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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

English Nature at risk
The environmental correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Roger Harrabin, has learnt that Lord Haskin's review of government services in the countryside will recommend the effective abolition of English Nature, the country's independent scientific watchdog.

It has been suggested that the disbanding of English Nature and the splitting of its responsibilities between the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Regional Development Agencies + local councils would help to separate policy from delivery, and clarify who is responsible for what.

However, there are widespread concerns that the weakening of environmental protection by such a break up would result in the "selling of the biodiversity police to the agricultural mafia", a "toothless watchdog without any bark" + the loss of "uncomfortable and inconvenient critic"...

This is exactly what happened when the Department of Conservation and Land Management was formed in Western Australia (and for a long time headed by a forester) and during the tenure of the UK's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries + Food (which was ultimately responsible for much of the mad cow disease debacle)... with environmental concerns and problems given much less priority than those of economic interests.

In the case of English Nature, Friends of the Earth fear the proposed changes will lead to:

* The loss of an independent internal critic

* The lack of a strong Government advocate for protection of already threatened wildlife sites

* A conflict of interest similar to the dangerous confusion in the former Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) which found it hard to champion both farming and consumer issues

* Growing threats to and direct loss of important species and habitats

Earth-Info.Net therefore feels that the maintenance and improvement of English Nature as a fearless and impartial environmental watchdog is more sensible than its destruction, especially if widely publicised commitments to sustainable development are to be worth anything.