Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Tortoise latest - are we nearly there yet?

As the rumpus over Sticker's tortoise sanctuary races towards the courts, I thought I'd helpfully draw readers' attention to this letter from Prime Minister David Cameron, sent to St Austell and Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert a couple of months ago.

Mr Cameron repeats the line which Defra has been telling me forever - that responsibility for all the definitions and interpretations of the 1981 Zoo Licensing Act rest with the local authority. Increasingly, I detect signs that Cornwall Council is seeking to hide behind its expert advice. So I phoned the principal expert, Peter Scott, a veterinary consultant. He confirmed that he sent the council a "mind map" which probably led to its current interpretation of the law. Like the council, he believes the legislation is flawed. But he was very interested to hear about David Cameron's letter, so I've sent him a copy.

I don't know if the Prime Minister is an expert on wildlife law or not. Probably not. But he is the Prime Minister. Incidentally, the council is due any day now to answer my Freedom of Information question about how much officer-time (and therefore cost to the public) has been spent in pursuit of Sticker's tortoises.

STOP PRESS: Peter Scott emails to say that the Prime Minister is not necessarily giving Cornwall Council the green light to interpret the legislation at it sees fit. He says Mr Cameron's observations are "not the same as interpreting whether its a zoo, or what is domesticated. The LA decide based on the legal definitions or guidance. A tortoise is clearly a wild animal, yes - often kept domestically. This is supported by the fact that many need registration under CITES - which domesticated species do not." He goes on to say: "My advice is register as a zoo and stop trying to fudge the definition because they are a worthy cause - which nobody disputes."

STOP STOP PRESS: Defra emails with admiral brevity (and clarity?): ""Local councils are responsible for administering the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and for interpreting its provisions."

STOP STOP STOP PRESS: It seems this hare got running (see what I did there?) when the campaign group Born Free lodged a formal complaint about the tortoise sanctuary with the council. I hope to get Born Free on BBC Radio Cornwall in the next few days.

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