FUNDING CUTS to Natural England have forced the organisation to scale back its work protecting biodiversity.

The quango has written to the Environmental Audit Committee setting out how funding cuts have resulted in many of its workstreams coming to an end.

Chair Tony Juniper appeared before the committee in October as part of the inquiry on biodiversity and ecosystems. Within the evidence session, Mr Juniper explained that the organisation’s current funding is below the level required to carry out its statutory duties to a good standard, the risks of which he suggested could be subjecting Natural England to legal challenges and lost opportunities to enhance the environment.

Taking action to protect species at risk of extinction, management duties for National Nature Reserves and engaging with planning authorities to support landscape and biodiversity activities are some of the areas Natural England has had to scale back. In his letter, Mr Juniper suggested that if Natural England received more funding, these schemes would not need to be scaled back.

Natural England has bid for enhanced funding in this Spending Review, expected to be announced later this month.

Environmental Audit Committee chairman, Philip Dunne, said: “Natural England is one of the key organisations responsible for maintaining and protecting UK wildlife. Funding restrictions limiting crucial roles such as monitoring nature can have a negative impact on the UK’s biodiversity, and as my committee has recently heard, could hamper the success of Government policies in this area.

“There are up to one million plant and animal species at risk of extinction in the UK, and Natural England’s to-do list is ever increasing. That is why they need the funds required to do the jobs they are tasked to do," he explained. “We have heard how the Government aspires to be an environmental world leader, not just in the year it hosts COP26; and that it also wants a green economic recovery from coronavirus. A good start for biodiversity would be by responding positively to Natural England’s request in the upcoming Spending Review.”