The other day I noticed the excavators had moved back into our local patch of Surrey woodland. Well, I say woodland, but actually these days it's more like a scene from the Battle of the Somme. Where once we had trees, we now have vast tracts of open muddy ground, fought over by squadrons of earth-movers and rough tough looking men armed with chain saws.
Obviously, when these guys first appeared a couple of years back we assumed it was yet more houses, and girded up our nimby loins to protest. But it wasn't that at all.
It turned out that all across Southern England thousands of acres of woodland are being uprooted as part of a commissariat masterplan to recreate Egdon Heath. Something called Tomorrow's Heathland Heritage is costing us £25m plus, and will take at least a decade to complete. It's biodiversity, Jim, the idea being that we need fewer trees and more Dartford Warblers (pic above), rare bees, rare heathers etc etc.
There are some familiar points to make. First, much of our heathland only disappeared originally because a previous generation of commissars planted socking great forests on it after WW1 (ie the Forestry Commission). But of course, this time round the commissars are sure to have got it right. Right?
Second, nobody asked me or other local residents what we thought. The website for our local restoration project promises more adders, spider-hunting wasps, and flesh-eating sundew plants to wriggle their way up our trouser legs. Is that what we want? Cos that's what we're gonna get. Plus, residents have had to put up with all the noise, mess and general harassment of the work, and are losing their tree privacy screens into the bargain.
Third, why should we pay taxes just so the commissars can have a go at playing God? Who says heathland is better than woodland? IIRC most of Southern England was forested until the arrival of agriculture. Why should the commissars decide heathland is the landscape of choice for us?
But this is part of a much bigger picture.
On Friday morning I was nibbling my muesli when the Today programme ran yet another eco item. One of their scores of eco-reporters was hunkered down on the Dartford marshes with some guy from Buglife. The good old state broadcaster was providing Buglife with a four minute slot to push its campaign for demolishing the Dartford Bridge to save an endangered bug. Or something like that.
Now fair play to Buglife. They are a campaigning group, and of course they'd take a free R4 propaganda slot like that (mental note: must enquire when the BBC can offer a similar facility to the TaxPayers' Alliance). But as always, I was left wondering about money: who are Buglife and how do they fund themselves?
Buglife is a registered charity, and their website lists an impressive array of private funders and corporate sponsors (including Morrisons supermarkets, which presumably explains why the Major found that hairy orange spider in his grapes last week). But nestled right in among them we find the 2010 Biodiversity Action Fund, the Environment Agency, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural England, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. In other words, the taxpayer.
So how much are we taxpayers in for?
As always, it's fiendishly difficult to find out. But according to their latest published accounts, in 2006 they had total funding of £284,218, of which £208,711 was "restricted"- ie "the charity successfully bid for a variety of grants". We're guessing most of that £208K was from us.
But let's not pick on Buglife: they're just one of a raft spider of NGOs who get our money for biodiversity projects. And the NGOs are just one part of an even bigger picture.
According to Annual Biodiversity Indicators In Your Pocket 2007 (ONS), in 2005-06 the government spent no less than £360m on UK biodiversity projects, and a further £25m on global projects. That's well over twice as much as the NGOs raise for themselves.
We have no objection to Buglife. Or their campaigns. Or any of the thousands of similar campaigns that have sprung up around the place.
But we do object to being taxed to pay for them. And we do object to the massive quangocracy that has inevitably sprung up on this patch of reclaimed heathland: the new superquango Natural England spends around £250m pa, including £90m pa on staff (see their first Report and Accounts here).
And we have no confidence in the commissars' ability to manage our biodiversity. None whatsoever. They spend most of their time trying to stamp out diversity, and according to the following Wiki chart, biodiversity managed pretty well for billions of years before anyone even thought of commissars:
And while we'd have much more trust in the bottom-up enthusiasm of voluntary groups, as we've blogged many times (eg here), voluntary groups principally funded by government grant are no more than biodiversified quangos.
So stop taxing us to play God.
And stop bulldozing our woodland without asking us.
PS At least nobody is (yet) suggesting the reintroduction of wolves to Surrey. Up in Scotland there's a long-running campaign to bring them back. Indeed, some NGO character by the name of Alan Watson Featherstone, says "The wolf probably has the worst public image of any large animal on the planet, fed by children's fairy tale stories like the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, which is exacerbated by Hollywood movies about werewolves. They have a very, very bad PR problem. People think they're a real threat, but that's just not true." Hmmm. We only just got shot of the Surrey Puma.