Will the Government ever learn NOT to meddle with something when it’s working?? Some of Britain’s most precious landscapes are in danger of being built on under the Government’s latest plans to weaken protection of the countryside by scrapping environment quangos. From The Guardian
The Wildlife Trusts fear this will lead to a cut in staff and budgets, threatening key programmes to protect rare species.
Even more seriously, the review suggests that Natural England should “support and contribute to the Government‘s aims and priorities as effectively as possible”.
But legal advice commissioned by the RSPB points out that this clashes with NE’s original purpose, that is “to ensure that the natural environment is conserved.”
Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said the review threatened the independence of NE and therefore its ability to stand up to the Government on controversial planning decisions.
“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.”
In a foreword to the reveiw, Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, described the work of his department as: “growing our economy, improving the environment and safeguarding animal and plant health.”
Earlier in the year the Government attempted to make economic development more of a priority in planning.
Mary Creagh, Shadow Environment Secretary, said the review is just the latest attempt to allow development in the countryside.
“Merging the Environment Agency with Natural England, when both are sacking large numbers of staff to deliver government cuts, will leave strategic weaknesses in our environmental management, as ash dieback has shown. Whether it is planning reforms, or cuts to flood defences and National Parks, this weak and incompetent Tory-led government has failed every environmental test.”
It is also in charge of thousands of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), where many endangered species survive, in areas including Richmond Park, the New Forest and the Peak District.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes at The Wildlife Trusts, said Natural England is already struggling to maintain SSSIs.
He feared that merging the body with EA would mean years of concentrating on administration rather than conservation, leaving wildlife at risk of dying out.
“There is a huge risk that if you do collide those organisations together at this point you lose good staff and expertise, you slow things down and you look inwards rather than outwards.
“Millions of people across country want the protection and restoration of wildlife. They do not want the continual demise and erosion of natural assets.”
The Wildlife Trusts are also concerned that the Government is failing to protect the oceans.
Following an £8.8 million two-and-a-half year discussions, 127 sites around the coast were recommended to be made Marine Conservation Zones in 2011.
Some 59 of the sites are in danger from human activity, such as dredging, and all contain rare sea creatures like dolphins and seahorses.
But it is believed the Government will suggest just 31 MCZs should be created next year in a consultation to be launched today (Thurs).