IMPORTANT

The comments below are not directed at the highly capable, hard-working and committed staff of these agencies who despite difficult circumstances strive to be effective conservationists. You have our utmost respect and admiration. Due to devolved government it is impossible to make direct comparisons between the various UK statutory agencies responsible for wildlife conservation. They all have different roles and remits, and different structures. For instance in England the Forestry Commission is separate from Natural England but Natural Resources Wales has absorbed that body, as they have the Environment Agency. Nevertheless there are parallels in their problems - most notably those of under-funding and loss of trust. 

Natural England
Are not fit for purpose. Which is sad. This once-effective independent advisory body has not only been rendered impotent, but also sometimes presents a significant handicap to conservation in England. Its leadership has not delivered progress; its board includes members with interests which potentially conflict with conservation of the natural environment; it is necessarily beleaguered by a litany of Freedom of Information Requests and Judicial Reviews, despite its public ownership; and its remaining staff are in a
state of poor morale, but afraid to speak out. The considerable expertise of these staff is being undermined by these circumstances, and they are denied the ability to make informed decisions. Thus many of NE’s actions – or inactions – are embarrassing, inexplicable or in some cases even dangerous to wildlife. It has struck deals with developers, grouse-moor owners and others with economic interests, freeing them from 
regulatory restraint without any or sufficient ecological benefit in return. Monitoring of SSSIs has been all but abandoned, and its National Nature Reserves are imperilled. NE is frequently at odds with the farming fraternity due to late payments of agricultural stewardship subsidies. We have to ask why. In March a report revealed that since it was founded in 2006, NE’s budget has been slashed by 44%, drastically reducing its ability to function. Subsequently a further 14% cut has been implemented.In summary NE, the custodian of the wild natural environment in England, is financially crippled, ethically compromised, and rudderless. 

Scottish Natural Heritage
Is not fit for purpose. A similarly grim scenario. This summer’s fiasco surrounding the Strathbraan Raven cull – which SNH sanctioned and which its own investigation described as ‘completely inadequate’ in a damning report into its validity2– highlights such bad decision-making that unless it can be explained as wholesale incompetence, there must be something else going on. Thankfully, the report has plumped for the former explanation. But the ‘major flaws’ discovered in the Raven cull extend throughout this agency and its 
practices, and many believe that SNH ‘should be completely re-designed rather than (modified).’
2It has refused to properly promote the re-introduction of the Beaver nationally,3failed to protect those Beavers on the Tay which continue to be inhumanely shot and burned,4has done nothing to address the on-going excesses of Mountain Hare killing on grouse moors,5,6and like its English counterpart has ineffectually presided over a continual decline in the wildlife under its jurisdiction.7The reasons are as above: serious lack of investment, ineffective management, and demoralised staff. 

Natural Resources Wales
I’m afraid I have little knowledge as to the health and efficacy of Natural Resources Wales, but I know a man who does. Here is what broadcaster and campaigner Iolo Williams has to  say: A recent internal survey showed that only 14% of NRW staff are happy with the way they are managed.8The Wales Audit Office recently queried NRW’s accounts for the third year in a row. The chairwoman, Diane McCrea resigned in July following the scandal of under-selling timber to a single private buyer.NRW have constantly blocked attempts to reintroduce beavers to Wales despite the full support of all the major conservation organisations. Morale is rock-bottom with conservation staff leaving en masse and not being replaced. There have been dozens of major slurry pollution incidents on once-famous salmon and sea trout rivers in West Wales over the past twelve months, killing tens of thousands of fish.10,11,12,13There have been NO prosecutions by NRW relating to any of these incidents. Fundamentally, NRW needs individuals in the senior management team and on its board that are committed to our environment and its wildlife. At present, there is no respected conservationist in senior management. This would help tackle its woeful record on nature conservation and help solve its staff dissatisfaction difficulties. It also needs to overhaul Glastir, its completely ineffective agri-environment scheme. At present, its success is measured in terms of percentage of land in the scheme, as opposed to measured increases in target species. The prescriptions and monitoring are woeful.’ 

Northern Ireland
I’m afraid I know nothing of the situation in Northern Ireland, nor anyone I could trust to provide an objective report.  

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of these agencies’ declines is the wholesale loss of trust between them and the wider conservation movement, which continues to grow and gain widespread attention. Few within the conservation sector now believe that NE, SNH and NRW are properly independent or impartial. And the commendable staff who remain have lost their voices – they should be able to publicly speak their minds to governments. 

So what can be done to fix these agencies?

Firstly can, or should, we fix these agencies? As long as they are funded by governments can they be secure and truly independent? I believe instead that they need very significant, ring-fenced, apolitically influenced long-term public funding, as is the case withLIFE UK.Indeed – LIFE UKshould assume and eclipse their roles. However, in the short term, a major injection of public money, a complete re-structuring of leadership, management and the boards to include properly qualified and independent ecologists, investment in staff training and retention, and complete transparency and access to data would perhaps reinstate some impartial influence and re-engender some respect in these agencies. In regard to NE therefore, we are asking for nothing that the House of Lords didn’t already request in March of this year.

References:
1. House of Lords (2018) The countryside at a crossroads: Is the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 still fit for purpose? HL paper 99. Available at: 
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201719/ldselect/ldnerc/99/99.pdf(Accessed 10/09/2018)
2. SAC Review of Strathbraan licenced trial (2018). SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee Review of the SNH Licence for ‘Strathbraan: removal of ravens’. [Online]. Available at: 
https://www.nature.scot/sites/default/files/2018-07/SAC%20Review%20of%20Strathbraan%20licenced%20trial.pdf(Accessed 10/09/2018)
3.
The Scottish Parliament (2016) Motions, questions and answers. Question S4W-29148 [Online]. Available at: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S4W-29148&ResultsPerPage=10​ ​ (Accessed 10/09/2018)
4. Ross, D. (2015)
Beavers being shot in Tayside. The Herald,25 November​ ​[Online]. Available at: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14100689.Beavers_being_shot_in_Tayside/​ ​ (Accessed 10/09/2018)
5. Kirkaldy, L. (2018)Failure to stop mountain hare cull shows “commercial interests are driving government policy”, says Alison Johnstone.
Holyrood, 2 August [Online]. Available at: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/failure-stop-mountain-hare-cull-shows-%E2%80%9Ccommercial-interests-are-driving-government​ ​(Accessed 10/09/2018)
6. Moyes, S. (2018)Shocking expose of mass killing of Scotland’s mountain hares.
One Kind, 29 March [Online] Available at: https://www.onekind.scot/shocking-expose-of-mass-killing-of-scotlands-mountain-hares/​ ​(Accessed 10/09/2018)
7. Edwards, R. (2018) Scotland missing targets to prevent wildlife extinction.
The Ferret,4 June [Online] Available at: https://theferret.scot/scotland-targets-wildlife-extinction/​ ​(Accessed 10/09/2018)
8. BBC News (2015)
Natural Resources Wales critical staff survey prompts action. 28 April [Online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-32492790​ ​(Accessed 10/09/2018)
9. BBC News (2015)
Timber scandal: Natural Resources Wales chair quits. 19 July [Online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-44885953​ ​(Accessed 10/09/2018)
10. Natural Ressources Wales (2018) Slurry pollution kills fish. 3 August [Online]. Available at: https://naturalresources.wales/about-us/news-and-events/news/slurry-pollution-kills-fish/?lang=en (Accessed 10/09/2018)
11. Rose, D. (2017) Wales river devastated by toxic sludge from 'green' plant This green and poisoned land: River is devastated by toxic tsunami of sludge from a 'green' energy plant receiving thousands in subsidies from YOU.
Mail Online, 20 May [Online]. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4525714/Wales-river-devastated-toxic-sludge-green-plant.html(Accessed 10/09/2018)
12. Deacon, T. (2017)
Hundreds of fish killed after major river polluted with slurry from nearby farm. Wales Online, 24 February [Online]. Available at:
https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/hundreds-fish-killed-after-major-12653282 (Accessed 10/09/2018)
13. Carrington, D. (2017)
Raw sewage 'flowing into rivers across England and Wales'. The Guardian, 16 October [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/16/raw-sewage-flowing-into-rivers-across-england-and-wales​ ​(Accessed 10/09/2018)