Natural Capital Poll: The Results

Thanks to the 160 people who took part in my poll about natural capital last week. THe results are:

60% of voters agreed that natural capital is one of a number of approaches to take, and believe that a natural capital approach can work together with other approaches (such as the ethical arguments for protecting nature). I could christen this the Juniper stance.

34% believed that the natural capital approach is the wrong path to go down, and we should stick to the ethical argument. I could christen this the Monbiot stance.

4% believed that the economic approach was the only one which is going to work.

and 2% were very honest and voted “don’t know”.

of course this is a just a straw poll and doesn’t tell us how the population at large would vote. Given what little I know about my readership it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions, other than this: I think my readership is well informed about environmental issues, otherwise they would not have found their way to reading me; or would not have stayed long enough to think about voting in the poll, so it’s an engaged informed readership.

And of course given what I have been writing on natural capital over the last week (and longer) it also shows that more than half of you don’t agree with me! Thanks for continuing to read…

What I think it does show is that within the conservation industry, and perhaps more widely amongst the engaged and informed conservation movement, there is general support for using a range of arguments to protect nature, including the economic and the ethical.

But it’s also clear that a sizeable minority do not accept that this is possible, and take the Monbiot stance, that the economic argument will drive out the ethical one, as one Frame becomes dominant over the others.

I aim to repeat the survey next year using survey monkey, to gather a bit more information about the voters and also explore in more depth some of the knotty issues.



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Mynthurst Appeal decision another nail in the Rampisham Solar Farm Coffin?

The big news is that the date for the Rampisham Down Public Inquiry has been set for 13th September 2016. This is quite a long time away and should give all parties enough time to marshal their evidence and arguments.

Talking of evidence, I have been waiting with bated breath (not baited) for British Solar Renewables (BSR) to publish the latest results of their “monitoring” project at Rampisham Down. A quick look at their Rampisham Down website, which for some unfathomable reason fails to mention that the whole thing is owned, run and funded by BSR, reveals that the monitoring report is being published in November. Well. it’s the 27th today….. BSR’s minions at will have to work through the weekend if they’re going to meet their self-imposed deadline.

But actually this report was supposed to have been published back in July. At least according to Industry Trumpet Solar Power Portal. We were told by Solar Power Portal that the report was published on the 9th July and that it showed that putting 50,000 solar panels on a SSSI grassland would have “no impact”. I asked BSR and Solar Portal for a copy of the report, but received no reply from either.

Still it’s nice of to entertain us in the meantime with pictures of sheep peacefully grazing under the panels. It would probably be more accurate to show the sheep lying down under the panels, or pooing under the panels, but that’s just conjecture.


What is more interesting is a recent Planning Inquiry decision on a solar farm in Surrey. The proposal was to build a 32.5ha solar farm, in the Green Belt, at Mynthurst Surrey. The application had been rejected by the council and the applicant had appealed. The appeal had been “recovered” so that the final decision was taken by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who agreed with the Planning Inspector.

The main reason for the appeal being rejected was because putting a 32.5ha solar farm in the Green Belt of Surrey was “inappropriate development” which would, by definition ” be harmful to the Green Belt”. The Inspector also found that the solar farm would have “an adverse impact on the character and appearance of the site” even though the site lies outside the Surrey Hill Area of Outstanding Beauty. The Inspector took quite a lot of time to explore what inappropriate development in the Green Belt might mean in practice; he concluded that any development which might have an impact on the open-ness of the Green Belt would cause harm. He also mentioned “introducing an essentially manufactured form of development into the largely natural environment” even though the application was on arable land. In considering the landscape, the area sites within a local landscape designation, but even so, the Inspector concluded that the development “would harm the character and appearance of the surrounding landscape and conflict with Landscape policies.” And visual amenity for footpath users would be “significantly harmed.”

While Rampisham Down is not in Green Belt, it is within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and of course it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Both of these are statutory designations which the Inspector will have to consider. Given the weight attached to the impact of the Mynthurst Solar Farm on a local landscape designation, it isn’t hard to conclude that, whatever claims BSR may make about the impact of the panels on the nature at Rampisham, the impact of a 50ha solar farm on the AONB will weigh heavily against the development.





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Natural Capital: The Poll


OK so I’ve had a bit of a rant on things like Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services this week; Now it’s your turn.

I know quite a few people in the conservation/environment sector read this blog, so I’m going to run my first ever poll to see what you think about natural capital.

The Polls stay open until Monday 30th November at 7am.

Photo: “Election MG 3455” by Rama – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr via Wikimedia Commons –
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Shifting Baselines

This post isn’t about how our perceptions of environmental change get reset with each generation. It’s about Defra’s budget.

Today’s spending Review saw Chancellor Osborne perform some typical numerical tricks, as he sought to position himself nearer to the centre of the political ground, in the hope of reducing the damage to his reputation caused by the humiliating Lords defeat of his tax credit proposals. He may yet win back enough supporters to win the coming Tory leadership campaign.

Apparently Defra got away with a 15% cut instead of the forecast 30% cut in day to day spending up to 2020. This is supposed to give us a warm glow and feel relief that the cuts weren’t larger. Actually a 15% cut on top of a 32% cut since 2010 is still at least “life-altering”. But looking at the figures a bit harder makes them more confusing.

Back in June, we were told that Defra’s revenue budget was to be £1.76Bn for 15/16. This was then cut to £1.68Bn. Today’s Blue Book tells us that this years budget for Defra is actually £1.5 billion. So have they just sneaked through another £180 million cut on top of the £83M cut already announced? If so, then the cut from 2010/11 to 2015/16 is from £2.38 billion to £1.5 billion – a cut of 37%.  Compared to 09/10 the cut is nearly 40%.

defra table

Spending Review blue book p.104






It’s been pointed out to me (by @AdamJDutton the RSPB economist) that the £1.5Bn figure excludes “one-off and time-limited” spending. This could mean that some very significant projects have been cut, and we haven’t heard about them yet, or that these projects have not been cut, but have just disappeared from the budget. What is clear from table 1b of the spending review, is that the Defra administration budget is being cut by 28%, which is very close to the trailed 30% figure. As the Treasury puts it:

“Administration budgets limit expenditure on running costs of central government which do not directly support frontline public services, for example, business support services, the provision of policy advice, accommodation and office services.”

Anyone who works with Natural England or Environment Agency colleagues will know that all of these things have already gone, so it’s unclear where another 30% saving will accrue. Perhaps Natural England staff will have to pay for the benefit of working from home.

The other announcements were that spending on national parks, AONBs and the Public Forestry Estate, totalling £350M, were going to be ringfenced until 2020. I think this was mainly to give the Chancellor the opportunity to make a joke at former Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman’s expense, when Osborne said “we’re not going to make that mistake again” referring to the shambolic sell off of the Forestry Commission back in 2011, something he was apparently very enthusiastic about at the time. Whatever the reason, there will be some big sighs of relief in National Parks, AONB teams and Forestry Commission offices today.

This means that the cuts will fall disproportionately largely on the agencies within the Defra family that are not withing the ringfence, namely Natural England and the Environment Agency. A 26% cut in “administrative budgets” across Defra agencies has already been announced.

Having said all that it’s worth noting that, of the four departments which had agreed an overall 30% cut by 2020, Defra appears to have escaped with the smallest cut. Transport has a 37% cut in resource spending, and CLG a 29% cut in resource spending. The Treasury has agreed a 24% cut with itself.

Elsewhere, there is a further loosening of planning constraints in the greenbelt and £4Bn will be raised by selling off public land for housing, including £1 billion from the disposal of Ministry of Defence Land. Whether this includes Lodge Hill or not is not stated.

This sell-off will apparently provide space to build 160,000 new homes, which at 30 homes/ha equates to about 5000ha of land sold off. Once again these figures seem quite unbelievable, as raising £4Bn from 5000ha implies an income of £800,000 per hectare sold off. Can anyone tell me where my maths has gone awry?

There is also an intriguing little one-liner regarding house building on small sites (p.41) :

“backing SME house builders, including by amending planning policy to support small sites (my italics), extending the £1 billion Builders’ Finance Fund to 2020-21, and halving the length of the planning guarantee for minor developments”.

Posted in cuts, Defra, Natural England | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Ecosystem Services for whom?

Darcey, Wanstead Park bluebellsEcosystem Services – the idea that we benefit from goods and services provided for free by nature. To be frank, the phrase is ugly. It’s ugly language to use to describe so much beauty – Nature; the bringer of joy, spirituality, reflection, contemplation, solace, inspiration.

Nature, the wellspring of human creativity, degraded to a service provider – like just another G4S or Carillion.


Language is vital. The words we use to describe things and processes constrain our thinking about the world – this is the main message of research on values and frames.

As it is with Natural Capital, so it shall be with Ecosystem Services.

Ecosystem Services is also a lie. The notion of a service provided conjures in our mind the idea that it is an economic transaction, just like going to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk (see how I framed that example?). But of course it is not a transaction, it is an extraction of resources, of goods, where nature has no choice about whether to provide the service or not. When we look at farm animals providing us with meat, do we call them service providers?

If a human takes a “service” from another human without permission, without payment, there are whole set of words to describe that relationship, none of them are pretty. So let’s avoid being too emotive about it and call it Ecosystem Servitude. A stronger, but equally appropriate word would be Ecosystem Slavery.

In a recent article, which I commented on this Monday, leading Oxford economics professor Dieter Helm described the idea that nature has intrinsic value as “harmless or dangerous”. To start with Helm displays his contempt for the notion of intrinsic value by misdefining it (perhaps through ignorance perhaps for effect). He suggests that intrinsic value means nature provides people with pleasure! What it is to see the world through such a utilitarian frame.

No, nature provides people with pleasure and this is a hugely important benefit for people, but it does not mean that therefore nature has intrinsic value. It may lead people to believe nature has intrinsic value, but that is a different thing. Anyway Helm regards whatever people believe or feel about nature as “harmless”, which is kind of him.

He goes on to suggest that it is dangerous for people to think nature has some kind of value in and of itself “that nature has value independent of people.” “to claim that there is value without us opens up the possibility that the world might be better off without us.”

Heaven forfend!

Does Helm seriously believe the world was put here for our benefit? Is Helm a christian of that ilk? Note how similar the language is to uber-neolibertarian Andrew Lilico, about whom I wrote yesterday.

I put to you a thought experiment. Take your average nature reserve and consider what “services” it provides, to dogs. (or look at a specific example here)

  • A place to run around
  •  Do a wee and a poo
  •  Chase birds and rabbits (if they’re lucky, even a beaver!)
  •  Follow scent trails
  •  Dig a hole
  •  Social interactions with other dogs

There are also incidental benefits for owners.

If an alien arrived from a distant galaxy and landed near a nature reserve in lowland England, taking up an unobserved position to do a spot of nature-watching, what would they conclude? They would see an awful lot of people being led by their dogs to this place, where the dogs would have a great time. They would conclude that these places had been purposefully created to provide benefits for the dogs, wouldn’t they?

Nature Reserves provide ecosystem services for dogs.

Now consider ecosystem services for bees.

Taxpayers pay farmers through agri-environment schemes, to grow flowers (pollinators mixes) instead of food crops. So we are paying farmers to provide ecosystem services, in the form of nectar pollen and places for them to build nests, to bees. Unfortunately, we are also paying farmers to use bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides on the adjacent crops, which via the soil, inevitably find their way into the flowers, killing the bees, or at least poisoning them.

Clearly we have not thought through this particular provision of ecosystem services for bees.

Add together the services for dogs, for bees and for every other living thing on the planet. This is one way of looking at the intrinsic value of nature. Perhaps Prof Helm could explain exactly why that is a dangerous concept. Perhaps it’s dangerous because it challenges the neoliberal frame which Prof Helm and his Natural Capital devotees wish the rest of us to adopt.

Posted in bees, Dieter Helm, dogs, ecosystem services, Natural Capital, Neonicotinoids | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

More tales from Natural Capital Wonderland: Woodlands and Badgers


(c) Miles King

“What’s the economic value of woodlands in the UK? Hmm? Come on, I haven’t got all day. Yes, you at the back there   – £720 Billion you say? That sounds like a made up figure.”

An imagined conversation perhaps, but actually the figure comes from a Woodland Trust report published earlier this year. Andrew Lilico of Europe Economics wrote it. Lilico is a regular columnist on the far right neoliberal/libertarian Conservative Home website. This is appropriate as Lilico sits neatly between neoliberal and right-libertarian, especially in his attitude towards the environment – perhaps he is an extreme ecomodernist like Owen Paterson and his brother in law Viscount Matthew “King Coal” Ridley.

Take this for example:

But the point remains that the earth – at least on the land – is a human-created environment moulded for our convenience – as is only right and proper. After all, the model attitude humans have adopted to the environment since ancient times was that of the steward of the Garden of Eden. Note that: a garden – a designed environment, not a wilderness.

It’s worth reading this article in full just to get a flavour of the extraordinary and truly terrifying perspective Mr Lilico has on the world and especially the natural world. And apparently he is an expert economist or econometrician, sufficient for the Woodland Trust to pay (presumably handsomely) for his services.

I searched high and low through “The Economic Benefits of Woodland” for things like “intrinsic value” or the “irreplaceability of ancient woodland”, but I could not find any mention of these. Instead, Mr Lilico entertained us with the notion of “biodiversity existence value” a sum made up using contingent valuation, itself a widely condemned approach to valuation. Biodiversity Existence Value or BEV is the value people place on a woodland for its biodiversity, just to know that that biodiversity exists, in the same way that we value a whale in the Antarctic Ocean, because it is there. Leaving aside whether it’s realistically possible to come up with a monetary value for such a thing, Mr Lilico calculated that BEV for a lowland ancient woodland was only worth just over three times as much as an upland conifer plantation; and only about 34% more than a newly planted lowland plantation.

Evidently Mr Lilico take a much harder line than Owen Paterson, who famously suggested that one could compensate for the loss of an ancient woodland by planting a hundred trees for every one cut down. Lilico reckons its only 1.3 trees planted for everyone cut down.

This is of course arrant nonsense and it’s extraordinary that the Woodland Trust would put its name against such econometric meretriciousness. One wonders whether Lilico was quietly chuckling at the thought that he had led an environmental organisation into such an elephant trap. Perhaps they had not noticed? Lilico works at Europe Economics (which is itself a neat piece of truthspeak as Lilico is an arch europhobe who works alongside another leading europhobe Matthew Sinclair, former Chief Exec of the Tax Payers Alliance).

Lilico looks at the monetary value of woodlands as a policy tool – and comes up with the main benefit being to “facilitate housing development”. Now given the Woodland Trust’s campaign to save ancient woodlands from threats such as err housing development, this is econometric gymnastics. Just as well he only valued ancient woodland biodiversity value a third higher than newly planted woodland. In terms of housing development Lilico also suggests that planting forest in a catchment could reduce flooding risk to such an extent that it could allow housing development on “marginal land” – yes he is talking about the floodplain.

The overall picture is that the main element of the £270Bn is in carbon storage at £16000 per hectare (in perpetuity), while the monetary value of a woodland seen in passing by a commuter is calculated as £9500 a hectare. Aggregate all these together and you get to that figure of  £720Bn, in perpetuity.

It’s this aggregate value thing again, which I mentioned yesterday. The idea that you can simply add together all the different economic values, calculated using different methods, to come up with one big figure.

I was talking at a conference a couple of weeks ago, and asked the audience “what is the aggregate natural capital of the badger?” Well, it might seem like a silly question, but is it any sillier than “what is the natural capital of the UK’s woodlands?”

To a dairy farmer in Somerset, it cost £5000 per badger to kill them. Much of that cost fell to the taxpayer, anyway we have to put that figure on the “cost” side ie it’s a negative value.

But for Somerset Wildlife Trust members, who pay £36 a year to be members, presumably they place a positive value on those badgers, even if their new Vice Presidents don’t.

To the 10,000 or so Dairy Farmers in England and Wales, for which bovine TB costs around £100M a year (although much of the cost is borne by the taxpayer), I would imagine they would also place a negative value on badgers.

What about a badger in London, or somewhere else in the country where there is no bovine TB. Do these have a positive value? How much is a visit to your patio by a badger to eat peanut butter or whatever it is you’ve put out to entice them, worth? I’m sure Mr Lilico would be able to come up with a figure.

And when all those badgers and all their credits and debits have been calculated, they can all be summed, to provide the aggregate natural capital of badgers in the UK.

But what if the aggregate sum was negative?  It seems likely that it would be. Surely this would be a cast iron economic case for eradicating the badger entirely from these Islands.

Posted in badgers, libertarians, Natural Capital, neoliberalism | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Natural Capital debate: Helm rebutts Monbiot, misses target


Monbiot/Juniper (c) Miles King

As today’s opening of The World Forum on Natural Capital runs into a spot of bother over the antics of some of the Corporations who are promoting it, last week saw a scintillating debate about Natural Capital, between two crusty (in a good sense) old environmental campaigners Tony Juniper and George Monbiot. This has been written up elsewhere, eg on Mark Avery’s blog and by Mike McCarthy in the Independent.  I’m looking forward to watching the debate again when the video is posted on the New Networks website.

This morning Prof Dieter Helm, Patron Saint of Natural Capitalists, posted a rather tetchy piece in the Guardian sustainable business section, huffing and puffing about why Monbiot is wrong and Natural Capital is the only way to “save” nature, or at least protect the renewable natural resources that humans depend on, in the language of economics. Leaving aside whether nature needs “saving” or not, Helm sounds like he is rattled – is he surprised that there is a kick back against his pet theory?

Helm advances some interesting arguments in favour of Natural Capital; for example he supports the notion of polluter pays and objects to the influence of perverse subsidy systems such as the Common Agricultural Policy.

He also promotes some absurd ones – such as the notion of aggregate natural capital.  The idea is that as  long as some arbitrarily measured level of total natural capital is maintained, it doesnt matter if one bit is lost, because another bit can be enhanced to make up the shortfall. This leads inexorably to biodiversity offsetting.

Helm also claims that the idea of nature having intrinsic value is “dangerous” which is rather bizarre language, especially from a Professor of Economics. Whether you believe nature has intrinsic value or not, the idea that it might have is only dangerous to people who are not entirely convinced by their own arguments.

Critically though Helm fails to address Monbiot’s counter-argument, which is that Natural Capital is a frame which forces us to think in narrow (and neoliberal) economic terms about nature and take actions as a consequence of that narrow economic thinking. This leads to things like the monetisation of the nature that can (at least in theory) be monetised, and the downgrading/dismissal of all that cannot be monetised. Helm is a fan of biodiversity offsetting, which is a good example of this monetisation approach, which I have explored many times before.

Tony Juniper also made Helm’s arguments at the New Networks for Nature conference last week. Juniper’s arguments were that a) adopting the moral argument had failed therefore we need to move on to an economic argument and b) that as regulation had failed to stop private sector businesses from damaging the environment, we should now work with them to help them adopt natural capital accounting, on a voluntary basis. But we know that voluntary approaches do not work without a strong regulatory framework to underpin them. In any case, while there may be some business leaders (early adopters) who are genuinely interested in doing natural capital accounting for the right reasons, there will be many more who are primarily driven by profit and will look for ways to circumvent the difficult stuff (like stopping the degradation of nature) while giving the public the impression they care. In that sense Natural Capital is Panglossion – in the best of all possible worlds it is a good idea. In our one it will be corrupted.

It was very ironic, no doubt accidental, that the Helm article in the Guardian should have been sponsored by premier private Swiss Bank Julius Baer. This bank is Switzerland’s 3rd largest “wealth management company” – yes it looks after the wealth of the worlds wealthiest people. Baer has recently been stung for $350M by the US Tax authorities for helping wealthy Americans hide their cash in tax havens like the Cayman Islands. Baer was also infamous in blocking access to the Wikileaks website, after a whistleblower revealed via wikileaks what the bank was doing helping the richest people on the planet to dodge paying taxes.

The idea of Natural Capital is based on the assumption that there will be an underlying ethical framework within which people and companies will operate. Julius Baer’s attitude towards the public good known as tax would suggest that ethical framework may be rather weak (to say the least).

The flaws in Helm’s approach to Natural Capital are very eloquently explored by Professor Sian Sullivan in this recent piece, which I recommend anyone interested in Natural Capital to read. And more information on framing can be found here.

Posted in Dieter Helm, George Monbiot, Natural Capital | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Guest Blog from Ian Hepburn. Defending Nature: the UK battle is far from over

With a conference to review the effectiveness of the EU Nature Directives (Birds and Habitats) – the Fitness Check process, taking place in Brussels tomorrow, I’m thrilled to publish a timely guest blog from Ian Hepburn. Ian has had a long association with the EU nature directives spanning the last 35 years. He currently leads on conservation policy for the Sussex Wildlife Trust.


The European Commission’s on-line public consultation earlier this year seeking views on whether the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive – the backbone of EU wildlife policy – are ‘fit for purpose’ was met with a virtual avalanche of comments from individuals and organisations. An unprecedented half a million responses from across the 28 Member States are not easy to ignore. And then in late in October, a joint letter from nine EU environment ministers –with Germany in the lead– urged the European Commission not to weaken the nature directives. The UK was not among the nine signatories.


So the EU’s own review process is not the only threat to the nature directives. Perhaps more worrying for the UK is the risk that we could lose these important wildlife safeguards –along with other environmental protection measures adopted by the EU. This might result from the reforms of the EU which the current Government and officials have been discussing behind closed doors, or there’s the real possibility that in the next couple of years we could be negotiating the terms of our withdrawal from the European Union.


In his 6-page letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk last week, David Cameron inevitably concentrates on headline topics for EU reform. The environment doesn’t feature explicitly among the concerns in the spotlight and which dominate political debates and media interest. But the big risk lies in that phrase which Mr Cameron uses it “… really boil[s] down to one word: flexibility.”


There is little doubt that EU environmental legislation will be caught up in the whirlpool of negotiations as the politicians and officials ratchet up diplomatic discussions over the coming weeks and months. It’s no secret that successive UK governments have been less than a hundred percent behind the nature directives. For example, the Environment Secretary of the time made derogatory public comment on the draft Habitats Directive when it was launched in the late 80s; in 2011 the Chancellor used his Autumn Statement to mount an attack on the nature directives; and just a couple of weeks ago our Environment Secretary was notably absent from the signatories to the joint letter to the EU Environment Commissioner supporting the nature directives. Just what ‘flexibility’ might mean for the future of the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive we have yet to find out.


So in a light-hearted attempt to raise the profile of, and some of the risks to, the nature directives, here are some personal thoughts on what a frank ‘environmental postscript’ to David Cameron’s letter, untrammelled by the protocols of diplomatic language, might have looked like …





letter head




(and for the avoidance of doubt, the following is no more than speculation, but firmly rooted in reality)


You will, I am sure, be well aware that here in the United Kingdom we are pretty good at looking after our lovely countryside and all the wild creatures we are lucky enough still to have here. I want to be absolutely clear that we really don’t need to be told by interfering Eurocrats in Brussels or know-better-than-you judges tucked away in the Court of Justice in Luxembourg how to take care of British wildlife.

You only have to look at our track record. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Our eagle-eyed friends in the wildlife non-government organisations just two years ago told us how well we’ve done in the last half a century. The statistics prove it. Nearly half the species for which we have adequate data (of which there are 3,148) have not declined over the last 50 years. And only half of the 60% in decline have declined strongly. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

And just what has European environment law contributed to this? Well, OK, I admit that the birds given the highest level of protection through the Birds Directive have generally performed better than those not so well protected by EU law; and these same species have done better in EU members states than in other parts of Europe. And, yes, I accept that if it The Solent hadn’t been classified as a Special Protection Area, then we probably would have built a nice new port at Dibden Bay, neatly filling in the last stretch of natural intertidal habitat along the western shore of the estuary. But that’s the point, isn’t it? All these legal measures to protect the environment just block development. The so-called nature directives and the regulations which oblige us to examine carefully the likely environmental consequences of big development projects and of strategic plans and programmes, expecting that they’ll be toned down if the effects seem too harsh … they all simply get in the way. No, you can keep your EIA Directive, your SEA Directive, your Birds Directive and your Habitats Directive and all the rest.

What I want is to run a country that’s free from such environmental considerations; free to decide how much wildlife we allow to be damaged, which refuges for plants and animals we permit to be destroyed. A flexible approach to looking after nature.

I am confident that we can look after our own great crested newts, our bats and dormice, our hen harriers, chalk streams, heathlands, reedbeds, coastal dunes and shingle habitats and all the rest perfectly well thank you very much. After all, look at how well we managed before we joined Europe. Back in the good old days, when our heroic conservation scientists found evidence that pesticides were killing off our birds of prey, we acted promptly. It took us a mere 2o years to ban the use of the offending chemicals. Just look at the mess we’re in now over neonicotinoids, all because of the interference of European institutions imposing bans in such a hurry. And we would, of course, eventually have got around to looking after our rivers and seas better. We didn’t need to be rushed into it by being obliged to create that Natura 2000 network, forced on us by those pesky nature directives.

So my solution is clear. You let us have an opt-out from all these annoying environmental laws, allowing us the freedom to decide for ourselves how we look after our countryside, rivers, coasts and seas, which species and habitats need to be protected and the sites that need to be safeguarded. Or you could just scrap these regulations and directives. I’m entirely flexible on this. Either would suit us; the choice is yours.

Looking forward to a constructive discussion on this before we go to our voters,

Yours, etc.







Posted in Birds Directive, David Cameron, European Commission, European environment policy, Habitats Directive | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

New additions to Defra Board will not upset Truss’s plans to cut Natural England or Environment Agency


what will be the ecological consequences of Arup chairman Sir Philip Dilley joining the Defra Board?

Reading through the excellent CIEEM monthly policy briefing email, I noticed that Natural England Chair Andrew Sells and Environment Agency chair Sir Phillip Dilley, had recently joined the Defra Board in ex-officio capacities. Defra Board, in case you were wondering, comprises Ministers, Executive Directors (senior staff such as the Permanent Secretary) and non-exec directors. The Board is Defra’s main decision-making Board and “provides collective strategic and corporate leadership”. Apparently it also “provides advice on issues such as strategy and the deliverability of policies and scrutinises the department’s performance”.

Whether this provision of advice is separate from providing collective strategic and corporate leadership or not is unclear. Curious to read more, I searched but was unable to find a copy of the Board’s Terms of Reference; perhaps it has been lodged deep within the arcane structure of the .gov website. If anyone can send me a copy I would be most grateful.

Looking through the minutes of the latest meeting (sept 15) casts little further light on the Board; other than that it discussed the forthcoming spending review, which we now know will lead to Defra’s budget (and therefore it’s Agencies such as EA and NE) being cut by over 30% in the next four years. Analysis by RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts suggests the cuts could be as high as 57% from 2010 t0 2020. It’s certainly unusual for me to underestimate the extent to which this Government is doing environmental damage.

What was also notable was the absence of the entire Defra ministerial team from the meeting. Non-exec Directors play an important role on corporate boards and one would expect them to provide challenge and scrutiny as part of their roles on the Defra board. It is undoubtedly more difficult to challenge a Defra minister on, say, decisions to reduce the departmental budget by over a half, when they are not at the meeting. Neither were Truss or Eustice (the main Ministers) at the previous Board meeting in March.

That the two new non execs are Andrew Sells (former treasurer of Policy Exchange) and Phillip Dilley (former chairman of engineering company and environmental consultants Arup) suggests that they are not likely to provide much challenge to the current orthodoxy. While Dilley is not part of the Tory machine in the way Sells is, he was invited to join David Cameron’s Business Advice Group in 2010. On his appointment Dilley said “I am very much looking forward to helping see that the priorities of our industry are recognised at the highest levels.” No evidence of a public service ethic there then.

To think that he was rewarded for his efforts by being given a £100,000 a year (for 3 days a week) job presiding over the dismantling of the Environment Agency (and contracting out of its engineering work to companies such as Arup?), would fly in the face of the Government’s reassurances that the selection of the new EA chair was subject to “open competition”.

It does seem a tad unlikely to me that these two are going to be making any challenges to the cuts being made to Defra and the Agencies they chair.

Still, what about those other non-execs? Perhaps they will be willing to make a stand, challenge the cuts, demand some consideration of the impacts of the cuts on the Government’s ability to maintain legally binding environmental protections?

Iain Ferguson is the lead non-exec Director on Defra’s board. Ferguson was chief executive of Tate and Lyle before joining the Defra board in 2010. As well as being the largest recipient of Agricultural Subsidies in Britain for a number of years, Tate and Lyle has been a prominent corporate supporter of the Conservative Party. And just to give you a flavour of how these things work, Hume Brophy is the PR agency that does public affairs (or lobbying as its more commonly known) for Tate and Lyle. Hume Brophy’s new managing director is Robert Condon. Robert Condon used to work for Defra Secretary of State Liz Truss at another lobbying firm called The Communication Group.

Paul Rew is another Defra board non-exec. He used to be a partner at Big Six accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC). Another Defra non-exec director is Catherine Doran, Chief Information Officer at the newly privatised Royal Mail. Finally, Sir Tony Hawkhead is another non-exec director and he at least has experience in the sector, having been chief exec of Groundwork for 18 years.  Perhaps he is a lone voice challenging what is happening within Defra.

Still, I’m sure staff at Natural England and the Environment Agency, who have already seen their teams decimated (in the broadest sense), and will see what’s left cut by a third again over the next four years, can console themselves that their Chairs will now be standing up for them at the Defra Board, where they can now contribute to the collective strategic leadership already being so clearly demonstrated.




Posted in Andrew Sells, Defra, Liz Truss, lobbying, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Autumn: The Season of Maize and Muddy Rivers

“SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness!

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.”


What would Keats have made of Autumn in West Dorset these days?


Maize stubble West Dorset (c) Miles King

Maize fields are harvested  – for dairy farms or biodigesters, their stubble is left over winter. Compacted soils prevent water from infiltrating. Soil, or rather the pale shadow that passes for a substrate used by so many arable farmers these days, is washed away into streams and rivers, or onto roads. The River Bride, into which this and many other maize -stubble fields empties, was a muddy-brown lifeless thing as it approached the sea.

Maize isn’t just bad for rivers and soil – it’s bad for cattle too. I’ve written many times about Maize and the problems growing it creates.

Research published yesterday has added to the mounting evidence that farmers who grow maize, increase the chances of their cattle getting bovine TB. A study of 1300 farms in high TB areas is a big study by any standards.

The team found that farms with herds of 150 cattle or more were 50% more likely to suffer a bovine TB outbreak than those with herds of 50 or fewer. Patterns of crop production and feeding were also important, with the risks increasing with practices linked with higher productivity systems. For every 10 hectares of maize – a favourite food of the badgers that play a role in transmitting the disease – bTB risk increased by 20%. The feeding of silage was linked with a doubling of the risk in both dairy and beef systems. Landscape features such as deciduous woodland, marshes and hedgerows were also important. For example, on farms with 50km of field boundaries, each extra 1km of hedgerow was linked with a 37% reduction in risk. This is likely to be because there is less contamination of pasture by badger faeces and urine in hedgerow-rich areas. Marshland was associated with increased risk, possibly as a secondary effect of infection with liver fluke – a disease linked with wet environments and which interferes with the diagnosis of bTB in cattle. (Read more here)

There is a solution. If you drink milk, buy organic milk. Organic dairy farms do not use maize to feed their cows. Maize production, which is increasing exponentially, also needs to be much more tightly controlled, so it is not allowed by watercourses or on steep slopes and undersowing with winter cover crops should be mandatory if stubbles are left overwinter. If necessary maize growing should be subject to a polluter pays approach and be taxed, with the income used to mitigate its impacts downstream and on soil.



Posted in badgers, bovine TB, Maize | Tagged , , | 12 Comments