Rip off Britain, as the Establishment rules our land.

Many shooting estates have generations of passed down succession of ownership. Some are the so called ‘wise boys’ coming out of the city making their millions with other people’s money, and now the new generation of absentee landowners who don’t pay tax. These people are only allowed to stay in Britain for up to 60 days. But with the money they have saved in tax, which should be helping the NHS, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and others, they go and buy even more land to add to their shooting estate empires.

Of course they are helping the local economy by employing gamekeepers, many of whom then kill most of the wildlife to save the lives of millions of pheasants, red legged partridge and red grouse, but often destroying the rare grey partridge and even the habitat for black grouse. They give tax free money to beaters as back handers, who then spend it in the pubs if there are any left in the countryside, and they dictate to council planning departments when they want to build extensive new properties for their shooting guests.

Remember the 38% who voted in this conservative government to help these people expand their empires while the rest of us will have to pay for our health service in the future. We will have no pension to say, as the British pound was devalued following the collapse of the banks, and when the next election comes these loyal tax fiddlers will give £millions to re-elect this same government with their brilliant empire down in the south. No wonder they want to bring back fox hunting for these same people to dress in red, dripped in the blood exploiting the rest of us!

How long will it take the North of England to move in with the SNP and stop this disgusting habit of destroying the countryside? Policies over the border are pushing out these people with land agents pulling their hair out trying to sell land which may end up in the hands of the communities to run. In the end may be ‘Raptor Politics’ will come to the front and people will be able to look up to the skies and enjoy the thermals full of raptors unmolested!

Written and sent in by by Geoff Miller, one of our followers.

The Resurgent Aristocracy

Rural policy is once again the preserve of the elite, and wildlife and people suffer as a result.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 5th June 2012

I might have solved a minor mystery. Last week, after a public outcry(1,2), the government dropped its proposal to spend our money on capturing buzzards and destroying their nests to help pheasant shoots(3). The scheme was championed by Richard Benyon, the minister charged, as one of David Cameron’s little jokes, with protecting wildlife and biodiversity. Benyon is the owner of a huge stately home called Englefield House, and the 20,000-acre walled estate that surrounds it(4). The estate employs gamekeepers to stock it with pheasants and kill the animals that might eat them.

The rationale for this proposal was the weakest I have ever seen. The government intended to find new ways of persecuting buzzards, on the grounds that “anecdotal evidence” suggests that their predation of pheasants “can be significant at the local site level.”(5) No reference was given. Research held by DEFRA shows that just 1-2% of young pheasants are taken by all birds of prey(6). So where did the “anecdotal evidence” come from?

Yesterday I found a video, filmed in 2009, in which one of the gamekeepers on Richard Benyon’s estate names buzzards as the first of the predators he blames for eating his pheasants(7). Could the source of the “anecdotal evidence” have been Benyon’s own gamekeeper? In either case, has any recent minister proposed a more self-serving use of public money?

This story is symbolic of government policy in the countryside. As Britain heads towards Edwardian levels of inequality, the countryside reverts to a playground for the rich, in which anything that cannot be shot and eaten is shot and hung from a gibbet. The aristocracy is back in charge.

The number of pheasants the land owners release could be seen as a cipher for the state of society. In 1960, 50 pheasants were released for every 100 hectares of estates in the UK(8). This number rose slowly until the 1980s, when it climbed rapidly. It slowed in the 1990s, then shot up again as the City boomed. The graph I have seen ends in 2005, at 300 birds per hundred hectares. But between 2004 and today the total release of pheasants in the UK has risen from 35 to 40 million(9,10). I would like to propose the pheasant, rather than the Gini coefficient, as the unit for measuring inequality.

This growth has been accompanied by a rapid consolidation of landownership. When Kevin Cahill’s book Who Owns Britain was published in 2002, 69% of the land was in the hands of 0.6% of the population(11). Since then the concentration has intensified: between 2005 and 2011, government statistics show, the number of landholdings in England has fallen by 10%, while the average size of holding has risen by 12%(12). This could be one of the fastest consolidations of ownership since the Highland Clearances.

But according to Cameron’s government, this has not gone far enough. It has lobbied against European proposals to cap the amount of farm subsidy a single estate can harvest, on the grounds that this “would impede consolidation”(13).

The government wants the resurgent aristocracy to be hampered by as few concessions to the rest of society as possible. This year, for example, only one pair of hen harriers has attempted to mate in England: the lowest number for around a century(14). Yet there is enough habitat in the uplands to support at least 300 pairs(15). Where are they? They have been shot and poisoned by grouse-shooting estates.

As the law stands, only the gamekeepers who carry out these killings can be prosecuted for them. The landowners who commission them are not liable. At the beginning of this year, Scotland introduced a new law of vicarious liability, which will make the owners responsible for illegal persecution of wildlife by their staff(16). But when Richard Benyon was challenged in the House of Commons to introduce the same law to England, he dismissed the proposal out of hand(17). It is entirely coincidental that Benyon also owns an 8000-acre grouse estate(18).

Doubtless this also has nothing to do with the mysterious abandonment by the agency his department controls – Natural England – of its case against a grouse shoot in the Pennines. Natural England was prosecuting the Walshaw Moor estate, owned by the retail baron Richard Bannister, for damaging a site of special scientific interest(19,20). After dropping the case, it agreed that he could continue burning blanket bog(21): a practice that not only damages wildlife but also releases astonishing quantities of carbon dioxide as the peat ignites(22). Natural England refuses to explain why it abandoned the prosecution.

This agency has been reduced to a husk on Benyon’s watch. In 2009, it published a mild and tentative document called Vital Uplands(23). It proposed that the land might be managed a little more sustainably, a few trees might be allowed to grow, there might be a little less burning and a little more wildlife. The landowners went beserk. The Moorland Association, whose 200 members own and manage most of the grouse estates in England, denounced it on the grounds that it would invoke the frightful prospect of “encroachment of scrub and trees”(24).

In February this year, Natural England’s chairman, Poul Christensen, turned up at a meeting of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), publicly apologised for the document and denounced his agency’s thought crimes(25). Vital Uplands was abandoned and its webpages deleted. Natural England explained that it had dropped the report because the government expected the agency “to work effectively with farmers and grouse moor managers”(26).

Not that it had to worry. Poul Christensen, a dairy farmer, sometimes seems to be more loyal to his industry than to conservation. The same goes for some of the other directors. Attending the meeting at which Christensen denounced his own staff was the NFU’s outgoing uplands farming spokesman, a large landowner called Will Cockbain(27). Where is he now? On the board of Natural England(28).

Last week Benyon’s department extended this appointments policy when it nominated nine new members of the national parks authorities(29). Among them were two chief executives(30), a former county chair of the NFU and a former director of the Country Land and Business Association(31).

In the countryside, as in the towns, policy is becoming the preserve of the 1%. The rest us pay the land owners to expand their estates and destroy the wildlife. That’s what they mean when they say we’re all in this together.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2012/may/24/buzzards-pheasant-shoots-wildlife

2. http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/minister-for-wildlife-and-biodiversity-defra-stop-the-subsidy-for-buzzard-nest-destruction

3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/may/30/buzzard-trapping-plan-abandoned-uturn

4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1360998/Wealthy-minister-earns-2m-EU-farm-subsidies-department-tried-cover-up.html

5. https://raptorpersecutionscotland.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/buzzard-control-experiment-overview.pdf

6. DS Allen et al, 2000. Raptors and the rearing of Pheasants: problems and management needs. ADAS Consulting Ltd. Unpublished report to British Association for Shooting and Conservation. Available from DEFRA, Bristol.

7. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8188298.stm

8. http://www.gwct.org.uk/research__surveys/wildlife_surveys_and_ngc/national_gamebag_census_ngc/birds__summary_trends/229.asp

9. Public and Corporate Economic Consultants, August 2006. The Economic and
Environmental Impact of Sporting Shooting, page 22. http://www.shootingfacts.co.uk/pdf/pacecmainreport.pdf

10. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/fowl-play-in-defence-of-the-pheasant-2354635.html

11. Kevin Cahill, 2002. Who Owns Britain: the hidden facts behind landownership in the UK and Ireland. Canongate, Edinburgh.

12. DEFRA, 2012. Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2011, Table 3.3. http://www.defra.gov.uk/statistics/files/defra-stats-foodfarm-crosscutting-auk-auk2011-110530.pdf

13. DEFRA, January 2011. UK response to the Commission communication and consultation: “The CAP towards 2020: Meeting the food, natural resources and territorial challenges of the future”. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/policy/capreform/documents/110128-uk-cap-response.pdf

14. http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/313654-english-hen-harriers-hang-in-the-balance

15. http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/313654-english-hen-harriers-hang-in-the-balance

16. http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2012/02/05/the-scottish-government-press-release-vicarious-liability/

17. http://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/no-vicarious-liability-for-england/

18. http://www.whoownsscotland.org.uk/property.php?p=1330

19. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/14/natural-england-peatland-bog-burning

20. See Mark Avery’s blog for the full story so far: http://markavery.info/blog/

21. http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/Walshaw_Notice_and_Consent_tcm6-31089.pdf

22. http://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/sites/all/files/IUCN%20UK%20Commission%20of%20Inquiry%20on%20Peatlands%20Full%20Report%20spv%20web.pdf

23. A copy was saved by the John Muir Trust, and can be read here: http://bit.ly/K7kGBI

24. http://www.moorlandassociation.org/newsshow.asp?art=147

25. http://www.nfuonline.com/News/NFU-Conference-2012/News/NFU12–A-better-balance-for-the-uplands-/

26. http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/latest-news/upland-vision-abandoned/46389.article

27. http://www.nfuonline.com/News/NFU-Conference-2012/News/NFU12–A-better-balance-for-the-uplands-/

28. http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/08/26/natural-englan/

29. http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2012/05/31/appointments-to-national-park-authorities-and-the-broads-authority/

30. http://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/pressoffice/press-latestnews/news/new-faces-appointed-to-national-park-authority

31. http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/news/current-news/peak-district-national-park-authority-welcomes-new-members

1 comment to Rip off Britain, as the Establishment rules our land.

  • Northern Diver

    Interesting article in current online issue of Private Eye regarding estates and overseas ownership. Of particular interest re: the ownership of Gunnerside Estate Ltd. – grouse moors in Swaledale, N.Yorkshire.

    Editor’s Comment. This is the item in the online edition of Private Eye you were referring to we believe.

    Perfectly placed to benefit from inheritance tax breaks
    The largest single owner by area is a British Virgin Islands company called Gunnerside Estates Ltd, with an expansive 27,258 acres of the North Yorkshire moors much favoured by grouse-shooting parties. Behind the company is American luxury duty-free shopping pioneer Robert Miller, reported to have acquired UK citizenship but to reside tax-efficiently in Hong Kong. As with any property owned by an offshore company, the precise reasons for the structure are hard to discern – and Miller didn’t answer the Eye’s request for an explanation – but the American is perfectly placed to benefit from the inheritance tax breaks given to a “non-dom” on overseas assets and is likely to have escaped stamp duty when his company acquired the estate in 1998. None of this prevented the EU paying agricultural subsidies to the estate over a decade or so of €430,000.