WCL | DEFRA fails to set target to halt decline of nature

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the government’s plans for the Environment now that we have left the EU and No10 is redrawing itself as wildlife-friendly. Last month, George Eustice, the current Environment Secretary promised a “Net Zero equivalent for nature” through a “legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature”. This ‘promise’ followed an apparently successful campaign for a “State of Nature” target to halt nature’s decline by 2030, which was supported by 70 organisations and over 180,000 people who signed an e-petition. Halting decline seems like a reasonable step to take, doesn’t it? We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, after all, but apparently that is imposing too many demands on business for Defra, which has slid an amendment into the Bill requiring the ‘slowing’ of decline instead. What does that mean? Slowing to half of what it is now? 99% of what it is now? 1% of what it is now? That doesn’t seem to be clear but ‘slowing’ is one of those ‘kicking the can into the long grass’ phrases, that are pretty much open to interpretation.

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Defra’s ministerial farming and shooting merry-go-round

The rumour mill suggests that George Eustice MP will not be running Defra for much longer, as Carrie Johnson apparently thinks that he is too close to the farming lobby (ironically he has received criticism for being too close and (from the NFU) for not being close enough), and is not taking sufficient action on animal welfare. Downing Street hasn’t commented yet, but surely, now, with even world leaders beginning to glimpse how the world might look with runaway climate change and public opinion more strongly against slaughtering protected animals than ever before, if Eustice were to be demoted he would be replaced with someone with genuine environmental credentials? You’d think, but the most likely candidate appears to be Chief Whip Mark Spencer, MP for Sherwood, who has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change and in 2018 told a rural conference that “shooting should be proud of its contribution to the countryside and the environment. It is a positive story that deserves to be told” – this despite the widely reported wildlife crime underpinning shooting and its environmental impact (from lead shot to burning, flooding, and the release of over 50 million non-native birds every year).

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How would you use a small grant to help tackle the war on wildlife?

That was the question we were asked recently: if the War on Wildlife Project were given a donation, how would you use it to help tackle the war on wildlife? What a question! So what would we do? Make a one-off lump sum donation, perhaps – many organisations are desperate for finance after lockdown after all. Or perhaps break up that money into smaller grants, spreading it across a number of smaller organisations or groups to help them fund their work? We’ve obviously thought long and hard about what to do, and while there are numerous charities/sanctuaries we would always like to help, we think that setting up an ‘equipment fund’ to help smaller groups buy items to use in the field like video cameras, go-pros, recording equipment etc would be the most effective way to distribute the money we’ve been given. We would really like to know: would an offer to buy equipment be useful to you or your group? What items do you need? Do you have a better idea? Please let us know in the comments or on social media.

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NatureScot | Judicial Review over beaver killing licences

Trees for Life, the charity that campaigns to rewild the Scottish Highlands, has accused NatureScot (the government agency who (allegedly) “work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it”) of failing to protect beavers. NatureScot has been issuing hundreds of licences to farmers and landowners to kill beavers from newly-establishing populations in Tayside, where they were illegally or accidentally released in 2006 and have spread widely along waterways. Trees for Life say that beavers should be humanely trapped and relocated to other parts of the country rather than killed under licences issued by NatureScot to placate famers and landowners who in turn insist that “the right to lethally control species that damage crops, stock and farmland has to be defended”. What these lobby groups really mean is that they want to defend a system that essentially allowed landowners to eradicate species like Wild Cats, Pine Martens and White-tailed Eagles because in their ossified opinions there is no room in the lowlands or uplands for any wildlife that threatens profits or the heavily-subsidised industries they manage. This intransigence has already led to dozens of licences to kill beavers blamed by farmers in Tayside for damaging crops and prime agricultural land. By the end of 2019, it’s reported that 87 beavers had been shot under lethal-control licences issued by the agency.

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Badger Crowd | High Court Challenge

The Court of Appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice has awarded renowned ecologist and wildlife campaigner Tom Langton (with whom we’ve recorded a couple of very insightful podcasts over the last four years) permission to challenge an important aspect of the 2020 “Next Steps” Bovine TB eradication policy. Tom is a professional conservation ecologist with experience in wildlife justice, and has helped bring Natural England & Defra to account in tribunals & High Court trials over badger culling since 2017. Cruel, unnecessary badger killings will massively increase from now until 2026, with huge new cull areas. Already 140,000 badgers have been shot and this will now double to around 280,000. Following on from these culls, there is a little mentioned long term policy to expand the extermination of badgers locally with reactive-style culling of 100% of badgers. This will be happening in and around our woods, fields and nature areas, perhaps even close to where you live, with multiple side effects and implications. It just has to stop.

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Badgers | Shooting starts tonight

After a brief pause the quiet that settled over the countryside in spring is about to be shattered as the free-shooting of a protected species begins again. The pause in killing was presumably to allow badgers to have a breeding season, which is both deeply ironic and nauseating given that adults and young animals will be slaughtered in the coming months: Defra’s legally mandated nod to animal welfare for a few months does nothing to mitigate the massacre that is about to take place on their watch AGAIN. Pro-cull lobbyists often mock the feelings of pro-wildlife folk on social media. A particular favourite is to say this is about science not emotion. What a telling trope that is. The UK is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. We are disconnected from Nature and from wildlife. And all the time we are being told that data matters more than how we actually ‘feel’ about wildlife and the environment. Important decisions are of course based on data but when it comes to the mass killing of badgers it won’t matter whether massacring every single one of them helps ‘cure’ a disease that impacts an industry that we all know we could actually exist without – the fact is that it ‘feels’ abhorrent, it ‘feels’ totally wrong…

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Guest Post: Jane Smith | All Our Wild and Precious Lives

“Is there such a thing as wildlife? There’s definitely such thing as the Earth. There’s also such a thing as life on Earth. But doesn’t ‘wildlife’ imply an us-and-them situation? Are we ‘tamelife’? All of our human and pre-human ancestors came from the wild. But at what point did they stop being wild life, to become something else? Was it when we made fire? Was it when we started to speak with words? Was it when we started to own things? Our physical and spiritual connection to other species got very lost somewhere along the line. Nowadays, Nature is so often seen as a thing ‘out there’, with wildlife taken as ‘species out there’. It’s a separation mentality, and it’s not only unhelpful but it’s also untrue.” Guest post by Jane Smith, the UK’s first elected animal rights councillor.

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Scotland | Police Officer charged after raid uncovers ‘peregrine falcon eggs’

The case reported below is ongoing so it would be wrong to speculate on it specifically, but social media regularly claims that ‘corrupt’ police are attending illegal fox hunts, monitoring shoots, and behaving as interpreters of the law rather than enforcers of it. There is undoubtedly some bias against what some officers see as ‘left-wing antis’ (us pro-wildlife folk in other words) disturbing ‘traditional countryside pursuits’ (ie those killing wildlife), does that mean all officers are corrupt though? Of course not, and it’s worth noting here that it was officers that ‘swooped’ at dawn to arrest one of their own as part of “an ongoing investigation into allegations of serious organised crime”. It’ll be very interesting to see how this case develops when it gets to court, but the last thing one of the UK’s most targeted birds needs is the very people who should be upholding the laws protecting it being amongst those actually persecuting it…

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