The government body has a legal duty to protect the environment, but says its standards have slipped because it is running out of money.
By Madeleine Cuff November 13, inews.co.uk
England’s most precious patches of wildlife habitat are being left unmonitored and unprotected due to a funding shortfall at the nature conservation body Natural England.
Chair of the agency Tony Juniper revealed Natural England has been forced to dramatically scale back its conservation work because it has not been given enough money to run by government.
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Much of this conservation work, which includes regular monitoring of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and assessing the environmental impact of planning applications, is legally required of Natural England.
“Natural England’s current funding is below the level required to deliver all of our statutory duties to a good standard,” Mr Juniper admitted today in a letter to MPs. He warned the agency could face legal challenges for its inaction.
Natural England is now only doing the legal minimum to maintain National Nature Reserves, like this one in Northumberland (Photo: Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Crowdfunding for cash
Natural England has been in dire financial straits for some time. Its baseline grant from the government has been cut by 45 per cent since 2014. Last year it even set up a crowdfunding page for the public to make donations to fund its work, before the government stepped in earlier this year and awarded the body an additional £15m.
Lack of cash means planning applications that could harm local wildlife or habitats are going unchecked and management of national nature reserves has been dramatically scaled back, Mr Juniper admitted.
Most seriously, the rarest natural habitats are not being regularly monitored, resulting in officials failing to spot serious problems like pollution or rapid population declines of rare wildlife.
Mr Juniper said Natural England will struggle to carry out its duties effectively until it can get a long-term settlement generous enough to fund its essential activities. He estimates the body will need at least £322m next year and £389m the following year to fulfil its duties.
“This is a vital moment for the natural environment,” he said. “There are some very encouraging signs to look towards for the future – things we know work and we know how to approach them. The ability to make a difference is within our grasp.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are currently assessing the budgets for our arm’s length bodies as part of the Spending Review process and will update on this in due course.
“This government is committed to restoring and enhancing nature, introducing the first new Environment Bill for 20 years and setting ambitious goals in our 25 Year Environment Plan.
“We recognise the ongoing pressures on the country’s biodiversity and many of our native species are in decline, which is why we must continue to act to restore and enhance nature.”