2nd August 2018
Countryside campaigners have expressed outrage over a decision by the environment secretary to give a prominent role on a body set up to protect wildlife to an ardent supporter of hunting.
Michael Gove has appointed Lord Blencathra, who once said it was essential to get pro-hunting MPs into Parliament, as deputy chairman of Natural England.
The Conservative peer, who as MP David Maclean was a minister at the then-Ministry of Agriculture, voted six times to scrap the fox-hunting ban.
After joining the board of Natural England five months ago, he has just received promotion.
The public body, which is expected to provide impartial science-based advice to the government on the environment, says its chief responsibility is promoting nature conservation and protecting biodiversity.
Natural England also issues licences for wildlife culls, and has come under fire this year for extending the badger cull in West Gloucestershire and Somerset, and for granting licences to shoot protected ravens in five counties.
But wildlife lovers are angry at the promotion of a politician who supports the Countryside Alliance.
Nick Weston, head of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Natural England is a body set up to protect England’s nature, so it’s really disappointing that someone who actively lobbied against the Hunting Act – a law designed to protect England’s nature – has been given such a prominent position.
“We really hope that the interests of our country’s precious wildlife, and not the interests of a minority of people who like killing animals for fun, stay front and centre at Natural England.”
The body, sponsored by the environment department but independent of it, says on its website that its top priorities for 2014-2019 are terrestrial and marine biodiversity, alongside nature reserves and wildlife management.
Paul Warmington tweeted: “What chance does our environment and our wildlife stand when appointments like this are made?”
Mr Weston went on: “The government built up goodwill among animal lovers over the past 12 months with increased sentences for animal cruelty and recognition of sentience. They’re in danger of tossing away that goodwill with dubious appointments of senior officials.
“Lord Blencathra is pro-hunting, as is Lord Gardiner, minister for rural affairs and biosecurity. If our countryside is managed by hunters, how can the government claim to care for animals?”
On Twitter Sam Shea compared the move to “appointing Jimmy Savile as head of children’s services”.
And Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden tweeted: “Ooh! Just read some his voting history and he’s not keen at having to explain himself [sic]. Voted pro hunt/ against revealing expenses/ against freedom of info when between MPs.”
Another user condemned the move as “a total conflict of interest”, saying the government “promised science-based animal laws and legislation but will never deliver”.
The official announcement said Natural England’s remit is to ensure the natural environment is “conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations”.
It said non-executive board members have collective responsibility for the body’s strategic direction and overall performance.
Lord Blencathra, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, will continue to be paid £328 for each day he works and will increase his days from 36 days a year, although it did not say to how many.
In 2014, he was investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards for his work on behalf of the Cayman Islands, and was found to have breached conduct codes.
In 2015, Lord Blencathra challenged the then-attorney-general over charges brought against a member of the Melbreak Foxhounds that were dropped because of a lack of evidence.
In December, he told Parliament that after Brexit, Britain should not allow imports of food products produced under systems banned in the UK because they are cruel.
Another of Natural England’s 13 board members, Teresa Dent, is chief executive of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Lord Blencathra could not be contacted for comment.
A Defra spokesperson said: “All appointments to the Natural England board are made on merit, and Lord Blencathra was appointed and subsequently promoted to deputy chair following a fair and transparent selection process. Political activity plays no part in the selection process.”
North West Hunt Saboteurs Association
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