Natural England claims release of buzzard licence info ‘not in public interest’

buzzard 3Today, Natural England announced that they’d won a ‘Customer Service Excellence Standard Accreditation’ (see here). The independent assessors apparently spoke with NE staff as well as ‘a range of Natural England’s key customers and stakeholders’ and decided that NE was ‘excellent’ at providing ‘delivery’ and ‘information’ to their customers, amongst other things.

That’s not been our experience.

On 23rd May, an article in the Guardian revealed that Natural England had licensed the secret destruction of buzzard nests and eggs in order to protect a pheasant shoot. The licences in question had been issued to an un-named gamekeeper, whose licence application had been supported by the National Gamekeepers Organisation. We blogged about it here. There was widespread public condemnation, as expected.

On 30th May, we blogged about whether the licence applicant had a previous criminal conviction for wildlife crime (because we had good reason to ask – see here) and we wrote to Natural England to ask them about it (see here). Incidentally, we also asked the National Gamekeepers Organisation whether the gamekeeper they were supporting had a criminal conviction for wildlife crime and if so, had he ever been expelled from their membership, as per their club rules about not tolerating wildlife crime – they still haven’t answered!

On June 3rd, Natural England responded to our request for information (a very quick response, to give them due credit) by issuing a refusal notice. In other words, they refused to either confirm or deny that they held any details about previous convictions because, they claimed, this was ‘personal information’ as defined in the Data Protection Act. We strongly disagreed and wrote a second letter to NE (see here), asking for an internal review of their decision. We argued that the information requested could not be defined as ‘personal information’ because the information would not lead to the identification of the buzzard licence applicant; what we were asking was whether the applicant had a wildlife crime conviction, which could have been answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

On 29th July, Natural England responded to our request for an internal review by issuing a second refusal notice. Once again, they claimed the information we had asked for was ‘personal information’ and they also claimed the release of that information was ‘not in the public interest’. Here is a copy of the generic letter they sent out to quite a number of blog readers: RFI 2020 Int_Review Response_RD

Next stop? The Information Commissioner, to ask for a review of Natural England’s decisions. Watch this space…

On a related subject, Alan Tilmouth has written a(nother) good blog this evening, this time about the GWCT’s position on buzzard licensing – see here.

8 thoughts on “Natural England claims release of buzzard licence info ‘not in public interest’”

  1. Whenever a government states that the release of certain information is not in the public interest we can be absolutely certain that the very opposite is true.

  2. I suppose you have the opportunity to continue to probe the issue in a more generic way? As a matter of course, do they ask for criminal record checks on licence applications which involve the destruction of specially protected species?

    Graeme

    [Ed: yes, NE ask licence applicants about their criminal backgrounds. NE have publicly stated that a prior conviction is not a barrier to being issued with a licence. The information given by the applicant in the ‘previous convictions’ section on this particular licence application was redacted by NE]

    1. And regarding past convictions, the applicant deliberately withheld information in another section of the application.

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