Countryside Alliance get their man into Defra

Wolf and Fox Hunt: Rubens

Wolf and Fox Hunt: Rubens

The slow death of Defra continues, as it loses Lord de Mauley as the Defra minister in the Lords.

Lord de Mauley is a decent sort of chap. He didn’t agree with his former Boss Owen Paterson’s ravings about being stalked by the Green Blob.  He took up the call for action on Bees and became the Minister for Bees. He was given the task of creating the National Pollinator Strategy, which is all about saving Bees. Needless to say the Bees have not responded yet to the Strategy, the ungrateful blighters. That the strategy doesn’t mention doing anything about bee-cidal Neonicotinoids insecticides might explain that.

It will be interesting to see who is given this particular political hot potato now that de Mauley has gone.

The new Defra spokesperson in the Lords is Lord Gardiner. Gardiner had a long career as private secretary to a variety of Tory Ministers before becoming the Countryside Alliance’s chief spin doctor. He was then in the deputy chief exec role which he held until 2010, when he was ennobled and joined the House of Lords. Between 201o and 2012 he continued to be an executive director of the Countryside Alliance, while carrying out Government duties in the Lords.  In 2011 for example the Countryside Alliance boldly celebrated an intervention:

“During a House of Lords debate on biological diversity on Monday 20 June (2011), Lord (John) Gardiner – Executive Director of the Countryside Alliance – singled out the work upland landowners and grouse moor managers do in halting declines in habitats and species.”

Here are some things he said in that debate:

I turn to matters rural, for it is here that much of Nagoya in the UK will be achieved. With more than 70 per cent of the UK managed by rural communities, farmers and land managers play a crucial role for the nation in so many regards such as water supply, flora and fauna, food production and landscape. We need increasingly to ensure that we produce enough food in this country, as food security becomes an ever higher priority in public policy. There is of course a range of professionals who have cared for the land over many generations. The Government should back them in this role.

When it comes to halting declines in habitats and species-a key objective in the Nagoya agreement-one needs to look no further than the uplands of the north of England. There, heather moorland that has been managed for grouse shooting has been responsible for making the greatest contribution to the improvement in the environmental health of the country’s outstanding wildlife and geological sites. Sites of specific scientific interest cover more than 2 million acres of the land surface of England, and provide vital and extensive refuges for wildlife and essential free natural resources for people. Today, 96 per cent of grouse moors are in a favourable or recovering condition. The support of upland landowners and grouse moor managers has been crucial in achieving this goal. Moorland managed for grouse shooting accounts for some 850,000 acres of uplands, 60 per cent of all upland SSSIs and nearly one-fifth of all England’s SSSI land.

What is either not known or overlooked is that the majority of that management is carried out at the private expense of the land manager. The rural community of this country has a long track record of working in harmony with nature. Since the Moorland Association was formed 25 years ago, members have regenerated and recovered more than 217,000 acres-including 57,000 in the past decade-thereby exceeding the Government’s 2010 conservation target by 170 per cent. Grouse moor owners have shown that they have the ability to achieve this at their own cost, but it should be with the Government’s backing.

It may be an inconvenient truth for some, but it is the case that the hare was in its most abundant numbers when its habitat was managed for coursing and hare hunting; the red deer herd on Exmoor was one of the finest in the world because of the management undertaken by the three packs of staghounds; and the fox was best managed and looked after when the species was considered quarry rather than vermin.

Here is Gardiner’s statement and the Countryside Alliance’s fond farewell to Gardiner in October 2012, when he took up his role as a Whip in the Lords

Fare Well from John Gardiner

Following my appointment as a Government Whip in the House of Lords, I have to stand down as a Board Member and Executive Director of the Countryside Alliance. It has been the greatest of privileges to work for the Alliance and the rural cause since December 1995. The opportunity it has given me to meet so many members and supporters and to enjoy their friendship and encouragement will remain with me forever. Even in the more testing political times, no one could have received greater support from colleagues and members alike. Words cannot adequately express just how much my time at the Alliance means to me. I leave with the Alliance in good hands and I wish Barney and his team every possible success.

Barney White-Spunner writes: As you know John has been a long serving and is a very experienced member of the team whose expertise and commitment to our countryside has been total. I am sure you will join me in wishing John every success in his new role and thank him for his outstanding and unstinting contribution to the work of the Countryside Alliance over many, many years.

As Gardiner was chair of the Vale of Aylesbury Hunt from 1992 to 2006, joining the Whips seems appropriate. I expect he is looking forward to Hunting across the Vale again.

That reminds me of a personal experience I had with the V of A Hunt. It must have been around 1992, when I was a conservation officer for BBONT as it was then, in Buckinghamshire. I was in my favourite nature reserve at Finemere Wood, with a group of volunteers who were on an scheme for unemployed people. We were doing some scrub bashing, when I heard the unmistakeable sound of hunting horns nearby. I moved as quickly as I could towards the sound, to see the entire hunt illegally entering the nature reserve, after a fox. I tried to remonstrate with them, but it’s quite hard getting your point across to men on horseback, who clearly had the “blood up”. They ignored me and carried on. I was not amused. The volunteers, who were all from Buckinghamshire and a rural bunch were not keen on the hunt and I remember vividly they waved them waving their billhooks and slashers in the air as the hunt rode past. It was a scene straight out of the Peasant’s revolt, though there were no clashes other than verbal ones.

I remember fuming about it with my colleagues later, but what could we do? The Hunt were a law unto themselves.

Gardiner’s declared interests include being a Partner in a Buckinghamshire farming enterprise C M Robarts and Son of Kimble Wick. The farm is in ELS, all 250 off hectares of it, so it’s good to know our Defra Lord is benefiting from the Common Agricultural Policy.   He is also a Director of Robarts Investment Limited ,which is not registered in Bucks, but in Essex. Robarts Investment Limited is valued at £2.6M. It’s not clear how much of the business Gardiner owns.

I think we can expect Gardiner to be involved in the repeal of the Hunting Act, given his personal interest and his experience as a Whip in the Lords. He will also no doubt speak up in support of rolling out the Badger Cull. We might also expect him to get involved with the debate around Grouse Moors and Raptors, especially in light of the Judicial Review against Natural England on licences for gamekeepers to shoot Buzzards.

Will he start to make statements about the need to remove Beavers from the Countryside, or how damaging Lynx might be? Or perhaps he is a fan of rewilding, on  the condition he and his mates can hunt in the rewilding zones.



Painting by Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain or CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in 2015 election, bees, blood sports and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Countryside Alliance get their man into Defra

  1. Pingback: The Countryside Alliance and its Charitable Foundation. | a new nature blog

  2. Pingback: Time to rename Defra the Ministry of Agriculture and Fieldsports | a new nature blog

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