Natural England considers a request for a copy of a hen harrier diversionary feeding licence to be ‘complex’!

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.

24 thoughts on “Natural England considers a request for a copy of a hen harrier diversionary feeding licence to be ‘complex’!”

  1. To be fair it probably is too complicated for Natural England to deal with. That would call for a level of efficiency they struggle to achieve.

    1. Of course it isn’t “too complicated for Natural England to deal with”. I think they are simply trying to find out how best to cover their morally corrupt backs.

      And now we hear that Tony Juniper (Natural England) , along with Lord Benyon (Minister for Rural Affairs) Rebecca Pow (Under Secretary of State, DEFRA) and Christopher Katkowski QC (Planning specialist: “A good deal of his work involves advising clients how to avoid planning applications ending up at planning inquiries or being challenged in court. Chris’ eye-catching successes have changed the face of London”) are going to head a “small working group” to “consider changes – to the Habitats Regulations – that might be appropriate!”

      Is Tony Juniper going to defend Nature or is he going to find ways of changing the Regulations to get big developments through the planning process?

      1. Perhaps he’s angling for a seat in the Lords after he’s done Ministers bidding to neuter NE even more (if that’s possible) where he’ll claim to be able to champion nature more effectively, did have high hopes but …. even getting tired of saying “ever an agnostic”.

  2. Doesn’t this make Natural England look rather stupid? How can such a simple request be considered complex? It is beyond belief, well, its not really from reading so many of your other posts. And they have the filmed evidence. What more do they need?
    And why do they need the full 20 days? How do they know it will take that long?
    If I were a betting man I would put my money on ‘e’.
    Keep up the good work that you constantly do for wildlife and the environment.

  3. Notification, at the very last minute, of a required time extension, might suggest that the response had been prepared, with information available, and “ready to go” until someone, somewhere, decided it wouldn’t be a good look.

  4. My money is on ‘e’. They are an incompetent not fit for purpose organisation. They should be renamed, Unnatural England.

  5. There might be an “innocent” explanation. It’s mis filed, had coffee spilt on it, Geoff took it home during Covid and he’s lost it. Why are you suspicious of these people anyone can make a mistake, over and over again even. None of that is my bet though. Is the answer d?

  6. Inefficiency at best. Cover up at worst. Sick of Natural England that is supposed to be a conservation department. They contribute time and again to the demise of our wildlife. NE needs to be disbanded or deconstructed.

  7. They are probably still writing the licence and report for the estate – or perhaps they have run out of black felt pen to hide, sorry “redact”, all of the important details

  8. Responses to FoI requests are increasingly being ignored or delayed by government and their agencies. For simple requests like this any failure to meet the deadline is an admission of incompetence. Please report this to the Information Commissioner.

  9. My money is on (f): strings being pulled behind the scenes by powerful estate-owning influence that resents having to respond to requests for information under the EIR. This is what NE really meant by the ‘complex nature of the request’. It’s political not procedural as is pretty well everything it seems in Boris’ Brave New Britain.

    1. Someone, given a “heads-up” on what was about to be released, has leveraged a delayed response – otherwise notification of an extension to the time period would have come earlier. So why the delayed FOI response ?

  10. May be simple incompetence but my money says its about hiding the truth. In 20 days they’ll say it is not in the public interest or some such other nonsense.

    1. Yep. it takes them time to figure out how much redaction they can get away with. They might also be taking the time to ask Scotland for advice. They seem to be the leading experts nowadays.

  11. It would be possible to do further FOI s to get information on the scenarios outlined in (a) (b) and (d) in your post. That might fix them!

  12. In and amongst all this, has anyone heard how the birds are doing? There’s been some horrendous weather for ground nesters in particular. Hope all is ok.

  13. I’d guess that you have asked for a physical document that may not have been scanned or may not exist……but they are all working from home. So they are taking turns to go back to the office and either search the files for it or ….phone up the estate and ask them to quickly fabricate the missing return…… there is a high chance of embarrassment either way so the chief exec will be fussing around.

    Send in AC12.

    1. As I understand it they should have remote access to their system when working from home. Then all it would need is one person (with a guard watching over their shoulder at a socially appropriate distance) to open the physical mail if Estates submit paper copies of documents which would seem odd given Govt Depts expect everyone to submit online documents etc. How hard is this to organise?

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