England’s conservation watchdog launched

The new nature conservation watchdog Natural England, created through the fusion of conservation and rural protection bodies, has set out a four-channel action plan that will impact resource and land management across the country.

The agency will work with farmers, landowners, businesses and others to protect biodiversity, preserve landscapes and improve resource management and access to natural areas. It will also act as the Government’s advisor on how policies impact the environment.

Natural England’s four campaigns were announced when the body was formally launched on Wednesday following its creation at the beginning of the month when English Nature merged with parts of the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development.

The agency future work will concentrate on four major campaign areas: climate change, improving health by encouraging recreation, farmers’ stewardship of biodiversity and marine conservation.

Natural England, which is to have its headquarters in Sheffield, is the Government’s response to criticism of England’s many agencies for the countryside as ‘confusing’ in a 2003 report by Lord Haskins.

Sir Martin Doughty, chair of Natural England called the creation of Natural England “a landmark moment for the natural environment.”

“No other organisation in Europe matches the breadth of our legislative remit, and the scale of our challenge. By uniting responsibility for landscapes and biodiversity, Natural England will be working to build resilience into our natural systems in the face of climate change,” he said.

Chief Executive of Natural England Helen Phillips said: “Natural England is about four things: having a healthy natural environment, people’s enjoyment of the natural environment, sustainable use of our natural resources and a secure environmental future. We will be about the urban as well as rural environment and as much about tomorrow as we are about today.”

The agency will have a budget of £500m, but there have been reports of planned funding cuts of around £12m.

Rural campaigners expressed fears over the new agency lacking resources and power. The Campaign to Protect Rural England said that Natural England risked becoming a “starved and toothless watchdog” if fears over funding cuts turn out to have been justified.

CPRE’s Tom Oliver said: ‘There is also a long term threat to the level of funding Natural England will be able to award to farmers to manage and enhance our landscapes and the wildlife that inhabits them.

“The farming community has been told for years that it should commit itself to delivering things the public want – healthy, abundant wildlife, characterful landscapes and more extensive public access to the countryside.

“Unless the Government acts swiftly and decisively, there simply won’t be the resources available for farmers to undertake environmentally sensitive land management,” he said.

More information is available from the new Natural England website.

Goska Romanowicz

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