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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  1. I’ve just followed the links from




    and tried to follow the link to ‘irreplaceable natural habitats such as ancient woodland and limestone pavement’.

    I got this url
    but the page actually says:
    ‘This item has been archived’.

    Okay, they then give you the options of going to
    but neither of these pages is actually a direct link to a page about ‘irreplaceable natural habitats such as ancient woodland and limestone pavement’.

    Could this be because so many people complained when Owen Paterson declared in the New Year (did he hope we’d all be so sozzled after Hogmanay that we wouldn’t notice?) that it was acceptable for developers to destroy ancient woodland as long as they planted some trees somewhere else, and maybe in the next county?

    The Conservative Party used to claim that they were the party who understood the countryside and knew about conservation. There even used to be some truth in it, but no more. This government appears to be so in love with money and power that they’ll
    sell not just their grandmothers but what should be their grandchildren’s inheritance for a mess of motorway or HS2 or yet another housing estate that nobody on an average salary (let alone the minimum wage) can afford to live in.

  2. If we thought that the sacking of Owen Paterson meant that the government had finally woken up a bit to the facts of ecological life, then we were fooled.

    It seems that it wasn’t enough for them to cut local government funding, so that local politicians had an excuse to be as short-sighted as national politicians and to sack conservation and countryside staff.

    Now they want to make sure that any tiny remnant of responsible council officers will be starved of the information they need to protect our landscapes and habitats and species.

    Then big businesses can trash whatever they like because nobody will stop them.

    It makes me feel physically sick with anger.

    This government still believe that the environment is dependent on the economy. They haven’t understood that that’s the opposite of the truth, and that in fact human civilisation cannot survive without a healthy environment for us to live in.

    But such wilful malicious ignorance is no excuse for their attacks on conservationists.

    Roll on May 2015 when we will have a chance to vote for some sanity.