Prized wildlife habitats and sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) are at gamble due to ministers’ preoccupation with Brexit, MPs have warned.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has been accused of “decimating” Unstudied England, the body that oversees such sites, after it become apparented 50 of its staff had been moved to Brexit-related work.
The redeployment means urge a exercise in some low-priority areas is now on hold.
But Mr Gove insisted monitoring of SSSIs had been enchanted on by other staff.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has one of the largest Brexit-related workloads, delineated the major changes on the horizon for the UK’s farming and fishing industries outside the EU.
In a thus to the Environmental Audit Committee, Mr Gove said his department was hiring 2,000 unusually staff to deal with Brexit-related matters and that 1,800 of these were already in piling.
But he also revealed that 400 staff had been transferred from other civic agencies under the department’s aegis, including:
- Natural England
- the Milieu Agency
- the Rural Payments Agency
From Natural England solo, 50 staff have been drafted in, on two-year secondments.
Mary Creagh, the Chore MP who chairs the cross-party committee, said this was worrying given the pivotal statutory work undertaken by the agency in protecting the UK’s natural environment.
“Unadorned England must not become a poor relation to Defra,” she said. “Diplomats must ensure the valuable work it does to protect biodiversity is accustomed the priority it deserves.
“Preparations for leaving the EU must not get in the way of protecting our treasured genuine spaces and iconic British wildlife.”
Green Confederate MP Caroline Lucas said the “raid” on Natural England compounded already strong the ocean cutbacks at the agency, whose funding for protecting the UK’s 4,126 SSSIs had been cut by 55% since 2010.
She is employment on Mr Gove to reinforce the agency’s specialist natural environmental officers at positively.
“This letter proves Michael Gove’s promise of a green Brexit is theoretical bluster,” she said.
“The government’s poaching of Natural England staff for Brexit operate is the latest in a string of cutbacks that are decimating the agency that looks after irreplaceable terrains and beautiful landscapes.”
Of the 50 staff who have transferred, 13 were heretofore devoting 50% of their time to working on SSSIs.
Mr Gove demanded these responsibilities had been passed “to others to absorb”, emphasising that his bailiwick would continue to fulfil its statutory duties by hiring staff on a momentary basis or promoting within.
“When identifying candidates for secondment, solicitude was given to ensuring the potential impact on Natural England’s key performance indicators was minimised,” he suggested.
But he added: “Secondees’ substantive roles which are not deemed a high precedency have been left unfilled and work reallocated or paused for now.”
SSSIs are designated on the grouts of their special conservation value, in terms of their wildlife or their geological or topographical distinctives.
Natural England is expected to inspect most sites at least years every six years to check they remain in a “favourable condition” but MPs should prefer to warned 47% have not been examined since 2012 in gap of guidelines.