Juniper: Natural England ‘needs £140m more each year’

Successive cutbacks to Natural England’s budget over recent years have put “enormous stress and strain” on staff, according to its chair Tony Juniper.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post newspaper, he said that the biodiversity and landscape regulator needs at least £40m more each year “just to do its basic job.” But a further £50-100m is needed in order to implement the objectives of the 25-Year Environment Plan, set to be put on a statutory footing by the Environment Bill, he said.

Doing so would put the budget back to the kind of level seen before austerity kicked in, since when around 1,000 staff have been shed. It now has just over 1,500 in place – “limiting our ability to do what we would like to do in being able to have good, ongoing, deeper relationships with the farming community which are about face-to-face conversations,” Juniper said.

Juniper hopes to “make the case for properly investing in the recovery of the natural environment, and as the country makes that step, towards resourcing the agencies that do that work, we can be rebuilding those relationships that we have with the farming community... but we need resources to do that.”

Juniper made the comments on a visit to South Acre Farm near York on Friday, a dairy farm that has cut water and air pollution since taking advice from the Catchment Sensitive Farming service – a partnership of DEFRA, the Environment Agency and Natural England. Of the 20,000 farms that have done so, four fifths have seen such improvements or received financial benefits, according to DEFRA.

Over its first 12 years, participating areas have seen soil, nitrogen and phosphorus losses cut by 4-12%, on average. Reducing fertiliser applications to what is really needed has also cut costs, according to the department. 

South Acre owner Paul Tompkins said that it was vital to have to regional officers that understand local issues, as they can provide tailored advice. Juniper agreed, adding that farmers value advice from people they know “by working together we can get an awful lot done”.

Juniper admitted that there is “some correlation” between England’s falling biodiversity and the deep cuts to England’s budgets in an interview with ENDS last week. But there are deeper reasons, too: urban and agricultural expansion, climate change and agricultural intensification all taking their toll over the years, he said.

“What I would be confident in saying, is that if we do wish to turn things around we need to address those fundamental drivers. And one of the ways we can do that is through a properly funded, well-resourced and politically strongly-backed nature conservation agency,” Juniper added.

 

Catchment Sensitive Farming Evaluation Report – Water Quality Phases 1 to 4

http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/4538826523672576

 

 

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