Richard Benyon, the Biodiversity Minister, has come in for some stick recently.This is a pity because Richard undoubtedly is interested in biodiversity, and in how to better conserve it.
Firstly he took (actually quite justified) stick for the Facebook Ragwort story – it does look like he unquestioningly swallowed the British Horse Society et al propaganda about Senecio jacobea – a native wildflower lest we forget.
Now he’s being lambasted by that defender of all things English, the Daily Mail . The Mail has a go at him for organising a team-building event where some Defra civil servants had a day out in Berkshire doing something useful in the countryside. The event wasn’t on his estate but nearby – as if that implied something nefarious akin to Werrity-Foxgate. Guilt by geographical closeness. Then the story really went down hill fast.
According to the Mail the Defra people were variously “clearing scrubland”, “undertak(ing) tree conservation work”, and “scrub-cleaning work”. While we can glean from this linguistic mess that Richard and his merry man were doing some sort of practical conservation work, more than anything else this indicates to me just how little about conservation (or indeed the countryside) is understood by the average journalist.
Defra didn’t exactly help matters when their spokesperson tried and failed to explain what it was that the Defra people were up to on a presumably rainy August day on Ashampton Common in Berkshire. Defra stated “Richard and Defra staff volunteered for a day during the summer break to clear invasive weeds and scrubland to protect ancient woodland.” No, still no clearer.
What exactly was it they were doing? Were they cleaning trees+scrub with disinfectant as part of the new Defra war on tree disease? Were they clearing away nasty brutish scrubland, reclaiming derelict for green infrastructure as the Defra-led Green Infrastructure Partnership exhorts us to? Or were they expunging invasive weeds like ragwort?
Or perhaps they were clearing scrubland to protect ancient woodland. Incidentally part of Ashampton Common is known as the Junipers – the junipers have of course long gone, but their memory remains. Had they still been there I do hope the minister and his volunteers would not have inadvertently cut them down or cleaned them.
It’s not for me to defend the minister, and it’s still a mystery what exactly was being done in the name of conservation at Ashampton Common.
But if there’s one thing does really uplift my heart, and give me hope for the future, it is that they weren’t planting trees.