Richard Benyon is one of the richest landowners in Berkshire, the great, great, great grandson of a former Prime Minister Lord Salisbury and lives in a Tudor Mansion. He is firmly in the top 1% of the countries aristocracy. What bothers many people as a Minister for the Environment he has consistently acted with contempt for the nature he has sworn to protect. Benyon has become what all politicians fear – a hypocrite.
His current role in charge of Defra can be summed up perfectly: it would be like placing a fox in sole charge of a coop full of chickens. With a Minister in charge of Defra with such an obvious conflict of interest, the shooting lobby are almost certainly pulling many important behind the scenes strings in addition to the abandoned buzzard cull.
The size and scale of his hypocrisy is staggering. So let’s start with what he tells the Berkshire Green Partnership –
“trees, green space, rivers – and the paths and bridges that connect them to communities. It builds stronger ecological networks. It gives people better places to live, better health and better quality of life. It creates the kind of places where people want to invest and create new jobs and businesses.”
Unfortunately when it came to Newbury, where he is an MP, he must have talking about somewhere else. The green belt land at Sandleford, featured in the iconic novel Watership Down is currently making way for 2000 houses. The ruling conservative group voted unanimously for the destruction of some of the most beautiful countryside in Berkshire.
On the week Sandleford was approved by West Berkshire Council he talks on his blog about the high court ruling that saw a council abolish prayers before meetings. This has nothing to do with Newbury, nothing to do with Sandleford and nothing to do with his ministerial portfolio. Is Richard Benyon wilfully ignorant or just out of touch?
Richard Benyon’s hypocrisy only deepens when his wallet gets involved. The Benyon family will be receiving income from a quarry built in an area called ‘Benyon’s inclosure’. With over two million tonnes of gravel to be removed from the site the operation has been slammed by conservation groups for damaging the environment
Moreover this has ruined plans to connect to two conservation areas. This was to create a ‘living landscape’ to enhance local biodiversity. The minister for DEFRA seems more concerned with his business interests than being the ‘greenest government ever’.
Benyon’s knowledge of ecology and countryside issues is also shocking. He recently got into trouble for labeling ragwort as a ‘vile weed’. True, of course, unless you ask an ecologist or the dozen or so who corrected him –
“At least 30 insect and 14 fungi species are entirely reliant on ragwort, and about a third of the insects are scarce or rare. Ragwort is also a critically important nectar source for hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to maintain what remains of their much declined populations in the UK countryside.”
A ‘vile weed’ he promised to ‘wage war on’ is also an essential part of ensuring countryside bio-diversity. A minister for the environment should really do his homework before embarking on personal crusades against problems that don’t exist.
Finally DEFRA earlier in the year announced they would be providing £375,000 of tax payers money into a ill-conceived project to capture Buzzards and destroying their nests. This was because 25% of pheasants poults are allegedly killed by the Bird of Prey. Research supporting this view is practically non-existent and the policy is freely admitted by his department to be based on ‘anecdotal evidence’. The Royal Society of the Protection of Birds has already rubbished these figures placing them closer to 1% for all birds of prey – not just Buzzards.
For Richard Benyon this all smacks of incompetence.
Benyon spends your money chasing problems that don’t exist. He profiteers on the back of greenbelt destruction. He proves time and time again his knowledge of countryside ecology is, at best, shambolic.
Just in case anyone is in any doubt about Benyon’s lack of commitment when it comes to the laws protecting England’s birds of prey his own words of wisdom say it all. Last year he took the opportunity to congratulate gamekeepers for maintaining the healthy biodiversity of England’s countryside. The minister must have completely over-looked the fact that very few, if any, birds of prey exist on England’s northern moorlands used primarily to shoot Red Grouse. Benyon also maintains that current wildlife legislation is strong enough to do the job when it comes to protecting animals. Well Mr. Benyon the legislation you say is up to the job certainly failed totally to protect the hen harrier and may we also remind you these laws are also failing to protect those peregrines and goshawks which have the misfortune to find their way onto 99.9 % of Red Grouse moors in northern England.
It was during Richard Benyon’s watch as Minister in charge of Defra that England’s countryside witnessed the total loss of all but a single pair of breeding hen harriers. Is this what the Minister really meant, maintaining a healthy biodiversity but without raptors?
If there’s one part of Whitehall that doesn’t need Richard Benyon MP – it’s the Department for the Environment.