Working for Natural England I became used to the annual ebbs and flows of environmental funding and watched as over the years the arena changed from that of plenty to that of none. Cuts to DEFRA’s budget have been highlighted in a recent article in The Guardian1 which suggests that cuts “equal 57% in real terms over the course of two parliaments”. These cuts are reflected in the budgets of the DEFRA family organisations, which have been continually slashed resulting in less money in the system year on year for important environmental work; looking forward, this trend looks set to continue.
At Natural England, with less money in the system, environmental projects have had to become more prioritised and outcome focused, quite often limiting projects to designated sites where they can contribute to often unrealistic organisational targets set by DEFRA. Even the limited funding streams that are left for priority sites may not be guaranteed, recently hearing that SSSI improvement, and Partnership and Innovation funds have been axed along with all of the planned in-year projects.
Other important environmental projects that 1) don’t hit (multiple) targets, or 2) are not on a ‘priority’ site, are left to the good will of staff, charities and voluntary sector – all of whom do a great job with limited resources. These sectors will have an ever increasing role in the future as government budgets dwindle.
So where does this leave us? The burden on the purse strings and strain on resources at Natural England (NE), Forestry Commission (FC) and Environment agency (EA) may be about to increase under DEFRA’s Species Control Provisions which were published for consultation 7th December 20152. The provisions will allow Secretary of State and the regulatory bodies listed above to take action against invasive non-native species, by issuing Species Control Orders to land owners forcing action by law.
It’s great that the Government is taking Invasive Non-native species (INNS) seriously, and so they must. A recent government strategy paper2 suggests that 10-15% of INNS in Great Britain cause significant adverse impacts, and estimates the economic impact to the UK at least £1.7 billion a year, with Japanese Knotweed making up £166 million of that. Impacts are not solely economic, these species have huge ecological impacts on our native fauna and flora; INNS prey on or out compete our native species and have the potential to spread disease.
So the importance of tacking Invasive non-native species in the UK is clear, actions will have economic, environmental and social benefits…but…and this is a big BUT…how is this going to be funded? Are we in the same position of trying to do more with less, and just how are just how are the regulatory body’s like Natural England going to cope when already under huge strain?
- Emma Howard (2015), “DEFRA hit by largest budget cuts of any UK government department, analysis shows” The Guardian 11th November.
- DEFRA (Dec 2015)
- DEFRA; The Scottish Government; Welsh Government. August 2015.”The Great British Non-Native Species Stratagy”
Surveyor – JKSL