Andrew Sells starts as Chairman of Natural England on Monday (20th). If we could wave our magic wands and appear in his office that morning, what would we suggest to him as his top priorities?
Some might suggest the Badger Cull, which Natural England is responsible for regulating. The Badger cull cost over £4000 per badger killed, plus over £1300 per badger on policing. That’s well over £5k per badger; and the culling targets were missed. Perhaps Natural England can come up with some better ideas.
Then there are the “gold plated” European nature directives and their pesky SPAs and SACs. The Chancellor has already made these into political footballs and their protection is being weakened, as they are seen as “barriers to economic growth”.
And of course not forgetting the flooding, both from rivers and coasts. Will Sells support Paterson’s approach to tackling flooding ie let farmers dredge their own land to the max, speeding water downstream into towns and villages.
What about the New Common Agricultural Policy, the much vaunted “Greening” measures and the new Environmental Land Management Schemes? There’s plenty more horse trading to be done here, with a much reduced budget, thanks to the NFU successfully lobbying Defra to reduce modulation from 15% to 12%. Mind you we were lucky, Northern Ireland had a 0% modulation rate forced on them after a court challenge.
Not forgetting SSSIs, implementing the 2020 England Biodiversity Strategy, Nature Improvement Areas, Coastal Access and hundred other priorities.
No, I don’t think he should be thinking about any of these just at the moment. I think he has to do two things, quickly.
Firstly reinvigorate Natural England’s Board, both exec and non-exec. It’s time for a big clear out. There’ll be a new Chief Exec, new Exec Directors and lots of the Non-Execs are up for renewal. So Mr Sells, please select your Board carefully. It should have the right combination of nature experts, business experts and advocacy experts. These people should have serious standing in Whitehall and Westminster.
Secondly Mr Sells you need to be making yourself very well known in Whitehall (not just Defra, which seems to be dying on its feet) and Westminster. You need to have the ear of the Environment Secretary – he may actually listen to you. Or perhaps just talk to Matt Ridley and let him explain it to Opatz. Regular visits to give evidence to the EFRA and EAC select committees and a good working relationship with Professor Helm at the Natural Capital Committee should be obligatory; and I am sure you would alreays be very welcome at the Biodiversity APPG.
You already have very good links into the Tory party- use them ruthlessly to benefit nature and Natural England. You need to be lobbying vociferously in public and behind the scenes – to make Natural England relevant and valuable. But don’t forget to foster links with Labour – they could well be in power (or part power) in just over a year’s time.
NE needs to be at the top of its game in the next few years (back to where English Nature and FRCA were in the early 2000s), to make the most of the new NELMS, to better protect sites, and to quietly but effectively kill off loony policies coming up from the Think Tanks (about which you know a great deal.) That means an increased budget and taking on more staff again.
Good luck Mr Sells.