Tony Juniper for NE Chair

So the rumours were right. Tony Juniper is heading to be, almost certainly, the new Chair of Natural England.

Congratulations to him – he is a star of the environment movement – and fingers crossed he, with Marian Spain, can make a difference at what is a sadly failing organisation.

And, it has to be said, well done Michael Gove for choosing a person with great environmental standing and a fine track record. If Andrew Sells was never ‘one of us’, Tony has never been anything else. It’s a strong unambiguous signal of intent.

The Chair is a big job and a responsible role, but it isn’t actually the hands-on running of the organisation. Tony’s strengths lie in many areas but I think he might agree that his leadership qualities surpass his management skills (huge though they are) and that is exactly what is needed in that role, and for this organisation.

I thought some time ago, when I heard the rumour, ‘Let it be true!’ but sometimes you can’t really tell how you feel until something is real – I feel chuffed to bits for Tony and slightly more optimistic for our wildlife.

Looks like he is pleased too…

I trust all of Tony’s friends will take the mickey out of him mercilessly in order to keep his feet on the ground.

I interviewed Tony for Behind More Binoculars and all NE staff should read that interview to get a measure of the man who is almost certainly going to be their new Chair. It is perhaps indicative that we met at Wicken Fen to talk, and record the interview, and then went out to look for roosting Hen Harriers and saw some!

Tony is a fisherman. I asked him about this when we met:

Mark Avery: I’m always surprised that fishermen and birdy people aren’t more cooperative.
Tony Juniper: Yes, they should be. There is an awful lot in common. But the two sides instead spend all their time arguing over Cormorants!
And often in the schism between fishing and nature conservation you see the animal welfare issue raised. That aspect made Friends of the Earth quite nervous – unreasonably so I think.

And this answer was interesting, and is so in the context of his new role:

Mark Avery: What achievements at FoE gave you most pleasure?
Tony Juniper: I think the most pleasure came from putting the heat on people who should know better, whether they were ministers in government or international agencies or companies. Having the freedom and the knowledge and the resources to go out and say ‘This is not right! You should be doing something different,’ and being able to deliver that with some consequence, was always most rewarding.

Mark Avery: What do you think of politicians as a whole?
Tony Juniper: Well, they are highly variable. There are those who are transparent and want to make things happen and there are those who are self-centred and ideological beyond being reasonable (whether left, right or centre). And we all know who the good ones are … [And he did name some names]

Tony stood as a candidate for the Green Party in Cambridge in 2010, he has worked for the Prince of Wales (and jointly wrote a book with him, The Ladybird Book of Climate Changesee my review here) and has worked for BirdLife International (when it was ICBP), the Wildlife Trusts (a long time ago, but more recently as their President), FoE of course and WWF-UK. He’s a birder and a fisherman. He’s a leader and a pragmatist.

This news has put a smile on my face, but we’ll all be watching with interest.


16 Replies to “Tony Juniper for NE Chair”

  1. It’s good news that finally the Natural England Chairman will be from something of a relevant background, and I wish Tony Juniper all the best with his new role (obviously subject to confirmation).

    However, whilst I’m certain that Tony Juniper will do what he can, I’m not sure how much influence the Chairman can have in turning things around. Whilst fully supporting Mark’s specific criticisms of Natural England decisions and policy I do not think this is so much a product of the organization, but of political interference and pressure. In other words, whatever the name of the organization and it’s structure, I think any statutory conservation body would act similarly under the control of this government.

    Michael Gove may have made some welcome noises, but the way he avoids even acknowledging clear cut problems such as the illegal persecution of raptors by shooting interests, the culling of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, other matters related to the management of grouse moors, the scientific evidence on Badger culling etc, says there’s a big problem. Michael Gove, and indeed previous Environment Secretaries and other department ministers under this government have simply failed to even acknowledge these problems, to the point of stonewalling. It’s never clear to what extent this is the position of individual ministers, or whether it is the leadership of the government imposing limits on Defra policy is never clear. However, what is clear is that it’s impossible for a statutory conservation body to properly do it’s duty, when some subjects are taboo, government ministers won’t even discuss these issues, and the policy and decisions makes no sense in terms of overall conservation or scientific objectives. Plus this policy appears to be slanted towards the interests of vested interests – certainly not the public interest.

    1. Fair comment: the triangle, as it were, between Chair, Chief Exec and Ministers is always ‘interesting’. However this appointment is, without any doubt, of a strong chair, with great leadership skills. I am optimistic it canand will make a big difference.

      So I disagree with your rather more pessimistic view, especially when you say “any statutory conservation body would act similarly under the control of this government.” Consider just that one word “statutory”. A significant problem, if not the only one, with the Andrew Sells regime was that NE forgot that it is entirely a creature of statute, seeming to think it could operate by fudge, expedience and shady deals – which it cannot. Andrew Sells really believed this was the right approach, not because he is a bad person but because, well, it was what he believed. Except he was wrong. So if, as we might hope, Tony Juniper leads NE back to being an institution that respects and enforces the law (which may prove to be a bit of a culture change in some parts of it), he’s almost bound, for that reason alone, sometimes to make life uncomfortable for his political masters. Michael Gove must know and accept that the NE view in those circumstances will prevail, as a matter of law. And we will be there as a backstop.

      Of course the agenda is broader but Tony Juniper, as Chair, can do much to restore the organisation’s confidence in itself and help the change in the political weather that is coming, Gove or no Gove.

      1. I agree with your point about the term statutory, and what it should mean. However, this is the problem, and why it is easy to circumvent. When a department such as Natural England has had both it’s budget and workforce drastically cut by this government, it becomes easy for the political masters to manipulate that body. Looking it up NE have had their budget cut by 44% since it was founded in 2006, and most of it was under the present regime. With this type of budget and workforce cut, it is very easy for a government to control statutory bodies. There is always the latent threat if that statutory body does not comply with what the government wants, that the cuts will be much bigger. Therefore senior managers have to make the decision, do they end up not being able to do their basic job, or compromise on some matters and no have their budget cut so severely.

        After all, it is hardly just Natural England and Defra who have been forced to become servile to the demands of this government. Just think of the NHS, and especially the DWP. It is actually the same across all government departments and statutory body. Does anyone see any of them taking on the government? Of course not.

        As regards Andrew Sells. Like many others appointed to that position, his background was completely inappropriate. However, let’s be honest about this. It was 3 years into this administration before Andrew Sells was appointed chair of NE, and the rot and cuts had already set in, well before he was appointed to the job.

        Let me prove my point with an irrefutable fact. The ground breaking NE report, “A Future for the Hen Harrier in England” (2008) laid the blame on Hen Harrier declines, squarely at the door of the grouse shooting industry. However, within less than a year the Conservative Environment Secretary had completely buried the report and this policy of candour. This web page about it was buried in the National Archive in 2011, a full 2 years before Andrew Sells became Chair of NE. In other words, the evidence is crystal clear, the rot set in straight away, and as soon as this government got control of DEFRA.

        Likewise the Badger cull was proposed and condemned by the experts a good 2 years before Andrew Sells became Chair of NE. The evidence is massive, that NE were under the cosh from day one of the present Conservative control of DEFRA.

  2. So, this morning Kerri signs off her beautifully written blog with the words ‘there are enough of us’. An old cynic like me hopes, but wonders if it’s true.
    Then we have this confirmation. Tony Juniper. NE.

    Maybe, just maybe, there really are enough of us.

  3. Of course, statutory agency gain is NGO loss! He will now have to step down as honorary President of The Wildlife Trusts and from his employment as Director of Campaigns at WWF-UK. Which arena gave/gives him the most freedom to influence change?

    1. Rob – thanks. Well, I guess we’ll see. The Wildlife Trusts don’t need rescuing – NE does (IMHO).

  4. We will soon have as part of a new environment Act, a new statutory body.
    “The Office for Environmental Protection:
    A world-leading, green governance body will be established – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to uphold environmental legislation. The OEP will be an independent, statutory environmental body that will hold government and public bodies to account on environmental standards, including taking legal action to enforce the implementation of environmental law where necessary, once we leave the EU, replacing the current oversight of the European Commission.”
    If the protection of the environment is placed in a statutory body, rather than being included in primary legislation, backed up by an environmental court, we could easily find that the OEP will be similar, and subject to the same political interference as NE has been for years. It will be able to ‘forget’ it’s statutory duty.
    This choice of chair may help, but the future is not bright.

    1. Exactly, this body has already been criticised because it will essentially be toothless, and will undoubtedly be politically controlled, often behind the scenes if it displeases it’s political masters. My whole point about Natural England is it is not the organization that has failed, but the will of it’s political masters to neuter it, and to make it conform to the policy it wants.

    2. I would be very pleased if all Gubmint PR puffery would stop using the term “World Leading”. This is just aspirational jingoism. Better to have the right outcomes and maintenance of capacity to deliver as the drivers.

  5. It will be very interesting to see how Tony Juniper gets on coping with all the politics and political pressures that are and will be present. We know his heart is in the right place as far as wildlife and the environment is concerned but we also know this Governments heart is more or less in the wrong place, with all its supporters vested interests.
    However some credit must go to Mr Gove for nominating Tony Junipers appointment, but time will tell whether it will be a stable relationship. The best thing that could happen is that shortly after he takes office there is a change of Government, then I do think there would be a good chance of restoring Natural England as an effective organisation and one that really has the interests of wildlife and the environment at its heart and not the vested interests of a political party, which is currently the situation.

  6. That’s three mornings in a row I’ve switched my computer on, turned straight away to Mark’s blog (as I always do), and found something genuinely uplifting to see me through the rest of the (often rather depressing) day. First Derek Gow’s superlative blog, then a lovely piece of nature writing by Kerri, and now the news that Tony Juniper is in line for the NE job. It proves that being interested in the natural world isn’t always ‘living in a world of wounds’. Many thanks, Mark!

  7. Cynical as I am, I’m certainly heartened by Tony Juniper’s appointment (and Marian Spain’s). Tony in particular will bring a significant independent profile to the job which will give him the platform to speak out when things aren’t right. If I were a minister I wouldn’t be so stupid as to appoint someone like him if I wasn’t ready for them to do so. And while Marian Spain isn’t as well known, I doubt she’ll be anyone’s lapdog either.

    It is at least possible that Gove, who is nothing if not a wily politician, is playing a longer and more strategic game. He’s not from the old Etonian ruling class, and he doesn’t have the clout on his own to take them on. But if there are high profile credible people arguing for change, it wouldn’t do his political ambitions any harm at all to respond with some reforms that the public will like even if the Tory establishment doesn’t.

    It’s always tempting to blame politicians, but the truth is that we get the politicians we elect. Sometimes we need to give them “permission” to rock the boat, reassurance that making an omelette won’t cost them their seats. Were I Gove, and if I wanted to create the political room for manoeuvre to take on the big landowners, appointing Juniper and Spain would be a smart move. Gove must be aware of how toxic the Tory brand has become, annoying a few landowners who will always vote Tory anyway is a very cheap way of pleasing the masses. And maybe, just maybe, he does actually care a bit. Environment ministers of all parties have had a habit of going native.

    Fingers crossed anyway – lawd knows we need some light in the tunnel now.

  8. Well, I never thought that the Govt would actually permit ‘one of us’ to take the helm of the SNCO ever again, so that is a definite positive step. I wish TJ all the very best, but he really does have a job of work on his hands.

    I was particularly interested in the answer he gave you Mark where he said that “I think the most pleasure came from putting the heat on people who should know better, whether they were ministers in government or international agencies or companies. Having the freedom and the knowledge and the resources to go out and say ‘This is not right! You should be doing something different,’ and being able to deliver that with some consequence, was always most rewarding.”

    I fervently hope he continues in that vein, and is allowed to continue in that vein. ‘Should know better’ has not been far from my lips in my more abrasive dealings with NE over the past 18 months.

  9. I am thrilled and delighted that Tony Juniper will take up this post. in the 1990’s, when he was with FoE, he was an inspirational supporter of the campaign against the Newbury Bypass. With Charles Secret, he used the authenticity, experience, legal knowledge and knowhow of FoE to expose the violation of the countryside, without an EIA of the road that was an environmental disaster,damaging SSI’s, SAC’s, wetlands, river systems, badgers bats and dormice, and the infamous Des Moulin snail.All without an Environmental impact assesment. Hopefully, he can stop the Badger Cull, another pointless, unscientific assault on wildlife, championed by the NFU and their political allies.

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