Sorry to write in such haste. I did try to contact you a few weeks ago, but you were busy having a row with your friends about voting vetoes and protecting vital British interests.

Anyway, what on earth are you doing to the whimbrel? (Or, for that matter, the greenshank, garganey, black-tailed godwit, golden plover or curlew? Or for that matter, the thrush and blackbird?)

If I could jog your memory, these birds winter in Africa, the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. When they get here they have special protection under British law. Until now they have been protected on their way here in the spring by the European Birds Directive.

Now we hear that not only have the European Union environment ministers agreed to weaken this by extending the period that the birds can be shot, but that there is an attempt to rush this through the European Parliament next Monday.

Why, Mr Gummer? The word is that it is a big favour for the French government, to gain them votes with a lot of French hunters. Well, you must choose your friends as you wish, but as far as Britain is concerned it doesn't look too clever.

After all, the British tend to be on the side of the animals, not the hunters. Remember Charles Causley's lovely poem about the hunter who got his gun the wrong way round?

Bang went the jolly gun

Hunter jolly dead.

Jolly hare got clean away

Jolly good I said.

I suspect that if you allow greenshanks to fly over France to be given the sort of welcome usually reserved for a lorry-load of British lambs, you could be in big trouble. Let me put it this way: this is a moral issue, you could lose votes.

After all, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has 850,000 members, including 125,000 in the Young Ornithologists. They may not all have votes, but just one TV programme of a jolly French hunter shooting down a garganey and I'd hate to be in your gumboots, right up to the next general election.

I appreciate that advice from me about how to save votes for the Tories might appear a little suspect, but, believe me, on this issue I'd be happier if you saved a few votes and we saved our birds.

So, where do you stand, Mr Gummer? It was reported that you had given this change a 'cautious welcome'. Can't you be a damned sight more cautious and a whole lot less welcoming? If these birds get shot, I'd really start twitching if I were you.

Frankly, a lot of us don't see why beautiful birds, loved by us, protected here by British law and until now by European laws, should have that protection dropped. We hope MEPs will block that.

A lot of people are watching you like hawks.

(Photograph omitted)