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.