Come on Tony – must do better

Tony Juniper has been at the helm of Natural England for nearly nine months and in July Natural England will report on their progress during his first year.

Hopes were high that we would all see a positive change with a change of both Chief Exec and Chair but probably the best that can be said so far is that things haven’t got worse. Yes, of course Tony is a nature conservationist and sounds like one, and staff morale has almost certainly improved considerably because of that, but is Natural England fit for purpose and doing its job well? Not yet.

It’s easy to bleat about the lack of resources but if Natural England doesn’t look as though it is using its existing resources well then there isn’t much point in them having any more.

I was thinking a few days ago that it would be good if Natural England produced an annual report that we could all read and nod sagely about – I’d forgotten that they do, and here is last year’s.

I enjoyed this mention – I doubt that any external observer would have made this sound so dull;

Who knows, there may be more to come…

I’ve re-learned that Natural England had 14kpis in this period and they think they scored Green on half of them. These 14 kpis are a funny bunch – they certainly aren’t focussed enough on nature conservation.

But here are some areas where Natural England thought it was doing really, really well:

Apparently having far less than half of SSSIs in favourable condition is good enough – it’s a shambles and everybody knows it. Maybe Tony could say so… I’d score this aspect of the performance of the statutory nature conservation body RED myself.

The emphasis here is on providing something on time to enable concrete-pouring to happen. Any informed analysis of Natural England’s response to planning applications would flag up the poor standard of those responses and the lack of ambition for the natural environment demonstrated by our statutory nature conservation body for England. Maybe Tony could say so… I’d score this aspect of the performance of the statutory nature conservation body RED myself. I’m waiting for a response from Natural England to an information request on one aspect of this subject.

Since Natural England is showing no independence of view or thought from government I can’t see any reason why anyone else should pay for them – it’s just a shame that my taxes are getting so littl return on investment! Despite this Natural England is pursuing dodgy fund-raising initiatives – see here and here. The funding ask for the Hen Harrier reintroduction project seems particularly unsuccessful – see here.

You have got to be kidding… Tony is kidding on this one – see here. I’d score this aspect of the performance of the statutory nature conservation body RED myself.

I can promise that I will look with a great deal more interest at the report that will emerge this year. But there isn’t much time for Natural England to find some good news to write about in the next review…

What Natural England is getting completely wrong is its failure to demonstrate that its lack of resources is harming nature conservation. It has signed up for terrible kpis and is very keen to make out that it is meeting them! That’s hardly likely to shake more resources out of central government or win friends with civil society is it? If the NHS were killing lots of people but keeping to budget, increasing staff morale and providing great information for the death certificates then that wouldn’t be seen as success.

Come on Natural England – you need to do much better and you need to fight far harder and more cleverly. It’s almost like a campaign (hint!).

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11 Replies to “Come on Tony – must do better”

  1. Fully agree Mark. So far Tony Juniper has not set NE “on fire” and has been disappointing. However there is time to recover the situation hopefully.

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  2. "That’s hardly likely to shake more resources out of central government or win friends with civil society is it?"

    I guess it depends on what NE's role is perceived to be. Natural England's 'About Us' statement on the gov.uk web-site lists a number of responsibilities and I am sure that for most readers of this site, including myself, the most important of these is "promoting nature conservation and protecting biodiversity". If this is the main priority then you are right that the KPIs chosen are inappropriate and performance is clearly not much to write home about. However, further down the list we find "contributing in other ways to social and economic well-being through management of the natural environment, e.g. changes to wildlife licensing to improve flexibility for developers" and I am sure that for ministers this is where the priority lies. For ministers, promptly replying to planning consultations is likely to rank higher in importance than maintaining the quality of SSSIs and if NE are doing well on that then they will be happy. Likewise, as far as the standard of the responses is concerned, Ministers are more likely to give a pat on the back when NE gives the green light to a development than when it throws up objections.

    It seems to me that it is quite wrong that economic development and making life easier for developers should ever have become a headline responsibility for Natural England. There is no lack of agencies promoting economic development in one way or another and expecting Natural England to also fulfil this role seriously compromises its ability to defend wildlife. Of course it is reasonable to expect NE to work efficiently and in a professional manner when dealing with developers and others but this should be just that - a reasonable expectation - and far from a headline priority for the organisation which should be entirely focused on the state of natural habitats and the status of wild animal and plant populations.

    I guess that it is not possible for Tony Juniper to change what the stated purposes of Natural England are - for that we will probably need to vote in a government with more sympathy for nature. Nevertheless, compromised though NE's remit may be, we should expect Juniper to stand up for nature and to protect biodiversity as robustly as possible. Surely it was to do that that he signed up for the role in the first place?

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  3. NE is in a very sorry state and however we might wish otherwise its entire agenda is set by DEFRA. Starved of resources without an independent voice since the advent of the coalition government it is without doubt a sad shadow of what we might wish it to be.--- Robust independent of voice and opinion with a surfeit of resources at its disposal. Juniper makes and probably cannot make any difference.
    One thing puzzles me, apparently if you as an employee of NE wish to mention the words Hen Harrier it has to be signed off by those above you ( yes I know!) . Yet the two fieldworkers on that species both have twitter accounts, claiming to be independent, that seem to mention little else and also praise keepers( ughhh!) Official, unofficial propaganda

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  4. As my (Scottish) granny would have said about TJ's appointment 'Aw fur coat ind nae knickers!' I'd been told years before by someone who knew him well that he was a self promoter and opportunist so I never put the bunting out when I heard he'd got the NE job, glad I didn't and I'm sorry to say I think anyone expecting him to move up a gear or three will be bitterly disappointed. This is probably the real TJ more people are seeing now as my acquaintance seems to have done a long time ago. It's easy to be caught out, at 52 the most shocking, bewildering experience I ever had in my life is still when two people who I had considered to be close friends and who were certainly high profile 'environmentalists' locally conspired (and that's not too strong a word) to sabotage a project I'd been working on for several years. Not only did the attack at a private meeting they'd called include utterly spurious criticisms of the project, they tried to rubbish my personal confidence by claiming that I did not 'get my hands dirty' criticising my record of voluntary work over many years. The only thing that offended me was insulting my intelligence by thinking that I wouldn't see through their extremely nasty yet pathetic personal attack. I haven't mentioned this to play the martyr and get sympathy, I was too old and ugly to deserve any even then, it's to illustrate that there are those faffing about as green champions who are actually in it just for themselves. I heard later from other people that they had had misgivings about the real motivation of the creeps involved well before that particular incident opened my eyes, so I was rather chastened I wasn't quite as perceptive as I'd thought, or in fact we all need to be.

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    1. Maybe all part of their plans to be enobled if your assessment is correct? Politicians advised on a good PR stunt, bring in someone deemed credible who is/was duly 'promised' a reward .... beyond excellent salary packages.

      I hope you're wrong but suspect there's certainly a smidgen of truth in there Les 😉

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  5. It takes time to change organisations, unless you are to slash and burn through them. And who knows what pressures against change their are in this case? It certainly should fight much more for the non-human world than it seems to be doing. Who else in government is going to? Being elected, governments are all about pleasing people. And maybe about some other, less salubrious aims too, but none of the aims are to make space for nature.

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  6. I still can't get over the fact that NE has the face to tout for public donations to fund its misguided, hen harrier southern reintroduction project. I wonder how many well-meaning, naive people will be persuaded to contribute?

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  7. Interested by Les Wallace’s observation that, according to what he had been told, TJ might be ‘a self-promoter and opportunist’.

    Could this be said equally to apply other high-profile naturalists/environmentalists? Chris Packham, Bill Oddie, David Lindo, Mark Avery, Kate Humble, the list goes on? Greta T even?

    And does it matter if such individuals align their career ambitions with their green aspirations? What’s wrong with that?

    Without public profile, how can they make an impact? No one’s going to save our wildlife or our planet by being a shrinking violet.

    That said, I, too, am disappointed both by TJ and by Natural England chief executive Marion Spain.

    They are both fabulously well remunerated, but their impact to date has been negligible. Considering the importance and honour of their responsibilities, they scarcely seem to be giving 110 per cent.

    Incidentally, next month, NE will be interviewing for four new board members. There were some 170+ applicants. It will be most interesting to see who land the posts (and whether they have conservationist or landowning backgrounds).

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  8. As I said last time Mark, just give the man a chance, there is only so much you can do in under a year in these sorts of organisations. I think a fair test will be to look back over two years to see what progress has been made.

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