The end of the Natural England website

Way back in 1995, when Naturenet began  – yes fact fans, that was nearly twenty years ago – there were very few official government websites about anything – certainly not conservation and countryside. Naturenet blazed a trail that made it one of the biggest and most popular conservation websites in the UK. This wasn’t actually that hard, as there was little else. So when the government’s nature conservation agency, English Nature, first created a website in 2001, Naturenet had been publicising the same things for over five years.

Time has moved on, and lots of government websites came along publishing huge amounts of useful information and making Naturenet just one of many small websites. English Nature became Natural England, but then when the current government came to power that in turn was absorbed within DEFRA, no longer an independent government agency charged with “championing the cause of wildlife and natural features throughout England”. Instead, just another arm of government with no separate voice or policy. Maybe a part of the government’s campaign to reduce what  Chancellor George Osborne described as the “ridiculous costs on British businesses” that complying with environmental laws brings.

And now, the wheel has turned full circle and there’s no longer a Natural England website.  It’s become just another part of the gov.uk megasite. The principle of absorbing all government online information into one massive portal at gov.uk is actually a good one. What is far less good is that the opportunity has been take to decorticate the content. Plenty of information has been moved across to the new website, but a lot has been left behind and archived.

I realised this when an incredulous colleague pointed out to me what had become of the once copious guidance notes on the biodiversity duty for public authorities. A bit specialist? Maybe – but an important thing for us local authority employees as it’s one of the few statutory levers we have to say “Hey, don’t cut our services, the government wants you to do all this stuff”.  Now it’s reduced to a single page of watered-down platitudes such as

Public authorities can support biodiversity when managing green infrastructure by leaving some unmanaged areas to provide food for birds and animals

Public authorities can support biodiversity when managing sites and buildings by considering the impact caused by use of energy, water, and chemicals, or by air, noise and light pollution

Well yes, but is that it? Really? I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps I’ll have to start updating those dusty old pages of Naturenet again – looks as though they might be needed after all these years.

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