Blog update

Some of you will have noticed that I have not written anything on here for a little while. We were on holiday in the mountains of Austria and since returning, it has been very busy.


The Rätikon mountains above the Montafon valley, Austria. © Miles King

I am really pleased to say that I have lots of work to do for People Need Nature, including keeping the social media presence fresh – for example here and here. Please go and take a look, there are some interesting things on there.

This means I will have far less time to write on here, or spend hours every day on Twitter. The latter is undoubtedly a good thing. While I enjoy writing these posts, I don’t get paid for them, and I have to earn a living.

I will write the occasional post on here for the foreseeable future, though these are more likely to be longer pieces on particular issues, rather than commenting on things in the news.



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Andrea Leadsom: “farming.. is a bedrock of.. the environment”. Err…


New Defra Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom has sent a statement to Farmers Weekly, the farming newspaper. Although the paper has not published the full statement, here are the quotes it uses:

“Nothing is more important than the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink”.

“On 23 June, the people of this country voted to leave the European Union and we must now carry out their instruction,” she said.

“I believe this give us an unparalleled chance to design a set of policies that are tailored to the needs of the UK, rather than 28 different member states. We must seize the opportunities that lie ahead.”

The Secretary of State said the UK should work with our European neighbours “so that we get the best terms for the industry”.

“My ministers and I will lead from the front in these negotiations, championing the industry and all that it has to offer.

“Britain is a truly great country that has always thrived and prospered on the world stage. We have always been a leading economic power, opening markets and championing free trade across the world. And with your top-quality products, drive and innovation, we will continue to do so.”

She said farming was central to our national identity and important to local communities.

“Food and farming generates more than £100bn/year for our economy, while managing nearly three-quarters of the UK’s land. The sector is a bedrock of our economy and environment.

“So while much of our focus will understandably be on the future of farming when we leave the EU, we will not lose sight of the challenges we face now, such as low farm prices, the shortage of skills and apprenticeships and of course the scourge that is bovine TB.”

Speaking about the interregnum, which could be two or more years, she made the obvious point that the UK was still part of the EU and it would be “business as usual”.

“The current arrangements for food, farming and the environment remain in place. Farmers will continue to receive their support payments”

“Our continued investment in state-of-the-art science and technology is making our farmers among the most efficient and productive in the world.

“We are recognised as a global hub of agricultural research, leading the way in finding solutions to some of the world’s greatest agricultural challenges.

“The Great British brand is stronger than ever, renowned across the globe for its quality, innovation and tradition.

“Whether it’s English cheese, Scotch whisky, Welsh lamb or Northern Irish beef, people want to buy our products. International trade is at the heart of our economy.”

Mrs Leadsom said the UK had a real opportunity to forge strong economic links with our European neighbours, as well as our friends in North America, the Commonwealth and other countries around the world.

“As we draw up our plans, it is vital we harness your knowledge, experience and common sense. We will make sure your voices are heard,” she said.

“While there is much to be done, I am enthusiastic and positive about the task ahead. British farming has a proud heritage and by working together, we can ensure it has an even greater future.”

So, not much if anything new here – I have already laid out what she has already said, here.

What is interesting is the tone and what she has not said.

She claimed farming as “the bedrock” of the environment, which is of course precisely the opposite of the truth.

Her emphasis is on free trade, productivity, technology, research and brand.

Communities were mentioned only once, which will do little to calm the nerves of upland communities, utterly dependant as they currently are,  on farm subsidies.

She said nothing about the need to protect soil, or nature, or that farmers needed to play a key role in mitigating the effects of, and adapting to climate change. On the plus side she avoided mentioning any need to “feed the world”.

But she did specifically mention the “scourge” of Bovine TB. That sounds to me like a signal that more badger cull areas will be announced soon.

Photo by Policy Exchange – Flickr: Andrea Leadsom MP, CC BY 2.0,
Posted in agriculture, Andrea Leadsom, Defra | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Theresa May places muzzle on Brexit cheerleader & Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson.


Stewart Jackson attacks Labour after narrow win in 2015 general election

So Stewart Jackson has been given a job in Government (again). Jackson is now on the lowest rung of the Governmental ladder, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Brexit Minister David Davis. He had previously briefly reached the same position, as spear carrier to Owen Paterson, when he was at the Northern Ireland Office, in 2011.

blocked by jacko





Having recently discovered that I, along with many others apparently, have been blocked on twitter by Peterborough MP Jackson, I thought you would be interested to see a short history of  his recent tweets.

Shortly after the Brexit vote,  journalist (of the right) Rupert Myers, made a perfectly reasonable comment that the Brexit side had been untruthful on number of key points during the campaign, but now expected those who didn’t believe the lies, to be cheerful about the result.

Jackson replied

“suck it up whiner….”

this is fairly normal for Jackson who is known for his rudeness and generally priggish behaviour  (I had the misfortune to meet him during my short stay with Buglife). Harry Potter author J K Rowling then retweeted Jackson’s abuse to her followers – 13,100 of whom retweeted it, I among them.  For this, it would seem (for I had not sought to directly engage with Jackson on anything that I can recall) I was blocked.

One wonders whether he has a social media intern, day after day drudgingly working their way through all 13,000 twitter users and blocking them.

rowling comments on suck it up whiners







Jackson was clearly cock-a-hoop about the Brexit vote – he has been attacking the EU at least as long as he has been an MP, probably far longer. He started to lay into those who he felt were traitors to the cause, people like former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who had rather unenthusiastically campaigned for Remain. Jackson (a back bench MP) consigned Hammond to the political scrap heap on the Sunday after the Referendum, claiming that Cameron had tried to woo Boris to the remain side by offering him Hammond’s job at Foreign Affairs.

jacko hammond quote



Given that Boris has indeed now got the Foreign Secretary role, albeit a shrivelled version, with international trade lopped off one side, and Brexit negotiations lopped off the other, might suggest Jackson had some sort of clairvoyant skills. Jackson could not possibly have predicted it would be Theresa May giving Boris that poisoned chalice though, nor that Hammond would be her right hand man at Number 11. That’s Politics!

Jackson also had May in his sights, a couple of days later. He had spotted a plot to install “remainer” Theresa May, by the old guard of the party, viz Lord Heseltine and Ken Clarke, plus John Major’s old flame Egwina Curry, and of all people, Blair’s enforcer Alistair Campbell. It’s a tinfoil hat conspiracy worthy of the most wild-eyed Corbynite. Clearly the May-Campbell brigade were going to ditch Brexit and we were all going to be living in Remainia.

jacko may abuse


For Jackson, May was another traitor – after Boris was stabbed by Gove, Jackson fell in behind Andrea Leadsom.

wacko supports leadsom


Leadsom was “excellent”, “principled” and with “real world experience”. Leadsom and Jackson are both members of the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs who would happily privatise their own grandmothers if they could. The “real world experience” Jackson had accrued before becoming an MP included working for Lloyds bank for ten years in the run up to the banking crash of 2007. Which means that Jackson was a bank manager in central London (and a small business manager)during the time when Lloyds was busy lending money to some people and businesses who had no chance of being able to pay it back. At the same time Lloyds were mis-selling payment protection insurance to people taking out mortgages – Lloyds had to set aside £3.6Bn to repay them once they (along wth other banks) had been found out. In the end it was the Labour Government which stepped in and acquired 41% of Lloyds group to save it from going bust. Jackson had already left by then. Of course it’s ridiculous to lay the blame on Jackson for the global financial crisis, but it does illustrate what his “real world” experience was, before becoming an MP.

Jackson was right behind Andrea Leadsom, as he had been part of the team, with fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox, who campaigned for David Davis as Tory Leader in 2005, when David Cameron surprised everyone and won. He tweeted from her launch event

“Leadsom outlying her strong case to be leader…”

wacko unfortunate mis-spell







Given Leadsom’s err imaginative embellishment of her CV, Jackson’s typo  was unfortunate.

On the same day, Jackson indicated where he sits on the political spectrum (not for the first time), retweeting a list of supposed Remain “lies” from a UKIP local council candidate, who peddled some untruths of his own in the run up to the Referendum eg this one on clean beaches and the EU.

wacko on the ukip edge of tories



After the shock announcement that Leadsom was pulling out of the race to be Tory leader, Jackson, seamlessly moved to back Theresa May, as if she was the one for him all along.

wacko now supports May!


He then kept up the barrage of pro-May tweets…perhaps he was making a bid for the job of ambassador to Arslikhan.

Wacko applies for ambassador to arslikhan






And now has been appointed PPS to David Davis.

wacko PPS appointment


And if you want to read him in full flow then take a look at this from 2006, while Muslim members of his Peterborough constituency make their feelings about him pretty clear in this piece. 

The issue of Immigration, whipped up as it has been, by people like Jackson, certainly played its part in the Referendum. But recent research indicates that areas with a significant proportion of non-British born people living in them overwhelmingly voted Remain (bear in mind EU nationals did not have a vote). It was the areas which had experienced the greatest increase in arrivals (since the  EU enlargement in 2004) which voted for Brexit.

Yesterday Theresa May stated in Prime Minster’s Questions, that the Conservative Party wolud be busy over the next few months “bringing this country back together” after the Referendum (which her party had dreamt up, and instigated).

Perhaps she has decided that putting Stewart Jackson on the leash of being a Government employee (and therefore not able to speak out in the way he is accustomed to doing), is a good place to start.



Posted in Andrea Leadsom, Brexit, immigration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Stewart continues his journey, and it’s Coffey Time at Defra

Therese Coffey

Therese Coffey supports Pig Farming

We now know which ministers will work with Andrea Leadsom at Defra. Rory Stewart, who was apparently punished by David Cameron for disagreeing with him over Afghanistan, has now been rehabilitated. Having served his time at Defra, he is now where he should be, over at the Department for International Development.

George Eustice, one of the key Brexiters among the junior ministers, wins the job of explaining to his farming constituency (not his Parliamentary constituency of Camborne, Redruth and Hayle) how Brexit is going to benefit them. If that sounds like a difficult job, that’s because it is. Almost all voices are calling for a reduction in farm subsidies – indeed as I have anticipated, plenty on the (libertarian) right are calling for the abolition of farm subsidies – and Eustice himself has already indicated where he would like to see this debate going. There has already been blood on the carpet, in a spat between right-leaning journalist Emma Duncan and the National Farmers Union. This argument is only get dirtier.

While the Countryside Alliance still have their man, Lord Gardiner, representing Defra in the Lords, Rory Stewart’s replacement is Therese Coffey. As far as we know, Coffey will take on Stewart’s roles, which covered wildlife, flooding, rural affairs, natural resources, natural capital, and being the Minister responsible for Defra’s big three Agencies  – The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission.

What do we know about Coffey? She represents Suffolk Coastal constituency, quite a large chunk of which falls within the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  As this map shows, it is also rich in wildlife, especially well-supplied with European sites such as Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. Inland lies much productive arable land.

The economically important Felixstowe docks (“Britain’s biggest container port”) lies at the southernmost tip of the constituency.

suffolk coastal

Nature Sites include The Stour, Deben and Alde-Ore estuaries, THe Suffolk Sandlings heaths, Minsmere-Walberswick, The extraordinary Staverton Park with it’s Holly-Oak wilderness of the Thicks; and the shingle communities of Orfordness and Shingle Street.

Just looking at the map, it does look like the vast majority of protected nature sites in Coffey’s constituency are European sites, with just a tiny number of sites only protected under national legislation as SSSIs. It would be interesting to see the percentage of SSSI’s in Coffey’s constituency which are European sites.

Why am I labouring this point? Because Coffey is now responsible for sorting out the huge mess left in the wake of the Brexit vote – does the UK hang on to the additional protections afforded European sites through European legislation (The Birds and Habitats Directives) or does it follow her senior colleague George Eustice’s view that these Directives are “spirit crushing” and should be abandoned.

What additional protection do these “spirit crushing” directives provide for nature in Coffey’s constituency? Well, development of the Felixstowe Docks despite it being very close to Special Protection Areas has proceeded, with compensation for loss of intertidal habitat being provided at Wallasea on the Essex Coast. There don’t appear to have been any restrictions on housing development close to European Sites, as has been the case elsewhere, eg in the Brecklands. This may be due to the fact that Coffey’s constituency is predominantly rural or coastal, with few large urban areas.

What else do we know about Coffey? She has an accountancy and food industry background (having reached the lofty role of Finance Director at Mars Drinks) and is a dog-lover. She is very supportive of her local Pig Farmers, having met them several times over the last year, including one with former Defra SoS and fellow pork lover Liz Truss. She believes that farmers are “the key conservators of the Great British Countryside”.

What about any references to nature in Coffey’s copious writing? Well, there’s nothing apparent, apart from a reference to the Forest sell-off debacle.  Despite all those highly protected nature sites in her constituency, Coffey does not appear to have met Natural England once.  Coffey may  feel a distrust of Natural England, due to the part they played in the battle of Easton Bavents in her constituency  – you can read an excellent account by Patrick Barkham here. As a prospective MP she stated her support for more sea defences.

But a closer look reveals that Coffey is the UK Champion for the Bittern. The RSPB have given her this title, of which she is appears to be proud.

She said: “It was great to be at the beautiful RSPB Minsmere at the beginning of the bank holiday weekend to try and catch a glimpse of the rare and elusive bittern. As the RSPB’s Bittern Champion I want to raise the profile of this once near-extinct bird which was the star of BBC Springwatch in 2014. The Suffolk coast is a special place and it is our duty to protect the fantastic wildlife who share it with us (my bold). I encourage locals and tourists alike to pay a visit to this inspiring part of the world.”

She also clearly does liaise with the Environment Agency regularly, as her constituency suffers probably the most serious coastal erosion in the whole of the UK, and also has lots of farmland needing to be kept dry.

Coffey contacted former Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson asking that her local Internal Drainage Boards be given more freedom to dredge and drain, without tiresome red tape getting in the way. This from 2014:

“After a recent visit to Snape, which was hit particularly hard by the recent flooding along with flooding in Aldeburgh and Iken, I raised the issue of internal drainage boards with the Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson MP, in Parliament. Drainage boards have powers to secure water level management in specific locations up and down the country. The Secretary of State gave me assurances that their role will continued to be enhanced to ensure waterways are freed up and don’t become blocked. By continuing to allow drainage boards to make local decisions work will continue apace. In previous years a scarcity of water not an excess has been an issue which has led to the water abstraction consultation as part of the Water Bill. Our local farmers are regular abstractors and it is important that we don’t allow water to become an expensive tradable quota by over regulation. I asked the Minister, Dan Rogerson MP, to assure me that there will be consultation events in areas like Suffolk Coastal where there is water stress. He offered to meet with me about this so I hope we can get something organised locally.”

One wonders if she is not keen on tradeable water abstraction quotas, whether she will be keen on tradable biodiversity obligations. Perhaps Eustice can persuade her.

She likes IDB’s – and recently stated

“I do not know the reason why the presence of IDBs is quite so limited in other parts of the country, but as we learn the lessons of how to cope with such unusual weather, I hope that IDBs being set up right across our country might form part of the answer.”

Given the IDB’s historic role in environmental damage and contributing to urban flooding, I can imagine quite a few people who might want to question whether more are needed, or indeed what sort of a question would be formulated, where more IDBs were the answer.

With  another impending review of the future of Natural England and the Environment Agency on the way, it’s worth noting what Coffey said when the agencies were under review in 2012:

“This review gives the Government a chance to take a fresh look at what these bodies do and how they do it. I would encourage residents and groups to respond to the review and suggest any changes that would lead to better results for the environment, economic growth and for people here in Suffolk.”



Posted in Defra, dogs, Dredging, flooding, Therese Coffey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

New head of Defra Andrea Leadsom has already laid out her plans for farm subsidy reform.


Farming Future under a New Zealand style farm policy regime ©Miles King

The dust is settling following the brutal excision of the Cameron/Osborne cliques from power.

One Department has been knocked down, or split asunder – the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Energy has gone to Business and Industry, Climate Change has gone – where? We await to hear whether it’s merged into Defra, or buried within energy/industry. There’s a clue – Theresa May’s Thinker in Chief and Co-Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, “dislikes green taxes and high energy costs”.

Defra’s future is by no means assured. The new Secretary of State is Andrea Leadsom. Leadsom, you will recall, was bidding to become leader of the Tory Party and the new PM, on Monday. Yes, just four days ago. Now she has Defra. It feels like a cross between a poisoned chalice and a punishment cell in the workhouse. In the same way that Boris Johnson has been given Foreign Affairs, David Davis has Brexit, Leadsom has been given both the Environmental Sector and the Farmers to deal with/sort out. You can imagine Timothy telling each Brexiteer as they appeared in Number 10 yesterday, on behalf of May (who is too busy to meet them herself)

“You Brex-ed it – now you have to fix it/clean up your own mess. You’ve got 12 months.”

What do we know about Andrea Leadsom, apart from the fact that she thinks people who have children have more of a stake in the future, than everyone else (does that include children themselves?).

This is her speaking in a Guardian Brexit debate in March:

Net we send £9bn a year to the EU, gross it’s £19bn; the remainder we get back in subsidies are things we have to beg for, things we have to co-finance, pet projects of the EU so farmers – yes, they are supplicants asking for roughly 50% back of the money that they paid over in the first place.

On voting to leave the EU, the UK government will absolutely continue in the short term to provide those subsidies whilst we think about what makes sense. And some of the things that would make sense would be environmental trading credits, because at the moment you have farmers who have to do a bit of environmental planning and a bit of farming just to meet the EU requirements.

It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies. That would make a lot more sense for the UK and it’s perfectly possible but only if we leave the EU and sort it out for ourselves.

That bears striking resemblance to something farm minister George Eustice said back in 2012. And there should be no surprise that Eustice and Leadsom come from the same place on farm subsidies – as they both worked together on the radical right “Fresh Start” group, formulating what a post-Brexit Britain would look like. Here are some recent proposals from Fresh Start on farm support reform.

Eustice talked of scrapping Pillar One altogether and ploughing (his word) the money into “transferable biodiversity obligations”, meaning farmers in the productive areas would trade subsidy for environmental obligation – ie no pay but no red tape either. No Red Tape at all. Eusticce suggested Pillar two funds – for agri-environment schemes and so on, would be disbursed on a much wider range of projects, including regional economic policy.

What else can we glean from Leadsom’s past writing on the subject. Nearly ten years ago she wrote this piece

Does Britain need its own farming industry?

 I went to a fascinating seminar today on the prospects for the British farming industry. Chaired by Ruth Lea of the Centre for Policy Studies, the guest list was impressive, including some of our most influential farmers, a number of peers, and many members of parliament.

 What was most fascinating though is that there was not a single representative of the Government.

 British farming is in decline, with most notably the pig industry down 40% since Labour came to power, in spite of no change in the amount of pork consumed in Britain. Farming incomes have been dropping since the 1970s, now with huge disparity between the successful and the failing farms. Capital investment in British farming is in decline.

 All this is against a backdrop of some big changes taking place:

 – the ‘politics’ of food is changing: we are now more conscious than ever of what we eat in terms of quality as well as ‘food miles’;

 – health and welfare standards are increasingly higher in Britain, but not necessarily matched elsewhere in the world, even in the EU – therefore the cost of food production in Britain can be comparativly high;

 – climate change means water shortages and floods threaten some of those countries who now export to Britain;

 – globally, the increasing demand for bio fuels will compete with the use of land for food production.

 I think these changes offer a great opportunity for a revival of British farming… in recent years the work of the Soil Association in promoting organic food has been impressive, and I would like to see British farmers emulate that success.

 What do I mean by that? Well, how about seize the initiative and start to promote ‘British produce’ aisles in supermarkets?

 How about promoting school trips to working farms? I heard recently of a group of 10 year olds who thought you had to kill a cow in order to milk it! Kids talking about British farming is a sure way to influence where the weekly housekeeping money gets spent.

 How about farmers launching a campaign on healthy British food? Perhaps promote a ‘Mark’ that all ‘Healthy British Food’ carries on the label. That would surely get round the confusion over ‘country of origin’ labels.

 Finally, the government has to help too… Labour seems only to want British farmers to keep the hedgerows tidy, and ensure that there are butterflies and frogs around for their annual nostalgic trips to the countryside.

 The fact is, British farming will cease to exist if it is forced to become merely an extended form of landscape gardening.

 How government must help is by providing a level playing field. Imported food must meet the same stringent health and animal welfare standards of British food. Subsidies must be abolished. The trade descriptions legislation that enables Country of Origin to be shown as the last country in which food was ‘processed’ must be changed.

 As a final point, to go back to my blog of a few days ago… peripheral activities within the sphere of farming, such as hunting, must be protected as a justifiable element of the whole.

At least in the intervening period, Leadsom appears to have taken more of a shine to butterflies. But the sentiment is clear, abolish subsidies, bring back hunting, and no room for frogs. Untidy hedgerows would also be a step forward from where we are now, but yes I’m clutching at straws.

Agri-Industry insiders website Agra-Europe has taken the unusual step of allowing free access to this opinion piece, that is how urgent they feel the situation is. They have looked at the Fresh Start manifesto and found this quote:

“The agricultural sector in New Zealand can keep the cost of production low and compete in a global export market with the lowest level of government support to agriculture in the OECD at only 1% of farm income. This is only possible with light-touch regulation.”

their analysis of the Fresh Start proposals for farms are thus:

They recommended that “direct payments to farmers in Pillar 1 of the CAP should be phased out, and there should be a parallel reduction in red tape and regulation in order to ensure a globally competitive farming sector.”

In tandem, “Pillar 2 payments for environmental stewardship should be increased with new tradable environmental payments introduced to allow productive land to be more intensively farmed and marginal land to be more focussed on environmental stewardship.”

Ideally, all Pillar 1 payments would be phased out over an undetermined timeframe. Under the Fresh Start scenario, this would “encourage innovation and allow our farming sector to compete in a global market where price volatility and increasing costs of production make reform all the more pressing.”

Unspecified “red tape and regulation” are other key areas earmarked for reduction or abolition altogether. 0% of the resulting cost to businesses coming from the EU.

And in line with the wider priorities from the ‘Brexit Boys’ triumvirate of Johnson, Davis and Fox, Fresh Start seeks “an increase in UK trade with countries outside the EU, through bilateral channels. The Government should build on its recent successes in China and Russia unashamedly promoting British food and drink products in emerging markets.”

Andrea Leadsom has laid out her plans for all to see. The question in my mind, is whether her Boss, Theresa May, will let her have her way.



Posted in Andrea Leadsom, Defra, farm subsidies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Brexit: Conclusive evidence for the Cock-Up theory of History

Reading back through “the story so far” , a short piece I wrote just over a week ago, it seems like such ancient history, that I’m trying to decipher some Babylonian runic script.

What is this Gove I spoke about, what ever happened to Andrea Leadsom?

Now we know. Theresa May, either through astute manouevring, or more likely just being the last person standing, has ended up as PM. The pressure Andrea Leadsom placed on herself through her self-inflicted smear campaign, was too much and she realised that she had done sufficient damage, that even the Tory members would not vote her in.

We will see in the next few days, which Brexiteers have gained from the referendum vote, whether Gove or Boris are given jobs, other than cleaning out the loo at Number 10. Will we finally see the last of Whippingdale….

Let’s hope that Liz Truss is moved from Defra. She has been universally decried as useless, and despite a few feeble efforts, has not even managed to provide comedy value in the way that OPatz was so effortlessly able to. 

To my mind, George Eustice is in a strong position to move up to Secretary of State, from his current 2nd in command position. He has been a leading Brexiteer voice and understands agricultural policy, which will be one of the largest domestic policy reform areas to arise from Brexit, if we do actually end up leaving the EU. His grasp of the implications of Brexit on environmental policy was poor, but those few Defra civil servants who are left in Nobel House will I expect have their briefing papers already written, and that will bring him swiftly back to reality, and the sheer enormity of the task.

Meanwhile Labour continue to implode. Labour MPs fearful of losing not only their own seats, but any collective influence within Parliament, are mustering for a fight for the leadership. Angela Eagle has finally committed to challenge Corbyn, though her launch yesterday was a minor disaster – could Leadsom really have deliberately timed her announcement to stitch up Eagle? It’s no secret that Tories joined the Labour Party in their thousands last summer to help vote in Corbyn, knowing how much good his leadership would do their own chances with the electorate. Eagle is forever tarnished with her support for the Iraq war.

The other contender, Owen Smith, a former lobbyist for big Pharma, is waiting for the Labour national executive committee to decide whether Corbyn will even get on the candidate list for the leadership contest, before deciding whether to stand. If the NEC decide not to put Corbyn on the list automatically, he will find it very difficult to muster the 50 MPs he needs to be nominated. Even though Union members have lost faith in him and his chances of becoming PM, Union leaders are threatening the Labour Party with legal action if they decide he needs to get MPs behind him, before he can become a candidate in the election.

It’s notable how the Conspiracy Theories are swirling around these days – on both the Left and the Right. The main Left conspiracy is that Blairites have plotted the downfall of Corbyn since day one and are now mid-Coup; the Right conspiracies abound, but the main one now is that May will fail to invoke Article 50 and Brexit will be quietly killed off. IDS was also talking about black ops against Andrea Leadsom.

But take a step back and just look at the position we’re now in.

Cameron, who started the whole sorry process by committing to a Referendum (which is not our normal form of democracy), in order to supposedly heal a decades-long internal rift within the Conservative Party.

The lead Brexiteers – Farage, Gove and Boris, have started the fire and run from the building.

The Neolibertarian plotters who led the Leave campaign from behind the scenes are lying on the battlefield, wounded or missing in action. Chief among them, Dominic Cummings, was ditched by Gove even before Gove was ditched by the Tory Party. The Neoliberal’s second best hope, Andrea Leadsom proved most politically toxic to herself. The new PM is already stealing economic and political policies from the left.

The new Prime Minister Theresa May has no mandate from the Country.  Though she has the support of the Conservative MPs, we will never know whether she had the support of the Conservative Party Membership and many will feel cheated that they were not given the opportunity to choose.

Labour MPs, who had the support of the electorate, are at war with the Labour Party membership, most of whom are Momentum supporters but who have only voted for Corbyn as leader. And the Union leaders, who support Corbyn, are at odds with their membership, who don’t support him.

If ever there was a prima facie case for the Cock-Up Theory of History, this is it.


Posted in Brexit | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Bring back the Bison. or Wisent.


Wisent in the lake at Kraansvlak © Miles King

Amid the chaos, recriminations, headless chickens and acrimony of the Brexit vote fall-out last week, I went to the Netherlands with a group from Rewilding Britain. I have an informal role on their policy advisory group, and generally like what they are doing, so was delighted to have been invited along. We were on a trip to see the European Bison, or Wisent (pronounced Vissent), as it should really be called, which had been reintroduced to the Netherlands by fellow organisation Rewilding Europe.

Wisent were effectively extinct in the wild in the 20th century, when there were just a handful of animals in zoos spread across Europe and Russia, and a small population in the Bialowiesza Forest in Poland. There are now 5000 animals, thanks to a careful breeding programme, and animals are being returned to some sort of wildness, in places across Eastern Europe, and one place in the west, Kraansvlak near the Dutch coast.

Our guides from Rewilding Europe told us that Wisent were effectively gone from the wilds of Europe by the Middle Ages, by which time they were confined to hunting forests and reserves (such as Bialowiesza).

Kransvlaak is an area owned by one of the Dutch water companies, an area of stabilised dunes. In the not too distant past much of the Netherlands was covered by mobile dunes, which could swallow entire villages. So a great effort was made to stop them from moving, and this created areas like the Kransvlaak. For a long time the area was just grazed by rabbits and deer, but disease wiped out the rabbits and the deer alone were unable to prevent the dunes becoming covered in scrub (Spindle especially – which is not something we find here in Britain) and started to lose the open ground species, for which it was known to be special. Species such as the Sand Lizard, ground-nesting bees and wasps, and flowers of the dunes. Initially deer, cattle and Konik ponies were introduced, none of whom were interested in the scrub.

The idea of (re)introducing Wisent emerged. There are currently 14 animals in a breeding herd. Some have radiotracker collars on and you can follow their movements on their website. Unlike the Wisent at Bialowiesza, the Kraansvlak animals are not fed in winter, so find their own food. They are quite used to finding grass and other food, under the snow. Wisent graze happily alongside other grazing animals, including horses and cattle, though they are clearly “top” herbivore and will chase away other animals if they don’t like the look of them. This goes for dogs too. Contrary to popular belief they are no more dangerous than cattle, to people. The enclosure at Kraansvlak is 350Ha with a high voltage perimeter fence. There are plans to extend it, using habitat bridges, to a total of 4000ha.

The current enclosure has a Bison Trail running through it, which people are free to walk along. This is what we did. There is a great deal of effort expended on educating visitors, especially those with dogs, about what not to do near the Wisent. But if an animal becomes habituated to people, eg because it has been fed, that animal is removed from the enclosure, because of the risks that it will attack someone.

As you can see from the photo above, Wisent love standing in water. They also like breaking open thorny scrub (hawthorn, gorse) and eating it. Areas that were dense scrub have been returned to flower-rich open dune grassland, as after the Wisent have broken open the scrub, the horses and cattle graze the returning vegetation. Wisent will eat leaves berries and bark of scrub and trees  stripping the bark off quite large trees.

Wisent do other things like bathing in the sand and also creating “bullpits” where the young bulls hang around and playfight. In doing these things they create lots of bare ground.


bare ground, important for invertebrates and plants, created by Wisent. ©Miles King

Bare ground provides habitat for a wide range of plants invertebrates, fungi, and the birds and mammals that depend on these things. the Wisent also use regular tracks so have created a network of tracks and bare ground patches of different sizes. They also appear to have abandoned some areas of bare ground they had created, and these were revegetating. And of course they carry seed of plants from one place to another.


Dune grassland restored by Wisent ©Miles King








Some suggest that Wisent was never native to the British Isles during the holocene and therefore should not be considered as part of our extinct fauna, or considered for re-introduction. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – and Wisent remains have been found from Doggerland, the lost realm between Britain and the Continent. Wisent is still perilously rare and most of the surviving animals occur in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, so holding populations in the UK would help in case a disease killed off populations elsewhere. And looking at how Wisent behave in the Netherlands, in what is effectively the same ecosystem as we have, suggests to me that they would be an ideal animal to have in large areas of wildland, where nature is the paramount purpose of that land.

I’m not suggesting that Wisent should be returned to the wilds of Britain, in the way that Otters have been, or Red Kite. But Wisent could be a driving force for creating large areas of wild land  – thousands of hectares, given over to nature, with no agriculture or forestry happening there. If it can happen in the Netherlands, that densely populated, and intensely managed land, then it can definitely happen here.  And the Dutch experience is that the Wisent themselves have created a great deal of new economic activity – people love them and want to come and see them.

We have a huge amount of public land in Britain – some of it has limited or no public access (Military land) so creating large enclosures for Wisent is a real possibility. Could Wisent be walking across Salisbury Plain in the future?


Kraansvlak is on the edge of a number of urban areas. © Miles King







We were very lucky on our trip. As soon as we arrived at the viewing point, the Wisent were there, on the far side of the lake, standing in the water. We watched them for a while then our guides suggested we try and get a closer look. So we made our way around behind them, climbing a dune. From the top we looked down onto the herd, which were just 50m away. They seemed unperturbed, but there were various half jokes about who could run fastest and who would need to be carried, in case they turned on us. But they took no interested in us. Eventually they moved off back down to the lake again. The sound, and the sight, of their walking through the lake, the slow rhythmic splashing, evoked another place and another time. We could have been in Africa on the savannah, or we could have been mesolithic hunters, waiting for our moment to strike, risking our lives to eat meat that day.

Thanks to our guides from Rewilding Europe for a fascinating day, and to Sir Charlie Burrell and everyone at Knepp, for organising the trip.

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The Story so Far……

There’s a momentary quiet as this morning’s political interviews fade into memory  – or are sliced and diced and served up as vine’s or gifs on twitter.

What have we learnt?

Jeremy Corbyn’s survived another 12 hours, though he may be being held hostage by his courtiers. Corbynista’s have spotted a conspiracy involving a “Blairite” PR agency, called Portland. This was even mentioned by Union strong man Len McCluskey this morning on the Marr show. But when I read the piece (effectively just a rambling blog – that seemed to have been penned by Dave Spart) it reminded of this Monty Python classic. It was just too bizarre for words.

Not that the Parliamentary Labour Party have done themselves any favours with their slow motion car crash of an effort to topple Corbyn (coup is the wrong word because it implies some sort of organisation). Who would take over? While the Corbynistas dominate the party, via the Momentum movement, the MPs are looking in panic at their electorate. If a General Election took place later this year, the MPs could face oblivion two ways – either losing their seats because Corbyn represents their party  – and bombs with the electorate; or by being deselected by Momentum activists in the run up to the Election.

Then there’s Chilcot. On wednesday the report in the Iraq war will finally be published. Will it lead to Tony Blair being impeached?  Probably not but it will finish any thoughts of a leadership challenge from Labour MPs who supported it – like Angela Eagle.

What about the Tories? Michael Gove’s clumsy efforts to gather support for a leadership bid, involving the political assassination of the Prime Minister, and then Boris, the most popular Tory MP of the day and chief Brexiter, have not got off to a particularly good start. In fact, it could be said that his bid is already dead.

That leaves Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. May is an authoritarian. And a remainer. For both these reasons, this will go down very badly with both the neo-libertarian wing of the Tory party, who have been behind the Brexit campaign from day one. Expect to see a full blown smear campaign against May getting going any time soon.

Leadsom is a City/Banking/Finance industry person, and a prominent Brexiter. She has been bankrolled by her brother in law Peter de Putron, a hedge fund millionaire offshored in Guernsey. It’s difficult to see how she will explain away the disastrous impact of Brexit on the City (and potentially the UK’s offshore tax haven empire) with her City/Banking friends. Leadsom looks to be becoming the darling of the Brexit brigade. Apparently she also refused to rule out giving Nigel Farage a cabinet seat. Either way, she will be the neoliberal’s Prime Minister, so expect lots more privatisation, and a further shrinking of the Public Sector, welfare, the NHS etc.

One glimmer of hope is the creation of a Progressive Alliance; the organisers say

“a popular front of ideas and organisation is the only way to defend what we hold dear and to start to build a society that we can all live in and be proud of.”

That sounds good to me.

Whatever happens in the Labour Party, I would suggest that everyone who isn’t on the Right (and that includes pro Brexit and pro Remain voters) needs to agree to put forward a single candidate, representing their own party but within a united progressive alliance, in each of the key constituencies – especially the Marginals.

This could be the best way to stop the most Right Wing Government in decades from taking over.

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Brexit: The Establishment is under attack – from an unlikely quarter.

A local MP here in Dorset has welcomed the victory for Brexit in the local paper.

“Voters don’t want to be run or ruled by a growing undemocratic bureaucracy.” “They wanted to take control back.” “It’s simple – we wanted a free, independent democratic country..”

That MP is Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax. Educated at Harrow, he lives on the 7000 acre family estate at Charborough. Almost anyone who has driven to or through Dorset will have passed his home-park wall with the famous “stag gate” on the corner. The family fortune came from slaves and sugar.

Another MP who I enjoy writing about, made a similar comment:

“Thanks and congrats to all those who voted bravely against establishment to regain control of our country.”

Though not in the same league as Drax, this one’s personal wealth is reckoned at £1.5M, was educated at Radley College, is married to a Viscount’s niece, who also happens to be Viscount Matt Ridley “the rational optimist”‘s sister. Guessed who it is yet? Yes of course, it’s our favourite former Secretary of State against the Environment, Owen Paterson.

Railing against the Establishment,

You couldn’t make it up.



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Brexit or Nexit – what next?

Things are happening so fast, it’s almost impossible to keep up and continue with normal life. Still, we are all off to see The Secret Life of Pets this afternoon so that should be a welcome distraction.

After yesterday’s outpouring of Anger, which, thanks to twitter, and especially George Monbiot and Thom Yorke, was my best-read blog ever by a very long way (thanks everyone for reading, and especially commenting), I’m feeling more positive today.

Why? Because of the very complex process needed to turn the referendum result into an actual Exit from the EU.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty needs to be invoked in order for the exit process to start. There is no other way – informal negotiations as suggested by some (including Boris/Gove) will be laughed out of court by the EU. Cameron chose not to invoke Article 50 on Friday, instead passing that particular poisoned chalice to whoever takes over from him. This means the Tory leadership contest will decided on what the contenders say about when, or indeed if, they are going to press the nuclear Article 50 button.

Some commentators have suggested the button will never be pressed, but the threat of it used to further negotiate better terms for our staying in the EU. I’m not sure whether this would work or not. The point about the real nuclear button is that pressing it meant total annhilation for everyone on the planet. The EU are so pissed off with us right now, they may well want us to press the button.

While the Tory leadership campaign is starting next week, Parliament will start to look at what it needs to do as part of the process. Many have suggested that invoking Article 50 will require Parliamentary approval. There is an overall parliamentary majority in favour of the UK remaining in the EU. So it will be very difficult to get this through Parliament, especially as the Tories have a very slim majority anyway, and the continuing scandal of Tory electoral expenses could, in theory, lead to some by-elections. Leading Tory commentatory Tim Montgomery suggested on Marr this morning that a General Election would be needed to press home the Brexit case on Parliament – but that could well backfire.

Other have indicated that the Scottish Parliament will need to approve any moves to take the UK out if the EU. It’s difficult to imagine that they would do so, especially as so many Scots voted to stay in.

Then there’s the referendum result itself. The turnout was very low for young people – 36%. By contrast 83% of those over 65 (and most likely to vote Out) voted. On this basis does the result truly reflect the will of the people, as Economist Andrew Sentance asked yesterday. One possibility is that students in particular were disenfranchised when the way the Electoral Register is updated, was changed.

Finally, there are moves, today, against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Reports suggests half the Shadow Cabinet is going to resign today. Corbyn is an avowed Eurosceptic and campaigned, let’s say half-heartedly, to be charitable to him. Though the Referendum was not of his making, he had a responsibility to get Labour voters out to vote. Though 2/3 of Labour voters who voted, voted to remain. But how many stayed at home?

Add to this a petition with over 2 million signatures, asking for a second referendum. Parliament could decide to have a second referendum – after renegotiations had taken place, for example.

And one way to ensure that everyone who can vote has their say, is to make voting compulsory. This happens in Australia  – why not here?


Posted in Brexit, EU referendum | Tagged , , | 14 Comments