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. Continue reading The end of the Natural England website

Isle of Wight Natural Area profile: what it is and why you should read it

The government’s advisor on the natural environment, Natural England, has just published the long-awaited Natural Character Area profile for the Isle of Wight.Isle of Wight Natural Area ProfileSounds dull? It isn’t. NCA profiles are being compiled for the whole of England, and each one is an in-depth analysis of the landscape, wildlife and human activity within one of England’s 159 Natural Character Areas. It’s not an action plan but it does have some “Statements of Environmental Opportunity” which mostly prove to be longwinded ways to make some pretty obvious suggestions for priorities if we want to conserve and enhance our natural area.  And given how we have done so far, obvious suggestions are not at all a bad thing. Continue reading Isle of Wight Natural Area profile: what it is and why you should read it

Should we pay £375,000 to poke buzzards out of their nests?

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.

Buzzard (c) Lisa Lawley

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 Should we pay £375,000 to poke buzzards out of their nests?

Government websites: Natural England disputes DEFRA’s announcement

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.

Love chips!

Continue reading Government websites: Natural England disputes DEFRA’s announcement

A stroll by the beach

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.

Coastal access on the Isle of Wight

Current coastal access on the Isle of Wight © Crown copyright

Natural England has now assessed existing coastal access, and published indicative maps showing what they think the situation is around England. This picture is an extract. So, what does it mean? Continue reading A stroll by the beach

Natural England: former EN website was hacked

Naturenet reported on 7 April about the problems with the former English Nature website. A fortnight later and it’s still broken – so what’s the story? Chris Moos, Natural England’s Online Communications Manager spoke exclusively to The Virtual Ranger about the problem. Continue reading Natural England: former EN website was hacked

Coastal right of access – what’s all this about ‘spreading room’?

It’s been a couple of months now since Natural England announced the proposals to create a new right of access to the coast of England, similar to that which already exists in Scotland.

Cyclist on coastal footpath, Redcliff, Isle of Wight

Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband has waded in and made it very clear indeed what he wants to happen. Continue reading Coastal right of access – what’s all this about ‘spreading room’?

Natural England to recommend right of access to England’s coast… and pay for it?

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.

A footpath sign

Continue reading Natural England to recommend right of access to England’s coast… and pay for it?

Natural England… reading the runes

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.