Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A Response From DEFRA

In July I wrote an open letter to the new Environment Minister Mrs Truss which you can read here. I also kept emailing the letter to her hoping to be listened to. Well today I finally got a reply from the Customer Contact Unit at DEFRA. The response is below for you to see:

 Dear Findlay,

Thank you for your email of 16 July to the Secretary of State about wildlife conservation.  I have been asked to reply and apologise for the delay in doing so.

We agree with you that birds are extremely important. Bird populations are a good way to estimate the health of wildlife in general, because birds live in a wide range of habitats, so they tend to be near or at the top of food chains. There are many reasons why birds are threatened, including disease, weather, loss of habitat and climate change. 

One way in which we are helping birds is through Biodiversity 2020. The Government has plans to help farmland birds by increasing their habitats by at least 200,000 hectares by 2020. 

There are also grant schemes run by the Government where farmers are given money to make sure their land provides good homes for birds, or to feed seed eating birds during the ‘hungry gap’, which is the time of year when there aren’t many berries or seeds. 

You might wish to visit The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) website, as this provides a lot of information on birds and how you can help them. 

I hope this reassures you we are committed to conserving the environment and helping birds. Thank you again for writing about this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Leah Pritchart
Customer Contact Unit

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)


Now even though I am really grateful for the response, I am not confident or happy about what they have to say. I know I am only 12 and I know I don't understand all the politics but I do have common sense, some wildlife knowledge and a strong sense of right and wrong. So here are my first thoughts on there reply, but I will probably revisit this again.

  • firstly, they have just concentrated on birds, when my email was about all our wildlife.  I was at the A Focus on Nature Conference last week and listened to a debate called "should science have the final say in conservation". At the end of the debate it was agreed that properly researched science should definitely be listened to, and so should common sense. SO how is this the case with the badger cull. All the science bits I have read have said a cull wont work and it has been a cruel and badly thought through way of trying to control Bovine TB.  Maybe that's why they just focused on birds.
  • Now it is 2014 and 200,000 hectares of farmland are supposed to be used to create habitat for birds by 2020, now for me there's a few problems here:  
  1. firstly I think 2020 is going to be a little late, as I'm sure you're all aware, many birds have declined by huge amounts, a good example would be the Turtle Dove, what has happened to that species. It may be gone by 2020.
  2. Secondly farmland covers about 18 million hectares across the UK, so over the next 6 years just 0.01% is being given back. And how much other habitat is being lost to projects like HS2.
  3. And not really a traditional lowland farmland bird, but Hen Harriers have undergone a huge decline and yet nothing has been done about it by the people in power, even though there have been serious crimes committed. People are breaking the law, but where was DEFRA on Hen Harrier Day?

  • Another thing I'd like to pick up on is the part where it says 

There are many reasons why birds are threatened, including disease, weather, loss of habitat and climate change. 

What is the government (DEFRA) doing to resolve the problem of this and how are they working with all the people involved to make sure it is a focus for all the influential people in power.

  • The final thing that really wound me up was "maybe you should visit the RSPB" now that is really, really annoying because I am trying my best to do so much for wildlife. 
I would love to here your points of view on the reply. 


  1. Findlay, unfortunately the response you eventually got is a typical politicians 'set piece' reply.
    I can understand the frustration you must be feeling, but don't give up. Keep writing to her and all the other people in power that should be making a difference. Tell them how angry you are; eventually they will see sense. Remind them that you and thousands like you, are the future voters in the not too distant future. The voters that can keep them in jobs, or not.

  2. Very poor from Defra, patronising even! But given their recent track record would you really expect anything else I'm sorry to say.



  3. Talk about patronising, I bet you are pleased that you now know about the RSPB. Sometimes you have to question wether it's worth bothering to contact politicians when you know you will only get a set response to try and appease you. The more I think about the problems that our natural world is facing I am convinced that it's the media that we have to get engaged with. When the media speaks out people listen and then talk about the issues, then the politicians take note and do things, why, because of votes.

  4. Findlay, I can feel your frustration and anger at receiving such a patronising reply to your letter. I guess they thought that by replying with a load of meaningless waffle would make you go away...but don't go away Findlay, keep on pressuring them and tell them how you and all your fellow young conservationists are feeling about what they are doing, or not, to your future environment and ultimate well being.

  5. I understand how disappointed you are Findlay. It is a very patronising reply and long overdue as you wrote originally in mid-July. I have read a lot of the blogs from participants at the AFON conference in Cambridge and I am so proud of all you young people and your enthusiasm. Don't let this superficial standard letter deter you. Keep writing and you hopefully will finally make DEFRA understand you are very knowledgeable about the subject and have the enthusiasm of youth - not the complacency of political lightweights.

  6. Ditto all the above Findlay... keep hounding them and don't forget you are not alone.

  7. Definitely a second, third and fourth letter required. Don't be put off by the 'non' reply, look what Mark Avery got in response to his epetition. You need to rewrite to them asking mrs.truss how they're going to reach their 2020 targets when farmers recent ploughed up wildflower meadows due to new legislation which would've meant tougher legislation/protection and what was both her government's response and DEFRA's ask her what her government did for the climate with recent emmission targets being missed and 2014 saw recent air quality levels being breached, remember the smog and at the same time ask what ED DAVEY the environment minister plans to do at the climate summit and the rise in CO2.
    In your next email include some of the activities you have been involved but make it clear, politely that you'd like a response from her as you'd like to know both her parties view on wildlife and the environment for which she represents and DEFRA's response. At the same time pose her a question "do you think a generic response to a young persons questions/concerns would encourage someone younger to get involve in politics or encourage apathy" and since her department asked/directed you the RSPB, ask whether she is a member of any nature groups and if not why not.
    Finally I like your questions in your blog, don't forget the cull, but most importantly don't sink to their level, be polite and courteous and don't give up that's what they want perhaps ask her for an interview face to face.

  8. Well done Findlay! Well done for writing in the first place, and well done for feeling unsatisfied.

    In a few years' time you'll have a vote and be able to have a bigger say in how the country is run. We all have a small say because we live in a democracy and the more we mobilise others to raise their voices and to speak out the better.

    Your blog will inspire others to speak up.

    Douglas makes some very good suggestions in his comment.

    Don't give in! You are part of a movement for a more sustainable future, and in the end we will win.

  9. Findlay. You have presented such a mature argument only to receive a disappointing, but not surprising and patronising response. As many other comments, don't give up. You and the many other young people who are willing to make their voices heard are the ones who will eventually make a difference. Their response is also very disappointing from the fact that it makes no reference to any action being taken to stop the illegal persecution of Raptors. Does this lack of comment mean they condone it?
    Keep up the good work.

  10. Findlay as a recent geography graduate who focused on looking into the decline of bird numbers and the correlation with climate - I can say I got much more in depth responses from the RSPB and the BTO in brief email exchanged on resources, than what DEFRA have presented you with here. I feel that they've been very condescending and as you said, completely ignored the fact you contacted them about all wildlife. Having said that your maturity and your intelligent in this post shows your diligence for wildlife and I hope you don't lose that passion or give up - especially as after studying this and seeing the move away from geography and conservation as a subject at school and uni, you're part of a huge movement to protect our planet - don't give up! And thank you for writing to DEFRA too, it's raising issues like this that can effect the way they think about wildlife and can lead to changes within their schemes. I myself have received many letters like this, so I know the feeling all too well, but never lose hope. - Tasha xxx

  11. I agree with all the comments above, Findlay, especially the bit about it being very patronising. Huh! They thought they were writing to a child who couldn't possibly know about wildlife. Little did they know they were addressing a boy with more knowledge and love of wildlife already that the writer of that letter probably has. Well done indeed for writing to them and don't let them squash you down!