6 July 2019
The problem with Natural England is that it is too closely linked to DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs). Natural England is independent of government but the Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has the legal power to issue guidance to Natural England on various matters, a constraint that was not placed on its predecessor.
When you look at some of the members of the board it seems to me odd that their interests aren’t what you would call ‘environmental’. When Andrew Sells was appointed the Chairperson of Natural England, conservationists threw their hands up in lamentation. Andrew Sells was an investment banker and housing developer, who also donated millions of pounds to the Conservative Party. Now I’m not trying to be clever or funny here, but if you were appointing a chairperson to Natural England would you choose an investment banker and housing developer?
Then there is Lord Blencathra. The deputy chair of Natural England, a very enthusiastic supporter of hunting, provided detailed advice and support for the Countryside Alliance during the passage of the Hunting Bill through Parliament. Their aim was to make the legislation as weak as possible, allowing hunting to continue under the radar, making it difficult for prosecutions to succeed. And this is exactly what has happened.
Nor must we forget Tessa Dent, the Chief Executive of Game and Wildlife Conservation or Julia Aglionby, Chartered Surveyor and Agricultural Valuer neither is an environmentalist with a view to protect and conserve for the sake of it.
One particular purpose of Natural England is as a regulator whose job it is to make sure laws protecting wildlife are taken seriously, such as the laws protecting species like hen harriers, and the laws protecting internationally important habitats like blanket bogs. It appears that Natural England staff are being educated on the environmental benefits of driven grouse shooting, on a grouse moor whose head keeper was prosecuted and fined for setting illegal traps for birds of prey like hen harriers! Grouse moors are not a natural habitat they are artificially created and maintained just for shooting grouse.
I find it deeply worrying that Natural England and owners of grouse moors are to be seen as partners. Natural England, above all else, is a regulator, whose job is to see the law effectively applied. There is no other regulator with that job. There is no one else that nature can turn to, metaphorically, to ask for help. There is only Natural England. Should they not maintain more distance from the industry they are obliged to regulate?
Who then would be interested in taking on the role of chairing this compromised organisation?
Enter Tony Juniper. The newly appointed chair of Natural England is an environmental campaigner and president of the Wildlife Trusts, so it is no wonder that countryside campaigners like Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, view Tony Juniper as quite ‘the wrong man for the job’.
The wrong man for the job? I don’t think so!
For once, the right man for the job.
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