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Last modified: 12 December 2012
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.
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.
· Is there a body whose primary purpose is to think, speak and act for nature?
· Can it gather and use the most up to date information about the state of nature to inform policy?
· Does it have what it needs to do its job?
· Can it work with others to help wildlife recover across landscapes?
· Is it able to uphold the law?
This week the RSPB also received legal advice which states current plans to change the way NE works are unlawful.
The proposals outline the agency’s new direction next year 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’.