The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has published a new report that sets out their view on how some of Defra’s agencies can and should work in order to recover nature in England.



A blog written by Jess Chappell – RSPB  England Senior Policy Officer – introduces the report and explains how nature risks losing out in the face of major regulatory reform:  Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and the Marine Management Organisation are just four of a multitude of arms-length bodies (ALBs) in England which exist to do exactly that – to provide specialist expertise on environmental matters and challenge the government and others to ensure that environmental standards are maintained. But ongoing threats of reform and reorganisation mean that the future of these bodies looks uncertain. 

Funding cuts
Successive funding and staff cuts to Defra’s arm’s length bodies over the years have already left them struggling to fulfil their regulatory duties. Then in early 2022 Defra’s Nature Recovery Green Paper set out government’s proposals to deliver on their ambitions to restore nature and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. The very same Paper also included plans to explore options for the future structure of Defra’s arm’s length bodies. 

Improving management at sea

The report says there is considerable scope to strengthen Natural England’s role in the marine environment in the context of increasing pressures in our seas, and the need to ensure that marine energy deployment is in harmony with nature.

With regard to the Marine Management Organisation, the RSPB make a number of recommendations, one of which is to set ‘Clear frameworks and a strengthened statutory duty to deliver for nature’. The report says that the MMO is dependent on working effectively with other agencies – for example NE, JNCC and the Crown Estate. They would like to see more effective working between these agencies by clarifying roles and responsibilities, and in turn reducing duplication and increasing delivery of environmental duties by giving it the tools to consider the marine environment. 

Nature needs the best we can offer

In the report RSPB recommend empowering and better resourcing the existing agencies. They say that Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and the Marine Management Organisation need proper funding, with access to in-house expertise to ensure that government policy is underpinned by evidence. They need to be fully independent from government to allow them to give advice free from political interference. Finally, all four organisations must be empowered by a legal duty to recover nature, and mutual objectives to help them work together. A set of straightforward improvements that could be delivered immediately and would result in huge benefits for nature.

The blog can be read here as well as further information on the full report.

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