Mixed views of rural strategy

BOTH ENGLISH Nature and the Countryside Agency have welcomed the government‘s proposals for a new integrated environment and landscape agency.

But the reaction from Friends of the Earth, the Country Land & Business Association and the unions representing DEFRA staff was more critical.

According to the plans, about half of the CA will transfer into a new integrated agency for landscape, recreation and nature, and a new, smaller countryside agency will be created as a rural advocate and independent watchdog.

Pam Warhurst, chair of the CA, said: “This is a fifty-year landmark. Since the legislation of the 1940s, nature conservation and landscape protection have come under separate bodies.”

“But now we know that a joined-up approach to habitats and landscapes is essential if the nation is to achieve nature conservation in a way that people can get out and enjoy,” Ms Warhurst said.

Sir Martin Doughty, chair of EN, also welcomed the idea of bringing together nature, landscape and access into one body.

“We want people from all parts of society to learn about, enjoy and be inspired by the incredibly rich and varied nature and landscapes of England.

“Looking after them for the benefit of future generations is a great responsibility which needs a strong and independent agency,” Sir Martin said.

The reaction from FoE was more critical.

The environmental organisation argued that the new integrated agency in effect will mean the abolition of EN, which, it said, had been a thorn in the side of the government in recent years.

“What is needed is a wildlife watchdog, not a Government poodle,” said FoE England director Paul de Zylva.

He added: “The laws setting up the new body will be the real test of the government‘s intentions.

“Only then will Margaret Beckett‘s vision of England as a ‘treasure trove of diverse and wonderful wildlife‘ stand a chance of being realised.”

Unions representing staff in DEFRA have criticised the government for failing to clarify how it plans to create the new integrated agency and pointed out that staff had not been given any indication of the new agency‘s size and scope or about the overall number of job losses across the affected organizations.

The CLA stated the new rural strategy did not put enough emphasis on rural economic development.

“Mrs Beckett said that ‘farming remains at the heart of rural society‘ – we agree! But the strategy report neglects to recognise that agriculture generates jobs and incomes and produces food,” said CLA president Mark Hudson.

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