Drought and Cuts – EXCLUSIVE

If the government are serious about ecosystem services and the benefits it brings to society then they would not be cutting staff, they would be investing in agencies like Natural England, in recognition of the longer term benefits (economic, social and environmental) that good ‘ecosystem services’ can bring.

But I can reveal today that they ARE cutting staff in precisely the aspects of the work of NE and other similar agencies which are responsible for – managing and preventing droughts…

Caroline Spelman MP basked in the triumph of DEFRA’s UK National Ecosystems Assessment (‘NEA’; an initiative, she failed to state that was conceived and started by the last Government) on the Today programme last week (June 2nd) telling listeners how: We have until now, I think, taken nature for granted very often and not understood that the services it provides actually do have cost and certainly if we destroy nature there is a really significant cost. So this is absolutely groundbreaking, we are the first country to do this and to actually get a full understanding of what we get free from nature and the factor that into our decision making.’ She went on to praise the hard work of the 500 scientists who contributed to the assessment and told us how she had seen with her own eyes the importance of maintaining the flood preventing ecosystem services of the North Yorkshire moors just last week. At the other end of this scale, on today’s (June 10th) ‘Today’, Spelman reacted to the East England drought by telling us that we need to build ‘resilience’ in the face of Manmade Climate Change, its hard not to agree with her. The UK NEA highlights the significant economic value of our ecosystem services, while noting the intangible spiritual value of nature. Cheif DEFRA scientist, Prof. Bob Watson stated at the UK NEA launch that There is an urgent need to better manage our ecosystems and the natural resources they provide us with.’ Both he and Spelman clearly recognise the importance of protecting and enhancing the ability of the environment to do things like purify water running off from farm land, pollinate crops and flowers and provide us with spectacular views. The hypocrisy is this, DEFRA are saying all this while forcing budget cuts on the agencies responsible for protecting and enhancing these ecosystem services.

Last November, in the wake of the Comprehensive Spending Review, Peter Nottage, a Regional director of Natural England, issued a response to the funding cuts being imposed on them. He said this: ‘Natural England’s funding allocation over the four years covered by the Spending Review has not yet been determined but, as you may be aware, we have plans in place for a cut in the region of 30%.’ Nottage was falling on his sword a little bit here; he was moving sideways in the organisation as his role of Regional Director was to go immediately. The trimming of the Executive team was commensurate with this commitment: ‘We are of course maintaining our focus on frontline delivery through this period of change and we will also be making sure that we retain our high levels of professional expertise across the full range of our work.’ This 30% cut translates to the loss of a third of jobs at Natural England. Redundancies will come into effect in September as they seek to cut expenditure on salaries from £96.4m in 2009/10 to £70m in 2014/15. This will make it incredibly hard to do what Natural England is there to do, namely to ‘protect and improve England’s natural environment and encourage people to enjoy and get involved in their surroundings’ .

I have it on very good authority (see below) that frontline staff at Natural England will lose their jobs, some as soon as this autumn. It is massively frustrating to see Spelman and the Government getting away with this wholesale neglect of our environment. This article is intended to expose that neglect – so that they can’t just get away with it…

It should have come as little surprise when an associate called a colleague of mine from the middle of a windy field in rural England to tell us that his/her job was on the line. He/she was at work, in a field; can you get any more frontline than that? It is likely that he/she will be made redundant this autumn, but he/she does not want the sack before then, so I can’t name him/her. He/she is a scientist/technician working on Natural England’s ‘Delivering Nature’s Services – The upland Ecosystem Services Pilots‘ ; a frontline project aiming: ”To demonstrate that investment in the natural environment can result in multiple benefits (carbon, water, biodiversity, recreational and health benefits…) for people and society in a cost effective way.” These pilot projects make use of cutting edge science and expert scientists. Natural England have been successfully working with many of the UK’s leading academics and commercial companies like United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and South West Water to deliver on this. They are making real strides, with benefits for business, communities, farmers and the environment — but they are going to be stopped in their tracks thanks to the DEFRA imposed budget slash.

Making cuts in this kind of applied water-related research, at a time when (today) an unprecedented drought has just been declared across Norfolk (where I am writing from) and large parts of the East of England is the apotheosis of un-joined-up-government.

Our source told us how much of a direct link there is between the pilot projects he’s been working on who are working in conjunction with the water agencies to what’s going on in East Anglia and Eastern England more generally, today. Especially in terms of the likely removal of key EA staff who are there to improve ecosystem services, so that water is kept in the local ecosystems and does not just run off.

I’m told that only one of the the pilot projects will remain staffed, the others will not see it through to informed delivery. As today’s drought shows us, the environment is increasingly coming under stress. Removing the experts who are capable of designing and delivering the much needed ‘infrastructure’, that Spelman quite rightly stressed the need for this morning, seems deeply illogical. Our associate tells us that Natural England is in total disarray, there is a tremendous loss of expertise across the organisation, staff are losing jobs left, right and centre and they have no clue which parts of their work will continue and which ones will fall by the wayside. I would not be surprised if the case is not similar in the other key government agencies that house the scientific knowledge and mechanisms needed to enhance our ecosystem services and protect our natural environment.

If the Government is serious in its proclamations about the importance of ecosystem services and protecting us against such things as today’s droughts, it should be investing in more scientists for the front line, not cutting the jobs of literally hundreds of them.

Visiting Hullbridge on Tuesday 14th June in support of Green Party byelection Candidate Diane Hoy


I’m visiting Hullbridge on the afternoon of the 14th June with a small party from Norwich (including elected Councillors) to support Green Party Candidate Diane Hoy in this by-election… The by-election is being held on the 16th June and Diane stands a very good chance to become the second Green Councillor on the District Council by joining her husband Michael who was elected last year.

The key issue at this by-election is the Tory policy of building 500 houses on Green Belt land within the village.  This was opposed by over 800 residents during a consultation last year, which the Tory Administration has ignored and the Green Party will now be demanding that the Council meet to discuss this in full.

I am really looking forward to meeting the voters of Hullbridge this Tuesday. They have a great opportunity at this byelection to create a Green Party group on the local Council, by electing Diane to make up a Hoy husband-and-wife team on the Council. I think that local people are already well aware that only the Greens can be trusted to fight development on Green Belt land tooth and nail: now is the chance to strengthen that fight.

#Lansley: a clever, ruthless liar

The lie is that there is a funding crisis threatening the N.H.S. IF his ‘reforms’ don’t go through. The truth is simpler: that there is a funding crisis facing the NHS. Full stop. The government’s cuts, the money wasted and given away to fatcats due to ongoing privatisation exercises (including of course PFI) and the lack of any serious efforts to ‘green’ the N.H.S. (e.g. to place more emphasis (and push more money into) on prevention, and less on mega-hospitals) mean that there is a huge funding hole looming in the N.H.S. over the next few years. Talk to anyone who understands the N.H.S. (such as those who advised the last government on it) as I have done, and they will tell you the same. The funding gap is unprecedentedly large. The wheels will come off, unless more money is injected, or unless management costs and money siphoned off to the private sector is removed, or unless the N.H.S. is ‘greened’ – or, preferably, all three.
What’s clever of course is that, if Lansley gets away with the lie, then he wins either way. Either his ruthless, bold attempt to savage the NHS will be bought into, out of fear that, if he is right, then ‘TINA’; or nevertheless the government backs off his ‘reforms’ under popular pressure, and he resigns, and then in 3 years’ time he is ‘vindicated’, as the wheels come off the NHS, and he can say “I told you so”. Maybe he then even gets drafted back in desperation, to go through with his ‘reforms’; or maybe he then even makes a bid for the Deputy Leadership or the Leadership of the Tory Party, harnessing the discontent of right-wing true believers…

Nuclear power: STILL No Thanks!

So: the German Government is looking far enough to see sense as far as Nuclear power is concerned.
When will the UK follow Germany’s lead, abandon its foolish nuclear ambitions, and invest properly in renewable energy instead? Solar, tidal, wave, wind and biomass are the energies of the future – and we are rich in all of them, here in the east of England.
I realise that there are those who will say that Bradwell and Sizewell are safe — but the exact same thing was thought of Fukushima before the devastating consequences of the multiple meltdown that occurred. 300,000 people are going to have to end up leaving their homes – possibly forever. Is that really what we want, here in England’s green and pleasant land?
These things were brought about by an inability to cool the reactors due, ironically, to an interruption in the water and energy supply to the Fukushima plant. That could happen anywhere – it doesn’t need a tsunami…
Germany aims to replace its nuclear programme with a more flexible gas powered system, which is highly efficient and produces less harmful pollutants, combined of course with a much greater push towards renewables. This, they believe, will secure the energy needs of Germany for many years to come, and make the country _more_ energy secure.
The reality is that nuclear is far from safe, expensive to produce, hard to get rid of the waste the process produces, and not available now.
Let’s be leaders in this forward thinking, rather than backward looking. Let’s invest in clean, green, energies of the future. Not in poisonous nuclear.

Our children will thank us, if we make the right choice, this time.