Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Getting Rid of the Family Silver

As a result of governmental cuts there has been a lot of talk recently about the future of the country agencies.  In Wales will the Countryside Council for Wales be merged with the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency?  Across the border Natural England is predicting an enormous reduction in staff and therefore activity.  One plus here is that agri-environment funds so critical for safeguarding wildlife on arable farms is likely to stay.

                                              Cors Caron National Nature Reserve

One issue which concerns me and I have to say other conservationists is the re-emerging of plans to "get rid" of National Nature Reserves.  Remember these are the jewels in the crown of sites in the United Kingdom.  I assume that those in charge think they can save a lot of money by offloading these sites on to others.  Who might these others be?  Well I assume the NGO's such as RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and Wildlfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Let us just examine that for a start.  I assume Government as part of their Big Society thinking assume that by handing over NNR's to NGO's fits perfectly into their policy.  For a start what makes them think that any NGO would be able to manage the sites cheaper?  The costs are likely to be the same although I suppose more volunteers will come on board.  Judging what I have been seeing over the years some of NGO's would certainly manage the sites better.

In times of recession NGO's income is threatened with some members having to give up because of personal difficulties and subsequent fund raising getting much harder.  For some it will be a huge challenge just to sustain what they already have.

The Government be it Westminster or in the devolved countries has a legal responsiblity to protect these sites so I wonder if the NGO's would serve us all better if they refused to take NNR's currently managed by the agencies on board.  This would mean that the agencies would have to allocate realistic resources to ensure their survival.  This is not the first time that this question has been raised and perhaps not the last.

Many NNR's are in private ownership and managed under lease or management agreement arrangements.  I cannot see NGO's being keen to have to take over those relationships either.  In some cases landowners are paid ridiculous sums of money "not to damage" sites.  In these cases it would make financial sense to compulsory purchase the sites for the benefit of the nation.

Whatever happens this is a serious matter.  Many wonderful sites that we may have taken for granted could be at risk.

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