Memorandum submitted by the Wildlife Trusts
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
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
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
19 July 2002