Natural England… reading the runes

Matthew Chatfield

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.

Natural England logo
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.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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