My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
I promised here to say more the future of England’s statutory agencies.
Sorry that it has taken a while for me to return to this topic – I have been distracted by the EU Budget and my trip to Brussels where we were celebrating the success of our EU funded wildlife friendly farming project. Local communities working with farmers to help recover farmland wildlife. The importance of incentives to help farmers do more for wildlife came through loud and clear. I hope that Heads of State take note before the EU Budget talks recommence in January.
Back to the agencies. Natural England, Environment Agency and we now hear Joint Nature Conservation Committee are being reviewed. I have no problem with this, provided that the results help the government do more for the natural environment.
On Tuesday, Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson repeated the laudable ambition that this would be the first generation to pass on the natural environment in a better state to the next. Good - this remains the right ambition.
The agencies have a critical role to play in helping the Government meet its commitments in the Natural Environment White Paper and the Water White Paper, and the Triennial Review must enhance their ability to do so.
But this review is taking place against a backdrop of floods, ash die-back and real threats to the future of funding to support wildlife-friendly farming.
At a time of crisis, the benefits of any reorganisation must outweigh the inevitable cost and disruption that a merger would create.
With this in mind, the RSPB, with others have issued to Defra some tests against which we will assess the proposals and outcomes of this review:
1) Is there an independent champion of the natural environment, with a clear focus on its restoration and protection? [Is there a body whose primary purpose is to think, speak and act for nature?]2) Are the Agencies free to inform evidence-based policy and aid its implementation, based on sound science? [Can they gather and use the most up to date information about the state of nature to inform policy?]3) Do the Agencies have the necessary resources, capacity and technical expertise to protect and enhance the natural environment? [Do they have what they need to do their job?]4) Can the Agencies provide effective, co-ordinated place-based delivery of conservation objectives, alongside non-governmental organisations? [Can they work with others to help wildlife recover across landscapes?]5) Can the Agencies effectively carry out their regulatory functions? [Are they able to uphold the law?]
Next week (taking time out for the Chancellor's autumn statement), I’ll focus on each of these tests and try to bring to life what they mean in practice.
In the meantime, do you agree with these tests? Are there others you would add?
It would be great to hear your views.
Simon - many thanks. We are aware and I plan to write on this on Monday. Will also email you about this.
Changes on independent voice/champion for envrionment have already been agreed to Natural England's "framework doc for governance", which sets out its roles and responsibilities as agreed with DEFRA.
Phrases in the previous version have been removed including "independent champion for the natural environment and “[hold] the government to account for the environment” causing concern for at least one Nat Eng board member.
(That's one of a series of articles I've done on the review - email me for copies if you don't have access on email@example.com - I'd be keen to hear your thoughts on the review too!)
another phrase might be: Will any changes improve England's and the UK's ability to meet the 2020 Biodiveristy target?
Fair point, Redkite. I've tried to turn the tests into plain English. Hope that helps.
I think the 5 tests seem reasonable but I am not sure quite what the precise meaning is of some of the phraseology. For example. in item 2, "free to inform evidence-based policy" and in item 4 "effective, coordinated based delivery"? I would also like to see an item on the lines of "Will the Agencies have a clear definition of each their roles and responsiblities"? This would be to ensure there were no gaps or confusing overlaps in their functions, which can happen with reorganisations.