Soviet-style bureaucracy is ruining the countryside, by Sir Ian Botham
In today's Telegraph, Sir Ian Botham details the frustration from rural communities towards the officials who are letting nature decline on their watch through needless regulation and bureaucracy.
"The tiniest details of rural life are now managed by London officials who know nothing about nature
The Prime Minister wants to cut 91,000 civil service jobs. Let me make a suggestion: start with the 10,000 officials in Defra and the 2,000 in Natural England. Why? Because these bureaucrats are enraging rural voters.
If you live in the countryside, you do not have to imagine what it is like living in a state-controlled society. It has already arrived, courtesy of our environment department. For it is staggering how the clipboard commissars of Defra now micromanage rural life.
Their petty rules are breeding. And so is the resentment. If Boris wants rural voters to pay for the petrol to drive to polling stations, he needs to start thinking about why Defra is so detested.
From London, its officials, often with no experience of the countryside, make decisions that undermine the natural world.
Whitehall is quite happy to permit big companies to disfigure our countryside. Want to build sprawling Lego-like housing estates? Tick. Construct towering windfarms? Tick. Spew sewage into our rivers? Tick.
But increasingly the myriad tiny decisions that are vital to nature flourishing find Whitehall standing in the way. Doing almost anything depends on getting permits from these “work” from home officials.
Want to create a puddle? A tiny puddle, designed to create moisture for insects on a vast hillside? You need a permit. And that permit will be at the whim of officials who, when they finally find the time to consider it, will instinctively discover reasons to refuse it.
Some vegetation might be harmed. But no water means no insects. And no insects mean no birds that feed off them. The bigger benefits to nature are constantly ignored by pen-pushing pedants.
Want to protect endangered species? Not without a mountain of paperwork. Farmers know the fields where crows are attacking lambs, and where the collared dove is driving out the turtle dove. Gamekeepers know the hills where there are excess ravens or too few deer. From an office in London these bureaucrats do not.
In the upside-down world of Defra, officials even demand permits before common seagulls can be tackled. These menacing scavengers don’t just raid your fish and chips, they savage rural nests. Yet if you are a seaside council wanting to protect terrorised residents, or a gamekeeper safeguarding nature, you will give up when confronted by the Whitehall brick wall.
Every conservationist knows that gulls decimate endangered species such as lapwing and curlew. That is why huge effort has gone into keeping their numbers down. But London knows best. And officials have their forms to fill in.
Until a few years ago, gulls were controlled through general licences. But then officials screwed up the legal wording and it has been state-sponsored chaos ever since.
In their extreme risk aversion, officials will not allow control of gulls until they have collected more evidence of the obvious. The result? Over the next few years, thousands of red-listed birds are likely to perish because of a ban for which these officials are responsible.
The rules descend further into farce when it comes to bats. Bureaucrats draw up planning regulations to protect bats in places where there aren’t any. The only thing being protected is the jobs of the officials.
The stupidities keep growing. Defra says that it will soon ban the only scientifically proven way to stop dogs ripping out the throats of sheep – training them with electronic collars. Guess what happened in Wales when this training was banned? Attacks on sheep soared. The Telegraph revealed in March that there are four times more attacks on sheep in Wales than in Scotland, where e-collars are allowed.
So we will be seeing more dead sheep on the hills of England over the next few years. And more dead dogs after farmers shoot them. Which will be just about the time that Boris is pleading for a second chance.
By then his Secretary of State for Central Planning, otherwise known as George Eustice, will have alienated even more rural voters.
There needs to be a root-and-branch culture change within a radically slimmed-down Defra. Nitpicking by officials seeking to justify their roles just infuriates.
This shabby political mismanagement is ruining nature. Why should businesses invest in the rural economy if Defra is going to suffocate them with rules? Farmers are going to face even more hoops with Defra’s environmental land management subsidy scheme. Small farmers can’t afford to pay for land agents to process Defra’s paperwork. They can never go on strike. But they certainly don’t have to vote.
The Soviet Union failed because bureaucrats tried to run every detail of life. It is a lesson that Defra has yet to learn. Until there is a bonfire of regulations, the Conservatives will keep getting burnt at the ballot box."