Natural England begging for your money (2)
I wrote the other day about Natural England having a crowdfunder so that it can do its job, because ‘continuing’ its ‘vital conservation work’ is its job.
The excellent ENDS Report, which seems to be a regular reader of this blog, has managed to get a quote from my mate, Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, which says that crowdfunding is ‘never used to carry out statutory functions‘. Tony is also quoted as saying that a decline in the regulator’s government funding meant they had to look at ways to ‘diversify‘ their income, including crowdfunding. ‘However, this funding is never used to carry out statutory functions – it is solely used for standalone projects which go above and beyond to protect our natural world‘.
Natural England doesn’t have a press office anymore so that quote will have come from the Defra press team so it might well have been difficult for Tony to say ‘Yeh, it’s crap isn’t it?‘. But leaving that aside, the response that Natural England and Defra have crafted obviously says the right things – or does it?
Well, as quoted above, the crowdfunder talks about helping NE’s vital conservation work which doesn’t sound like an add-on to me. And elsewhere on the page it says ‘With your support we will continue to protect and enhance the biodiversity of these sites’ when the three sites in question (and in Sussex) are all SSSIs and two of them are SACs – that sounds like NE’s statutory responsibilities to me.
Tony, Natural England, Defra, you can’t have it both ways. These are either non-essentials in which case you should be cutting them to free up the maximum possible resources to carry out your statutory duties or they are your statutory duties in which case you shouldn’t have said what you said to the ENDS report.
And, Natural England, if these are standalone projects going ‘above and beyond’ then you need to rein in your fundraisers who wrote the words for this crowdfunder. I’m confused as to what you want us to believe unless you really do want us to believe two contradictory things at the same time.
Any NGO is familiar with, and practised at, sorting out the conflict between fundraisers who want to write ‘everything will die today unless you give us your £5’ and the realities of the situation.
There is clearly one project in the list that is certainly a standalone (or, actually, limpalong) and which could be ditched right now – the southern reintroduction of Hen Harriers. This must have taken up huge amounts of staff time and has so far come to nothing – just because it is part of what the grouse moor managers persuaded a weak-minded Defra to include in their Hen Harrier Inaction Plan doesn’t make it a statutory responsibility. What better way to show Defra that you are strapped for cash than to ditch it and say you have to put the staff resources into core work not standalone projects. And while you are at it, you could ditch the massively controversial broodmeddling project too. And don’t tell us that these are fully funded by grouse moor managers please, why aren’t you concentrating on focussing on your duties rather than standalone projects? Every time that NE enthusiastically works on the wrong things, or says the wrong things, then it reduces the enthusiasm of the wider conservation community to put themselves about to help NE get proper funding for the right things. I did once tell Andrew Sells this but it looks like I might hve to recycle the conversation with Tony over a beer some time.
You see how this works? You can’t say, as Tony has said, that NE doesn’t have the money to carry out its statutory duties properly and then go around fundraising for fripperies. Or is some of this fundraising for core conservation duties but NE is not allowed to admit that because it will make Defra look bad? It might even open Defra up to legal challenges – as pointed out in this same Guardian article.
Personally, I’d rather see the MoD crowdfunding for Trident missiles (good luck to them with that) than NE fundraising for protecting biodiversity.