Sunday, 25 May 2014

Peter Thompson hits the nail on the head

If you want to know something about the wildlife in our countryside then the GWCT's Peter Thompson is a man who can tell you a thing or two. In his recent 'Fresh from the Field' blog post, he hit the nail squarely on the head about British and European bureaucracy. Peter has kindly given me permission to reproduce the article as a guest blog.

A "Bottom-up" approach but with far less crap please

Meetings, preparation, planning, developing strategies, production of all encompassing management plans and of course a regular plethora of briefing documents and reports – the world has gone completely mad. Before too long I honestly believe that absolutely nothing will ever get done on the ground and eventually we will all disappear up our proverbial backsides! 

Here is an example.

Yesterday I went to a meeting organised by the relatively newly formed Hampshire Avon Catchment Partnership. The aim of this group is to improve and create a sustainable water environment within the catchment, concentrating on the environmental aspects in particular, but also encompassing social and economic elements as well. Meanwhile, delivery of the European Water Framework Directive will be central to their efforts. So, not an insignificant “ask” to say the least!

The first thing that the newly appointed catchment officer decided to do, quite sensibly I would have thought, was to find out exactly what else was happening within the catchment. Now, here comes the really scary bit – he uncovered 57, yes that is FIFTY SEVEN different management plans and strategies for this one, not particularly large catchment area. 

What on earth has this all cost and how many woods have been felled to create the endless stream (excuse the pun) of agendas, documents and leaflets? Apparently there are 83 catchment areas in England in which Government would like to see a catchment partnership created. If it turns out that the Hampshire Avon is an average kind of place, then the 83 newly appointed officers could be dealing with 4731 different plans and strategies already in place, no doubt fiercely protected by those who set them up as “they were there first”. 

I wonder how many of those circa 4731 different groups, started off their existence by going to the (and including in their steering committees) farmers and land managers, who will, in most cases manage the vast majority of the catchment’s surface area? I also wonder if they discussed with them the issues and improvements that they, the farmers would like to see, alongside the groups own ambitions. I suspect not.

I was rung up recently by a very pleasant chap who told me that he worked for an action group, who spent well over a year putting together their strategy, and now wanted to implement it on the ground. But he then told me in rather a pained voice, that the farming community on which the success of the project would depend seemed totally disinterested. He had heard that I was involved in the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA), where farmers were apparently doing all sorts of brilliant things – how did we get them so involved?

I asked him if he had included farmers from the start. No, he replied. There was not even one on the steering committee. That’s your answer I told him. If you go to the MDNIA website you will see that it was set up by farmers and is led by farmers – it is “owned” by them and they are proud of it. It is a “Bottom-up” project not a “top-down” dictating one.

Personally, I am only interested in results on the ground. Of course there is a need for some meetings, but with strict agendas which result in actions that make a difference. Invited to those meetings should be the local, knowledgeable and trusted advisers and it does not particularly matter in my opinion, for whom they work. If they are good, they are good. Not sure who they are – a sensible start is to ask the land managers as they will have sorted out the wheat from the chaff, don't you worry.

At yesterday’s meeting there were a number of farmers present and what is more, they were actually asked what they thought was needed in the catchment to improve the situation. There were also a useful scattering of advisers who obviously had the respect of these farmers and so key issues started to emerge, with some possible solutions too. 

That is a refreshingly good start and I wish this project success - anything has to be better than 57 various groups bombarding beleaguered land managers with a multitude of different demands.     

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