Features

The Environment Agency cares more about wildlife than people

In fact, if you're a depressed river mussel, it's handled the floods perfectly

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

What do voles, beetles, mussels, trout and the golden plover have in common? Believe it or not, they have all been used as excuses by the Environment Agency not to improve flood defences.

Travelling around the worst of the flooded areas last week, I met family after family who said their local rivers had been left to clog with debris — and always because of some critter or other. Somerset farmer David Gillard, for example, repeatedly begged the Environment Agency to dredge the River Parrett, which runs near his sheep farm just outside Burrowbridge. And last summer they did come and give it a go. But while they were at it they found a vole, so of course they packed up and left. The farm is now flooded.

And what are we to make of this letter from the Environment Agency to Robin Haigh, a landowner in Chertsey, which he received after his house had been surrounded by flood waters? ‘Dear resident, I am writing to let you know about a new initiative to improve the river habitat for wildlife in your area. The Environment Agency are working in partnership with the Wild Trout Trust and local landowners on a project that will breathe new life into the Abbey River which our records show passes close to your property. The project will bring considerable benefit to wildlife in the area encouraging more fish, birds and other water-dependent species to use the river as its ecological value grows…’

The letter was sent on 28 January, after major flooding. Last week, as the flood waters rose dangerously again and the area was in a state of full emergency, EA staff came out to visit. They met Mr Haigh’s wife, Mary, who told them, ‘Well, I expect you won’t be going ahead with that trout project now, will you?’ Au contraire, the EA people told her. The project was very much going ahead. They will be moving a sluice and creating a riffle.

Mr Haigh says the effect of this will be to dam up the water near his home and cause even worse flooding. ‘They’re morons! They’re cretins!’ said Mr Haigh, who has himself worked in conservation.

The river Thames, meanwhile, was left undredged to prevent the disturbance of a rare mollusc called the depressed river mussel. Seriously, this is not funny. It would only be funny if it were not happening. But it is. The species known as the depressed taxpayer doesn’t seem to be on any priority list.


In Somerset, the environmentalists have provided a really super habitat for birds. A few miles from flooded Burrowbridge is the RSPB sanctuary at Greylake, where the golden plover occasionally drops in for the winter season, along with many other interesting winged species — dunlins, ruffs, black-tailed godwits. Farmers in Somerset have been encouraged by the EA and the EU (hard to know which is worse) to leave their fields fallow to create wetlands like this. And if all you wanted Somerset to do was to make birds happy, then truly the strategy is a huge success — but what about the people?

We shouldn’t just single out the EA. The same perverse instinct is at play in local government. I once rang my local authority, Lambeth, to complain about foxes ripping bins apart and was sent a leaflet instructing me on how I should feed and care for them and generally turn my back garden into a place they would feel at home. They particularly like chicken, apparently.

The liberal chattering classes lap this stuff up. Walking my dog in Balham, I moaned to a neighbour about the lack of fox controls and she said: ‘Yes, but they were here first, weren’t they? I mean, we’re the imposters.’

‘Seriously,’ I said, ‘even if it were true that foxes are the indigenous inhabitants of south-west London, you’re telling me you want to move out of your million-pound house, and see the rest of civilisation as we know it vacate the metropolis in order to make way for vermin?’

‘They’re not vermin,’ she said. ‘They’re wild animals and this is their home.’

I told her I thought a tragedy was waiting to happen, as foxes had attacked babies in their cots. ‘Well, fancy leaving a baby in a dirty nappy near an open window,’ she said. ‘What sort of people are they?’

Clearly, she had been drinking the conservationist Kool-Aid. The conservationists on the Kool-Aid are different from your common or garden conservationists, the sort who like watching programmes with Bill Oddie and are pretty harmless. The Kool-Aid conservationists will not confront the truth about nature — that it is not very nice and, left unchecked, produces anarchy. They think nature is benevolent and wise. They say things like ‘nature knows best’.

Taken to the extreme, this attitude leads to the bizarre re-wilding project that was undertaken in Holland some years ago with horrific results. In an extraordinary experiment, 15,000 acres of reclaimed land 25 miles east of Amsterdam was turned into a ‘nature reserve’ called Oostvaardersplassen. The area saw no culling or wildlife management or human interference of any sort. Everything was left to live a ‘natural’ existence and fend for itself. The result was that only the birds flourished, because they could fly away to find more food during the harsh winter months. The herd animals like deer and horses within the enclosure starved or were savaged by predators.

Every winter, commuters into Amsterdam got to witness emaciated deer, cattle and horses packed against the perimeter fence in the desperate search for food, while foxes and corvids picked over the bones of the fallen.

No one is openly attempting a re-wilding project here — although George Monbiot speaks favourably of the idea and has published a manifesto to ‘re-wild the world’ — but in a way, a re-wilding of sorts has happened in Somerset and other flooded areas.As the birds have enjoyed the best of the wetlands, then flown away, the people have been trapped in an area where they can no longer thrive or make a living. And so the world watches as the human animals of the plains struggle in a desperate battle for survival.

You can just hear the voiceover by David Attenborough. I’m sure it will make a terrific Life on Earth special one day.

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Show comments
  • Kitty MLB

    I most certainly care more about hardworking beavers & otters,
    the delightful sound of golden plovers and the gracefulness of a trout,
    then some lazy, caterwauling and uncouth leftie- thank you very much.

  • Gadsden Purchase

    Since centralized government is an archenemy of liberty, and education is an important key to preserving liberty, a country wishing to remain free must commit to educating its citizens without central government interference.

    • Pip

      State education had always been more about indoctrination than enlightenment, this is how the elite control the masses.

  • Paul

    When the facts aren’t fashionable, feel free to use heresay, conjecture and armchair science to pad out articles that espouse whatever’s trending in the political playground!
    Rather than just regurgitating what people told you, it would be nice to see a little journalistic muscle flexed determing whether or not it was actually the case!
    I think my favourite part was the suggestion that “Horses and Deer were savaged by predators” in the Netherlands – what on earth do you think they were rewilding…lions and tigers?!

    • Ooh!MePurse!

      So many exclamation marks!!!!!! A sign of inferior writing!!!!! And thinking!!!!!

      • Paul

        Half guilty!

  • Radford_NG

    Not entirely. Under Lord Chris Smith the Environment Agency has spent over £30k on sponsoring gay-pride events;and buying staff tea mugs and T shirts with pro-gay slogans. (Source;Daily Mail).

    • Pip

      Another of Blairs legacies, Blairite led Quango’s.

    • Doggie Roussel

      Says it all… and Lord Smith’s boyf (sorry, civil partner) has done a bunk… floods of tears all round and another finger in the dike now needed

      One used to drown in a quagmire…. whereas now one will simply drown in a plethora of quangos, at the top of which is that dreadful bitch, Dame Suzie Leather…

  • black11hawk

    I’m convinced this is to do with left-wing dislike for Christianity, as it says in Genesis: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

  • mariandavid

    Typical selective rubbish – pick an extreme case and use that to justify your own desire; which in Melissa’s case seems to be “I can do whatever I want and how dare you suggest that some environmental trivia should stop it”. We have the same ludicrous approach by urban drones prone to panic whenever a coyote is sighted here in suburban Canada, triggering calls of instant execution and elimination and sobbing cries of ‘what will happen to my little doggy-poo’. Alas it takes time to point out to such as these the simplest facts of nature – eliminate coyotes and then you are swarmed by skunks, raccoons, feral cats and others. All, in passing, somewhat more likely to commit harm than a passing fox, though like them, highly unlikely to injure humans except in the rarest of cases.
    Oh and as endlessly pointed out elsewhere in the Spectator the flood control methods she disparages – dams, weirs, wetlands – are of course the only effective solutions, not as Melissa implies just a device for making wildlife happy, content and annoying.

  • Raw England

    The Environmental Agency are scum, aren’t they.

    A Nationalist system would smash their operation to bits.

  • Peter Stroud

    Hopefully the day of the Eco fanatic will soon be over. These people are becoming a danger to all advanced Western society. Animal rights have been allowed to trump human rights: but the worm will turn, as they say. Sensible folk are now furious with the EU, the Environment Agency, and the wooly liberal views of many in front line politics. The reasons given against dredging are almost unbelievable: both in Somerset, and Surrey. Molluscs and voles should never be considered more important than food and safe housing for humans. In fact to do so is Monbiotic lunacy.

  • samuelafugglas

    O Lord, please save us from the scavengers within EA and European Union!

  • global city

    Almost everything that we think we know about the global environment is a lie…. and almost every slogan used by the greens (watermelons) is aimed at making it impossible to maintain civilisation.

    The roots of much of the environmental movement stems from really dark motives, that is if you are a human being who just wants a normal life and see the world improve and prosper.

    Letting the watermelons have a platform is akin to a previous age giving free reign to revolutionary Trots. The Green lobby is campaigning for ‘non CAGW believers’ to be sacked.. I suggest that it is they who should be driven from the high positions many of them now hold.

  • Greenie Beanie

    While redistributing wealth may temporarily equalize conditions, it does so by grinding the gears of progress to a torturous halt.

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