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Sunak’s government has almost destroyed Natural England – just for doing its job | Guy Shrubsole

After the election, Labour must end the attacks on a watchdog that is simply trying to protect what little wildlife we have left

England likes to think of itself as a green and pleasant land, yet the Conservatives have been waging a vicious political war against Natural England, the watchdog that is supposed to protect the countryside. During the past decade and a half, Natural England has been undermined by austerity and rendered toothless by deregulation. The Conservative government slashed the organisation’s already insufficient budget by two-thirds, rendering it incapable of carrying out even basic functions. Almost half of England’s nature reserves have not been monitored by government ecologists in recent years, and only 39% of our sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) are now in “favourable condition”.

It’s much the same story as what has happened to the Environment Agency. Yet in recent years, spending cuts have been the least of Natural England’s worries. The watchdog has also had to withstand a barrage of attacks from Tory MPs, landowners, developers, the shooting lobby and even environment ministers. And under Rishi Sunak’s government, it has come close to being destroyed entirely – simply because it tried to do its job.

Guy Shrubsole is an environmental campaigner and the author of The Lost Rainforests of Britain, Who Owns England? and the forthcoming The Lie of the Land

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