Saturday, 20 October 2012

Richard Benyon's Bioperversity

Ruchard Benyon is the minister in the UK government who is responsible for biodiversity. One may be forgiven for thinking his title is something from George Orwell's famous book 1984 where The Ministry of Truth dealt with lying about the past, the Ministry of Love  dealt with torture and the Ministry of Peace dealt with waging war. In the same perverse way this minister seems to be doing a great deal of harm to biodiversity.

Firstly, in  his attitude to ragwort and secondly, as we have discovered recently his facilitation of the poisoning of our lovely birds of prey.

To deal with the ragwort to start with. He  got himself into hot water a while ago when he posted this message on his facebook page.

"I hate ragwort. It may not be the issue of the moment but I am on the warpath for those who let this vile weed spread. Chief target at the moment is the Highways Agency,"
This is not the kind of knowledgeable response one would hope for from a minister of the crown in charge of looking after biodiversity.

Ragwort isn't spreading and roadside verges are not significant sources of seed in most cases. The seeds do not spread far. There is clear research that shows that they only normally spread a few metres.

Benyon's ignorance was spotted by some knowledgeable people and quite soon he found himself rebuked.
This is  an extract from how the Guardian's John Vidal reported it:

Within hours of the post about the "vile weed", more than 30 people had complained that he was ecologically illiterate, plain wrong or perpetuating myths put out about the plant by herbicide companies.

"Minister of the natural environment!!!! You don't even seem to know Defra's [the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] guidance - get your facts straight - livestock are generally only harmed if they eat the dried plants in hay!", wrote Dusty Gedge, a leading urban ecologist and designer of green roofs. They attacked his science: "There is very very clear science on meta-population dynamics that shows that habitat loss with in a patchwork of habitats has a very severe effect. There is a chapter on ragwort in one of the standard textbooks," wrote another.

The Guardian article continued later:

Benyon struck back, saying his critics were being "unnecessarily aggressive", and that he wasn't advocating ethnic cleansing of ragwort but that he wanted to deal with "a severe infestation of a poisonous plant".

That only infuriated people more. "There is a campaign against ragwort. We are told that it kills hundreds or thousands of animals a year. We are told it is dangerous to touch it or it can give you cancer if you do. We are told it is a danger to dogs. None of this is true", said one. "Actually there is not a severe infestation of ragwort at the moment. There is a great deal of increase in the hysteria but the last government countryside survey actually shows a decrease. Ask your civil servants to check it for you."

It was all too much for Benyon, who retired from the debate and, shortly afterwards, deleted the thread on his Facebook wall.

Richard Benyon said: "I'm very well aware of ragwort's great importance to biodiversity, but what many people don't realise it that its presence can be extremely dangerous to livestock, especially horses. People should be made aware of the dangers as well as the benefits and take action to protect their animals if they're at risk."

The problem for the minister was of course  the fact , that unlike a lot of the stuff on the web, the media nonsense, and commercially' motivated inaccuracies that the  Advertising Standards Authority dealt with last year, Facebook is open for people to comment. Knowledgeable people, who know that the nonsense about ragwort is made up, can reply to him.  We know this stuff is false.  I have blogged before about it being invented. He didn't and looked rather foolish in the face of the experts.

It really isn't as extremely dangerous as he thinks it is.

However it does seem that Benyon's attitude to ragwort is somewhat hypocritical as the recent news shows that he is quite prepared to ignore really dangerous things when they threaten biodiversity.
Witness the row over his failure to ban the dangerous chemical carbofuran. As publicised in The Independent .
This is an extract:

The Wildlife minister, Richard Benyon, has been accused of being "the gamekeeper's friend" by refusing to outlaw a poison used by some to kill protected birds of prey on shooting estates.

Mr Benyon, a millionaire landowner who is strongly associated with shooting interests and owns both a pheasant shoot in Berkshire and a Scottish grouse moor, has declined a request from senior MPs to make possession of the poison, carbofuran, a criminal offence – as is the case in Scotland.

The effect of his refusal is to make a substance which is particularly deadly to birds of prey, despite it being a banned chemical with no legitimate use whatsoever, still available to any gamekeepers who wish to get rid of raptors illegally when they are perceived to be predating on gamebirds.

His stance, which is only the latest controversy arising from Mr Benyon's personal involvement with game shooting policy, met with fierce criticism yesterday. "The minister's shocking refusal to outlaw the possession of a poison used only by rogue gamekeepers to illegally kill birds of prey would be inexplicable were it not for his own cosy links to the shooting lobby," said the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas.

"Instead of protecting the interests of his friends on the shooting estates and undermining the wellbeing of British wildlife, the minister should be following the ad vice of MPs and the Scottish precedent by making carbofuran possession a criminal offence."

 One does wonder if Public School (A British term for a posh private school.) educated Benyon suffers from the problem that often results from such  treatment, i.e having too much confidence and not enough talent.  He is confident enough to want to wage war on ragwort, where the evidence says that there isn't a problem and then won't put controls on carbofuran where the evidence says that there is!.

This sounds rather like "bioperversity" to me.

Ragwort Hysteria latest entries

1 comment:

  1. Great article - Richard Benyon is truly a bane of UK wildlife....