A month ago I blogged about a breach of Natural England’s hen harrier diversionary feeding licence on a North Yorkshire grouse moor – a breach that had been captured on film by raptor fieldworkers monitoring an active hen harrier nest (see here).
Given that the female harrier was only in the early stages of incubation, the timing of this diversionary feeding was in clear breach of the CL25 licence, a licence issued by Natural England to grouse moor managers to permit diversionary feeding ONLY after the eggs have hatched.
[A gamekeeper and a Natural England employee caught on camera visiting an active hen harrier nest on a North Yorkshire grouse moor, April 2021]
You might recall I wrote to Natural England to ask a series a questions about whether they would take any enforcement action – apparently they’re still investigating and can’t/won’t tell me how long they expect an investigation of a single incident involving known individuals, including a Natural England employee, to take (see here and here for previous blogs).
I also asked Natural England for a copy of the previous year’s CL25 licence from this estate, and importantly, the licence return. The licence holder is required to provide detail in this return of each date that diversionary feeding was provided for the breeding hen harriers. I wanted to see whether this estate had breached the terms of previous licences in addition to this year’s licence and if so, find out what enforcement action Natural England had taken, if any.
Natural England was due to provide this information by today at the latest (20 working days from my request).
Yesterday afternoon, at 17.04hrs, I received the following:
‘I am writing to advise you that the time limit for responding to question 4 in your request for information under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which we received on 22 April 2021, needs to be extended.
The Regulations allow us 20 working days to respond to your request from the date of its receipt. However, it is occasionally necessary to extend the 20 working day time limit for issuing a response. In this case, we regret that we must extend the time limit for responding by a further 20 working days to 21 June 2021, because of the complex nature of the request, but we hope to be able to reply sooner‘.
They crack me up! ‘The complex nature of the request’?? What’s complex about asking for a copy of last year’s licence return? Absolutely nothing! All they’ve got to do is go to the estate’s file, pull out the licence return, redact any personal information, have someone double check it, convert it to a PDF, email it to me. Pretty simple, I’d say.
Unless, of course, (a) the estate failed to submit a licence return and now there’s panic trying to get the estate to submit it albeit very late (which would be another licence breach) or (b) last year’s licence return reveals previous breaches of the licence conditions and thus (c) perhaps reveals Natural England’s failure to impose any enforcement action in the past.
Or perhaps (d), the estate about which I’m enquiring, which is also supposedly under investigation by Natural England for this year’s breach of the licence, is part of this year’s hen harrier brood meddling sham and any exposure of past licence breaches might just be a bit embarrassing for Natural England right about now.
It could of course simply be (e), Natural England is a bit crap.
Who knows, it’s all very ‘complex’. I guess we’ll find out by 21st June.