Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Wildlife Trusts (G29)


  1.  The Wildlife Trusts welcome the opportunity to comment to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Inquiry into the role of DEFRA.

  2.  The Wildlife Trusts are a partnership of 47 Wildlife Trusts, across the UK, caring for almost 2,500 nature reserves. The partnership campaigns for the protection of wildlife and invests in the future by helping people of all ages to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of nature. The Wildlife Trusts have a membership of over 382,000 people and are the largest non-government group in the UK concerned with all aspects of wildlife and the environment.

  3.  The Wildlife Trusts are heavily involved in work with DEFRA at national, regional and local level. We see ourselves as key partners in supporting the work of the Department, and have a close relationship with individuals on technical, policy and funding issues. In addition, the priorities for the work of The Wildlife Trusts relate to most areas of the rural and marine environment placing us in a good position to comment on the Department's progress.

  4.  The Wildlife Trusts support those comments already made as part of the Wildlife and Countryside Link submission (attached). In this response, we provide further details in relation to the particular expertise and experiences across The Wildlife Trusts.


  5.  The Wildlife Trusts welcome the establishment of the new Department as a major step towards integrating policy and contributing to sustainability for our rural environment. Bringing environment together with food and rural affairs provides the potential for closer working, joined up policy and greater recognition of environmental issues. However, there are clearly dangers of merged Departments becoming too unwieldy, resulting in poor communication, little integration and a static culture. In addition, there is evidence of a lack of integration with other Departments on related issues (such as transport and planning).

  6.  On balance we believe that despite a difficult year, not least dealing with the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease, DEFRA has made some good progress in the areas of agriculture, water and marine.


  7.  The Wildlife Trusts believe that the DEFRA vision represents a positive move towards the integration of policy that is required for the promotion of sustainability. However, there are a number of concerns with the way the vision is currently set out. The vision does not adequately recognise the links between the urban and rural environments and is in danger of contributing to an urban and rural divide. Issues such as food and environment encompass both rural and urban communities, whilst planning and transport impact on the whole environment.

  8.  In addition, progress towards this vision has not always taken a holistic view. For example, the recent flooding incidents have been seen as a development issue rather than looking more widely at the management of our wetlands systems. Similarly, current proposals for changes to the development planning system have not been adequately integrated with environmental concerns. We would like to see DEFRA taking a broader and more holistic view of the environment, with increased responsibility and a commitment to integrating more closely with other Departments on this issue.

  9.  The Wildlife Trusts are pleased to see the emphasis on sustainability within the vision, but are concerned that this focuses on "sustainable development". This term is interpreted differently by different users, and we feel it would be clearer to use "sustainability" instead.

  10.  The Wildlife Trusts believe that there is the beginning of a culture change within the Department to recognise the value and importance of the environment and wildlife conservation in contributing to economic and social issues. We believe that this thinking is essential if we are to move to a more sustainable future, and that to do so the Department needs to put more emphasis on biodiversity issues. Indeed, we feel it essential that the DEFRA vision emphasises the "protection and enhancement" rather than "promotion" of biodiversity as a key aim.

  11.  We have been pleased with the integration of biodiversity with economic and social issues within the England Biodiversity Strategy process, led by the Wildlife and Countryside Division. We would like to see this strategy given a much higher profile as a key implementation tool within the Department.

  12.  With this integration, there is an increased opportunity for more efficient use of resources. We would welcome further developments to link policy and resources in areas such as farming, flooding and rural development with environmental processes, thereby promoting sustainability. To achieve this, the current administrative systems need to be restructured to improve communication and integration.

  13.  One major concern we have in relation to weight given to particular areas of activity is with funding and resources committed to the marine environment. For example, only 3 per cent of Environmental Action Fund (EAF) money goes to the marine environment and the UK Maritime steering group which The Wildlife Trusts co-chair has achieved little because of lack of resources. Similarly, the first DEFRA Marine Stewardship Report states that lack of funds and staff resources has restricted progress. The Wildlife Trusts would like to see DEFRA taking a stronger lead and committing increased resources to the marine environment.

  14.  One of the impacts on delivery within the new DEFRA structure has been the number of review processes undertaken. While we recognise the need and value of reviewing existing practices, we are concerned that these may be time consuming, may stall real policy change, or take the place of activity that delivers real outputs. For example, it has now been 18 months since the consultation on draft legislation for the Water Bill. We would encourage the future vision for DEFRA to be concentrated on delivery rather than review, with any necessary review processes being undertaken as quickly as possible. The consultation process associated with the development of the England Biodiversity Strategy is a good example of where consultation can be both rapid and effective.

19 July 2002

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