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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
New countryside body reveals aims
Beech tree leaves (Image: Science Photo Library)
Turning a new leaf: Natural England replaces English Nature
The new conservation watchdog Natural England has outlined four strategies that will be the focus of its work.

A healthy environment; enjoyment of green spaces; sustainable use of resources; and a secure future were key objectives, the agency said.

The new body is the result of English Nature merging with parts of the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service.

Rural campaigners fear it will lack the power and funding to make a difference.

Natural England was formed at the beginning of October, but will be officially unveiled at a launch event on Wednesday.

Chairman Sir Martin Doughty described the government-funded agency's formation as a "landmark moment for the natural environment".

"No other organisation in Europe matches the breadth of our legislative remit, and the scale of our challenge," Sir Martin said.

"By uniting responsibility for landscapes and biodiversity, Natural England will be working to build resilience into our natural systems in the face of climate change," he added.

The Sheffield-based organisation was established by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (Nerc) Act 2006.

Bale of hay (Image: BBC)
Environmental stewardship of farmland is part of the new remit

The legislation followed on from recommendations made in a report by Lord Haskins in 2003, which said the number of rural agencies was confusing and too bureaucratic.

He recommended merging some of the many different agencies for the countryside into a new integrated rural body.

As a result, former conservation watchdog English Nature merged with the landscape, access and recreation departments of the Countryside Agency, and the Rural Development Services' environmental land management teams to form the new body.

'Seriously weakened'

Natural England, which employs 2,500 people and has a budget of 500m, is responsible for ensuring that the "natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development".

However, rural campaigners fear it lacks the funds and powers to make a difference.

"Savage cuts to its core funding mean that the organisation is seriously weakened even as it embarks on its crucial work," said Tom Oliver, head of rural policy for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

In August, newspaper reports said Natural England was facing cuts of 12m, which threatened to undermine the agency's work.

Responding at the time, a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "Recently, Defra has experienced a number of pressures, including funding avian influenza incidents and the introduction of a new payment scheme for farmers.

"We are doing our utmost to avoid cuts that will jeopardise important environmental projects," the spokesman added.

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