The raid on staff from the Environment Agency, which is responsible for enforcing rules on recycling, air pollution and protecting the country from flooding, and Natural England, which protects habitats and species, has been condemned by MPs.

Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, on Thursday published a letter from the environment secretary, Michael Gove, which reveals 400 staff have been moved from these agencies to work centrally on Brexit.

The staff moves come as the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) rushes to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, which will have a particular impact on dairy and chemical exports.

Gove’s letter says some of the enforcement and protection work the staff do will be reallocated or paused for now, raising fears that vulnerable habitats and species are being left unprotected because of the chaos over Brexit.

“Preparations for leaving the EU must not get in the way of protecting our treasured natural spaces and iconic British wildlife,” said Creagh.

“It is disappointing that Defra has raided staff at Natural England, the organisation responsible for protecting some of the most highly valued wildlife areas in England, to prepare for Brexit.

“Natural England must not become a poor relation to Defra. Ministers must ensure the valuable work it does to promote biodiversity is given the priority it deserves.”

Gove said in his letter that 50 staff have been redeployed from Natural England, 13 of whom worked to protect sites of special scientific interest in the UK.

The other 350 have been taken from the Environment Agency and other Defra groups.

The Guardian revealed recently how overstretched Environment Agency staff were attempting to investigate widespread abuse and corruption within the plastic recycling export market.

The agency has lost a large number of staff between 2010 and 2018. Sources told the Guardian, enforcement work on plastic recycling had to be put on hold due to staff shortages even before the raid by Defra.

Creagh raised concerns in September over the vulnerability of England’s sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). The agency has revealed that over two years the number of SSSIs which are in an unfavourable condition has increased.

The Guardian revealed this week that the Environment Agency was given 24 hours to find 75 staff to move to work on Brexit within Defra.

Defra is responsible for almost a fifth of the work across government on Brexit, including farming, fisheries, the environment, and food and chemical industries. The National Audit Office said in September the department would not be ready for a no-deal Brexit.

Sandra Laville

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network 


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