Review of Natural England and the Environment Agency must ensure England’s wildlife has a champion

We hold up our hands, we missed this one but feel Defra’s review of the two organisations to be merged into one possible entity, it is so important we are adding the story now anyway.

The RSPB has welcomed the start of a consultation into the future of Natural England, but has warned against undermining the organisation’s remit to speak out for wildlife. Defra has today launched its triennial review into its agencies – including Natural England (NE) and the Environment Agency.

One option on the table is to merge NE with the Environment Agency, a move the RSPB believes would leave threatened species in our countryside without an independent statutory champion, a point which Raptor Politics totally concur.

Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said: “This review is a good opportunity to ensure these agencies are equipped to help the Government meet its commitments to the natural environment. “The debate must not focus solely on whether to merge one organisation with another but also on the need for a strong independent champion for the natural environment.”

The RSPB has drawn up five tests for Defra to ensure the review results in the best deal for threatened wildlife.

  1. Is there a body whose primary purpose is to think, speak and act for nature.
  2. Can it gather and use the most up to date information about the state of nature to inform policy?
  3. Does it have what it needs to do its job?
  4. Can it work with others to help wildlife recover across landscape.
  5. Is it able to uphold the law?

Before Christmas week the RSPB also received legal advice which states current proposals to change the way NE works are unlawful. The plans outline the agency’s new direction for 2013 and include plans for the organisation to start taking economic factors into account when advising on environment issues – a role it is not designed to fulfil.

Mike Clarke said: “Natural England is one of the most important defenders our wildlife has in this country.
“It is critically important that it is free to provide impartial and scientific advice on matters within its expertise. If it is expected to factor in economic considerations before giving ecological advice, there is a serious danger that this will lead to ill-informed decisions and a failure to safeguard our most important sites for wildlife. “There is growing consensus that our prosperity and well-being is linked to the quality of our natural environment. It would be short-sighted to trade this away in pursuit of a quick fix to the economic crisis we face.”

The organisation’s current management plan requires it to act as an ‘independent champion of the natural environment, inspiring public support and holding the Government and others to account for their actions’. In stark contrast, the draft replacement drawn up by Central Government states that NE will ‘support the Government’s aims and priorities as effectively as possible’.

If we lose the funding for the Wildlife Crime Unit and Natural England and the Environment Agency are combined to make further cost savings, perhaps to save even more money the government could outsource the maintenance of England’s countryside to the National Gamekeepers Association and their members?

After all it was Richard Benyon who praised and thanked gamekeepers last year for maintaining the healthy biodiversity of England’s countryside, and they did that for free. With a champion like this no one would need to worry at all?

1 comment to Review of Natural England and the Environment Agency must ensure England’s wildlife has a champion

  • john Miles

    One benefit of a merger could come from the reaction to the draining of the uplands which the Environment Agency has never put its head above the peat hag even though they know the damage that has been done. One example here at Geltsdale was that when the moor was drained the springs stopped working causing a loss of water to United Utilities. This cost them £7.1 million to put a filter in to clean the water from the river used instead not to mention the cost of maintance and labour ever after. This cost was never placed against the running of the Red Grouse moor. Nearly every Red Grouse moor that has been drained costs the public £millions in damages to each moor.