Something’s gone badly wrong at the Greenest Government Ever. To say I’ve been profoundly disappointed at the environmental performance of the Coalition – in comparison to its glowing promises – is only the start of it. But at least, up until now, it has only been the traditional environmentalist’s bogeyman the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has been the boo-hiss villain happy to deride current protection of wildlife and landscapes as a “ridiculous cost” on business.
Now the foes of our native biodiversity are expanding their reach. They are optimistic enough to be openly at work through DEFRA – traditionally the department that is responsible for nature reserves, protected landscapes, biodiversity, and protected species as well as farming, food and fishing. A modest DEFRA proposal for a research project on birds of prey has caused an extraordinary backlash of criticism from a wide range of respected voices throughout the conservation field. Having read it, I can understand why. The project is not large, but the implications are. And as far as I can see there are two possible explanations, neither of which give me any comfort. Either those who proposed this idea have an alarmingly poor understanding of the role and relative importance of native species versus introduced ones; or they don’t, but are confident enough to believe that any resistance to the proposal can be safely disregarded. Continue reading →
In a previous post (Government pro-chips website batters National Parks, Naturenet 30 June 2010) I pointed out the list of government websites controlled by DEFRA which are to close, which was announced via a parliamentary question from Tom Watson MP. Now it appears that there’s some internal government dispute about this, with somebody from within Natural England taking issue with the list announced in parliament.
A few papers have picked up the latest development in Natural England’s mission to open up coastal access around England. Perhaps not surprisingly, news of the death of Bobby Robson and ‘blasphemous’ nudie photos in a church have taken a more prominent place in the headlines… but actually, this could be pretty important. Especially for the Isle of Wight and other English counties with long coastlines.
It seems remarkable, but just a short while after the end of the seemingly interminable hurly-burly of creating the open access land facilitated by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, Natural England are sticking their heads well and truly above the parapet and recommending that the government
…provide Natural England with the powers to deliver a new right of access to the coast… to create clear and well managed public access along the entire 4000 km length of England’s coast.
This is powerful stuff. The so called ‘right to roam’ proposals stirred up a frenzy of complaining landowners, some with very valid objections. The final legislation, after considerable amendment, fell short of the sweeping rights that were originally envisaged. The introduction of the new rights of access have not led to the predicted catastrophes, either, so perhaps the final result was a good one.
Today The Ranger attended a seminar across the water in Winchester, to talk about the biodiversity of Hampshire. Of particular interest were some of the obiter remarks by Merrick Denton-Thompson, former Hampshire County Council countryside planning supremo and a recently-appointed member of the Natural England board.
Mmm, nice logo
Merrick prudently prefaced his presentation with the proviso that it was only his personal views, and not any official statement. It’s always dangerous to read too much into off-the-cuff remarks but it is true that at present any colour smoke from the chimney of Natural England is of interest, as many in the industry, like The Ranger, are watching with great interest to see the deeds as well as the words, and maybe divine which way the new organisation will jump, or indeed, whether it will just sink to its knees. The Ranger cadged a pencil from a colleague and scribbled on the back of the agenda two of the more striking things that Merrick said.
Natural England needs to be locally accountable through existing local democratic arrangements. It is not good enough to be just accountable to the Secretary-of-State.
This is an interesting proposal – and one to be expected from a time-served local authority man. However, it might have considerable merit if implemented properly. The Ranger would suggest that the Environment Agency’s sometimes impotent Area Environment Group arrangements are not a good model to follow. He hopes that Merrick has in mind a more rigorous scrutiny arrangement.
We have got to do something about public perception of the environment. English Nature hadn’t found the right ingredient to really spark public interest. They forgot that the public is our prime customer. We’re going to have to make that connection between town and country.
That was an assertion that this ranger found quite exciting. Admitting the problem is a big step forward. EN really didn’t crack this one, despite some heroic efforts – Local Nature Reserves, for example – and never actually looked as if they were going to. Merrick went on to identify the BBC Breathing Places campaign as a key example of what he meant by this. And lo, on the Natural England press release list today is a press release called “A Natural Health Service” talking about just that. Maybe this new organisation really could be doing something.
A contact within Natural England sends The Ranger the following snippit which has been circulating on their internal email:
Natural England dress code guidance As part of our effort to achieve a strong and visible new identity for Natural England it has been decided that staff at all levels below the Executive Board will be issued with new NE uniforms to be worn at the office, and while attending meetings or other functions in a representative capacity. The uniforms will be durable and practical, and careful consideration has gone into their design. In order to facilitate transition to the new NE personnel structure uniforms will be colour coded according to tier. Based on the three primary colours the following scheme will be adopted. Leader Group (Team Leaders, Project Leaders, and Major Project Leaders ) ” Mustard yellow Specialist Group (Principal and Senior Specialists) ” Light blue Team Members (Everyone else) ” Scarlet An additional corporate stylistic change has been agreed on advice from experts in the field of branding. The original NE logo has been deemed too indistinctive for an important new organisation needing to establish its credibility among a wide range of partner organisations and opinion formers. The breeze block design has, therefore, been dropped. Instead a more natural looking arrow shape based on the leaf of Hedge Bindweed Calystegia sepium has been chosen. The exact design has yet to be agreed but it is likely to incorporate a superimposed ring element to symbolise the unification of the three founding bodies. The new logo will appear on the uniform of NE staff. Photos of the new uniform in its three colour variants bearing “working draft” versions of the logo are shown on the following page. We hope you will enjoy wearing them and agree that they reflect the culture of Natural England effectively.
If you are wondering what on earth all this is about, or you have not yet spotted that this is a clever joke, the photos supplied make everything clear. Sadly, for copyright reasons we can’t bring you the images in question. But here is one that might give you the idea:
Breezeblock, eh? Whatever next? And has nobody told them what happens to redshirts?
Natural England is born! English Nature is no more. To mark the event, a new Natural England Strategic Direction document has been published. It’s a glossy tome that actually includes some quite encouraging and worthy sentiments, fairly clearly expressed. No mean achievement for any government agency, especially one so new. Hidden right at the back is the unpleasant news:
Our efficiency We will meet the Government’s efficiency targets for the establishment of Natural England. Target Deliver