fields

The  English Countryside today (c) Miles King


Posted in agriculture, deregulation, Neonicotinoids, NFU, regulatory reform | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Badgers in the mainframe? Defra’s monumental TB data errors

Back in January I wrote about Defra’s revelation that the vet agency AHVLA’s new computer had been spewing out fictitious reports overstating the number of Herd’s which had suffered a bovine TB breakdown. In retrospect it’s amazing that Owen Paterson lasted as long as he did at Defra, given the number of stupendous gaffes that happened under his watch.

This year Defra has decided to continue with its Badger Cull, but without those pesky independent scientists taking a critical overview of its scientific merit, methodology and effectiveness. The Badger Trust are in the courts challenging the legality of this decision.

Meanwhile, and with no fanfare at all, Defra has released the latest data on Bovine TB herd breakdowns. Again they have found more errors and again they have altered the numbers for previous months and years.

The first figures for September 2013 showed 5,961 herds had a TB reactor, out of 79,501 herds in Great Britain. After two revisions to remove bad data, the figures now show only 4,123 herds had a reactor. The first number is a whopping 45% overestimate of the (current) real figure.

The first month where things went wrong was January 2012, according to Defra. I imagine that’s roughly when the new IT system was brought on line. Initial figures for that month were 4372, this has now been revised down twice, to 4292. That is a much smaller error, overstating by only 2%.

The largest number of herds with TB breakdowns reported was April 13 with 6132. This had been revised down to 4958, and then again recently to 4816. That’s over 27% overestimated.

What is clear is that the error had been getting bigger, much bigger, as the months went on. Why did nobody spot this? Did they want to believe that herd breakdowns were really going up so quickly, as this was convenient justification for the badger cull?

These are GB figures and will hide even larger errors at the country or regional level. Scotland is officially TB free. Imagine the alarm Scottish beef and dairy farmers felt, to see TB breakdowns increasing to 42 in September 13. This figure has now been revised to 18, less than half. That figure has apparently climbed up to 42 in September 2014 – or has it? Can we expect that figure to be revised again?

It beggars belief that there could even be a 233% margin of error for such a small sample.

In England, where most of the TB reactors are found, the highest initial figure was 4,821 herds in April 13. That has so far been reduced to 3750. That’s an overestimate of 29%. That month is when the number of reactors peaked. The figure is 3383 for May 2014.

June 2014 shows a further reduction (at GB level) to 4041 herds, from 4266 in May.

Only 256 new incidents were recorded across GB in June this year and only 150 herds where TB-free status has been withdrawn. Now for those 150 farmers, this is disastrous news and I do not wish to downplay their sorry and anguish.

But Defra has been very misleading in the way that it has portrayed the data errors in its official statistical reports.

defra TB graph jpeg

This new Defra graph purports to show what a small difference there has been between previously published herd breakdown data and the current corrections.


They have compared the data after the initial correction, with the data from the current correction. This graph ignores the first correction.

Here’s the graph they produced first time round (Feb 14):

Defra TB 1st revision jpeg

See what they’ve done here? Changed the time scale on the graph. First graph shows a large error but only for a short time, relative to the whole time scale. Second graph shows a much smaller error (because they have ignored the first much larger error) but over a longer part of the x axis. Nifty, but not that nifty.

Two things come to mind:

  1. We obviously cannot believe anything Defra stats say about the extent of Bovine TB breakdowns, or the trend in breakdowns.
  2. Defra are trying to cover up their monumental statistical cock-up.
  3. The very data used to justify the Badger Cull is so badly flawed that Natural England must reconsider whether the Cull can be allowed, given the rules that determine its legality.

No doubt if Owen Paterson was still Secretary of State at Defra, he would be blaming the badgers for uploading viruses into the AVHLA computer system. What will the new SoS Liz Truss say? So far, all she has done is peddle the NFU line. Reported in the Guardian

The environment secretary, Liz Truss, insisted the cull was crucial. “We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy supported by leading vets, which includes cattle movement controls, vaccinating badgers in edge areas and culling badgers where the disease is rife. This is vital for the future of our beef and dairy industries, and our nation’s food security.

“At present, we have the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe. Doing nothing is not an option and that is why we are taking a responsible approach to dealing with bovine TB.”

She clearly hasn’t been told by her officials that the data on which they are basing their decisions is completely untrustworthy.

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