Nat­u­ral Eng­land ‘raided’ for Brexit du­ties

Western Morning News - - Westcountry Business - BY WMN RE­PORTER

Michael Gove has been warned not to let Brexit prepa­ra­tions get in the way of work to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

Some 400 staff have been loaned or sec­onded to the Depart­ment for En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs from its agen­cies.

En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Mr Gove in­sisted that “pri­or­ity roles” in bod­ies in­clud­ing Nat­u­ral Eng­land (NE) and the En­vi­ron­ment Agency were be­ing “back­filled” if staff had left to work on Brexit.

But Mary Creagh, chair­woman of the Com­mons En­vi­ron­men­tal Au­dit Com­mit­tee, said it was “dis­ap­point­ing” that NE had been “raided” for staff.

Around 50 staff from NE have been sec­onded to Brexit roles.

Of those, 13 had been spend­ing most of their time work­ing on sites of spe­cific sci­en­tific in­ter­est (SSSIs).

In a let­ter to Ms Creagh, Mr Gove said: “The work that peo­ple were do­ing on SSSIs prior to their EU Exit sec­ond­ments has been passed to oth­ers to ab­sorb in to their work plans.”

Con­cerns have been raised about SSSIs af­ter fig­ures from Nat­u­ral Eng­land showed a fall over the last two years in the pro­por­tion of SSSIs as­sessed as be­ing in a favourable con­di­tion.

Ms Creagh said: “Prepa­ra­tions for leav­ing the EU must not get in the way of pro­tect­ing our trea­sured nat­u­ral spa­ces and iconic Bri­tish wildlife.

“It is dis­ap­point­ing that De­fra has raided staff at Nat­u­ral Eng­land, the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing some of the most highly val­ued wildlife ar­eas in Eng­land to pre­pare for Brexit.

“Nat­u­ral Eng­land must not be­come a poor re­la­tion to De­fra. Min­is­ters must en­sure the valu­able work it does to pro­mote bio­di­ver­sity is given the pri­or­ity it de­serves.”

Green Party MP Caro­line Lu­cas said: “The Govern­ment’s poach­ing of Nat­u­ral Eng­land staff for Brexit work is the lat­est in a string of cut­backs that are dec­i­mat­ing the agency that looks af­ter irreplaceable habi­tats and beau­ti­ful land­scapes.”

She added: “This let­ter proves Michael Gove’s prom- ise of a ‘Green Brexit’ is pure blus­ter.”

A De­fra group spokesman said: “Over 80% of De­fra’s agenda is af­fected by Brexit and as a re­sult a num­ber of staff from across the De­fra group are now sup­port­ing our com­pre­hen­sive pro­gramme of work.

“How­ever, we are clear this must not im­pact our com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing our en­vi­ron­ment and the vi­tal work of Nat­u­ral Eng­land in pro­tect­ing our nat­u­ral spa­ces and wildlife.”

‘Gove’s prom­ise of a ‘Green Brexit’ is pure blus­ter’

Green MP Caro­line Lu­cas

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