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Natural England is the English government agency responsible for the protection and improvement of the natural environment.
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 established
Natural England with this purpose:
‘to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced, and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development’.
Natural England was formed from parts of former agencies as follows:
• all of English Nature;
• the environment activities part of the Rural Development Service (a part of DEFRA);
• the Countryside Agency’s Landscape, Access and Recreation division.
It has all the powers of the former bodies including awarding grants, giving advice and information, designating Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, managing National Nature Reserves, and enforcing the associated regulations. Natural England does not include the Environment Agency, or the Forestry Commission.
See the Natural
England Strategic Direction 2006 - 2009 document (pdf) explaining the functions
of the new agency.
The Natural England website now has some reasonably userful stuff on it, includes plenty from the former agencies. Expect it to change about as the new body gets organised.
Problems with Natural EnglandThe new agency got off to an inauspicious start when £12M was cut from its budget before it was even launched. This caused some controversy. There is also some concern that a part of the reason for this reorganisation was to give more political control to the previously (fairly) independant agencies. For example, 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 bodies.
See The Ranger's Blog for various Natural England stories, including more about the budget cuts.