Gove chooses WWF’s Tony Juniper as preferred Natural England Chair candidate

Juniper was appointed WWF's executive director for advocacy and campaigns in 2017

Gove confirmed on Wednesday (6 February) that Juniper, who also currently serves as president for the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, had been selected following a “rigorous” six-month decision process.

Members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee will now hold a pre-appointment hearing before reporting on whether they consider Juniper suitable for the post.

This process, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), offers an “added level of scrutiny” by allowing the select committee to take evidence and voice their opinion. Ministers must then take the findings for the select committee into account before deciding whether to proceed with Juniper’s appointment.

Gove said in a statement that Juniper had been chosen for the post due to his “range of experience”.

The 58-year old notably served as Friends of the Earth’s vice chair for eight years after beginning his career as an ornithologist with Birdlife International. Since then, he has served as an advisor to the Prince of Wales, attained fellowship status from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and published a string of best-selling books on biodiversity and climate change.

Juniper was additionally awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2017 Birthday Honours for his services to conservation.

Responding to Gove’s statement, Juniper tweeted: “I am delighted at this news and look forward to meeting MPs to discuss further in due course.

“I hope I am able to contribute something toward the new ambitions we have for leaving nature in a better state than now. It seems to me that we have every good reason to aim high.”

If chosen to act as Natural England Chair, Juniper will be tasked with helping policymakers to set laws which ensure that the UK’s natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations. As leader of the non-departmental body, Juniper would play a key role in advising central Government on what its environmental sustainability priorities should be.

Farewell, Andrew Sells

The announcement comes after Natural England’s current chair, Andrew Sells, confirmed his intent to retire by spring 2019 in summer 2018.

Sells, who currently serves as Treasurer at Policy Exchange, has held the position since January 2014, playing a key role in the Government’s adoption of biodiversity net-gain and natural capital concepts.

He was instrumental in the creation of the Government’s 25-Year Plan for the Environment and the expansion of its Marine Conservation Schemes, but decided last year that it was the “right time to move on to new challenges”.

In his letter of resignation, Sells wrote that it had been a “huge privilege and pleasure” to serve as Natural England’s chair for a five-year period. 

“I would like to think that Natural England has changed for the better during my tenure,” he wrote.

“We have tried to work much more with people to achieve shared outcomes and moved closer to the people we work with through a devolved area structure; we are radically reforming our licensing activities; we have published our Conservation Strategy and have been instrumental in shaping the Government’s 25 year Plan for the Environment; we have advised on 90 Marine Conservation Zones; we have made long strides towards completing a path around England’s coast and much more besides – although, of course, much remains to be done.”

Sarah George

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