Heads will roll. MPs furious about the general licences debacle want sackings. Most likely to lose their jobs are Marian Spain, acting chief executive Natural England – and Chris Packham, who has had 140,000 signatures calling for the BBC to sack him.
The reason is that Natural England gave England’s 400,000 shooters just 48 hours notice of a ban on all pest control, ahead of a legal challenge by Chris Packham’s anti-shooting pressure group Wild Justice. Read the story here.
Now, MPs want to know whether a cosy relationship between career environmentalists and government agencies is to blame. Angry MPs including Nicholas Soames met Natural England and DEFRA secretary Michael Gove on Wednesday morning, 24 April 2019. Afterwards, one of them, Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, told GunsOnPegs.com: “It seems clear that there has been a failure at NE. They should have taken remedial steps far sooner so as not to end up in this situation now – there should be accountability for this at the appropriate time.”
Gove has already lashed out at Marian Spain. He will take back control of bird licensing from Natural England, at least for a time, starting on Saturday 4 May 2019. Commenting on this news, National Gamekeepers Organisation chairman Liam Bell says: “Natural England made a pig’s ear of licensing and changes were certainly needed. We must hope that DEFRA can do better and we will offer them every assistance in sorting out this mess. The priority is to get workable licences back up as soon as possible, especially at this critical time for both livestock and wildlife.”
MPs want to know if the mishandling of the general licences was a mistake or part of a wider plan to put career environmentalists in charge of the UK’s countryside post Brexit. All of the main players in the general licences revocation have links to the RSPB and each other, and most have an interest in Michael Gove’s proposed new quango that promises a jobs bonanza for environmentalists: the Office for Environmental Protection.
The RSPB is a significant backer of Gove’s post-Brexit vision for the UK environment, which is likely to see an end to farm payments and a takeover of land management in the countryside by ‘green’ bodies. Packham is a vice president of the RSPB and Avery used to work there.
Michael Gove recently appointed former Friends of the Earth chief Tony Juniper as Natural England’s chairman. Juniper started work at the government agency on the day it revoked the General Licences. Tony Juniper is a guest blogger on the RSPB website.
Natural England’s acting chief executive, Marian Spain, thought to be the architect of the general licenses disaster, previously worked for Plantlife, the New Forest National Parks Authority (which looks after the area where Packham lives) and ‘Back From The Brink’, a fundraiser with membership including the RSPB that provides surveys showing low populations of plants and wildlife in the UK.
Gove is understood to be fearful the mishandling of the general licences will dent his campaign to become prime minister. One MP told Fieldsports Channel: “The last thing the government wants to look like right now is incompetent.”
With his career in mind, Gove sent MPs this letter:
No comfort for pest controllers planning to go shooting this weekend, but Gove says he is ‘fully aware of the implications of the withdrawal of these licences’.
Jobs for the boys and the girls
Chris Packham, Wild Justice founder
BBC presenter, RSPB vice president and animal rights activist
Ruth Tingay, Wild Justice founder
Animal rights activist praised by the RSPB for her work on hen harriers community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/martinharper/posts/hen-harrier-day-2018
Mark Avery, Wild Justice founder
Animal rights activist and former RSPB Conservation Director. Praises Michael Gove for appointing Tony Juniper as Natural England chairman – often joins Tony Juniper in environmental campaigns, including letters to newspapers and, in 2013, boycotting the Oxbridge boat race over a bittern nest thought to be disturbed by Cambridge
Tony Juniper, Natural England chairman
Environmental activist and guest blogger on the RSPB website. Co-hosted a conference with Michael Gove called ‘GREEN BREXIT: A New Era for Farming, Fishing & the Environment?’
Michael Gove, DEFRA secretary and responsible for Natural England
Calls himself an ‘environmentalist’, has big plans for the UK environment post Brexit, including a new government agency with an ‘enforcement’ role called the Office for Environmental Protection. Solicits the support of the RSPB. Congratulates Packham for his anti-grouseshooting campaign
Marian Spain, acting chief executive Natural England
Previously worked for Plantlife, the New Forest National Parks Authority (which looks after the area where Packham lives) and ‘Back From The Brink’, a fundraiser with membership including the RSPB that provides surveys showing low populations of plants and wildlife in the UK.
Wild Justice and lawyers outside Defra Nobel House on 11 March ahead of meeting Natural England. Left-right: lawyer Anita Davies from Cherie Blair’s former legal practice Matrix Chambers, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay from Wild Justice, Carol Day from solicitors Leigh Day, and Mark Avery from Wild Justice