Prospect launches second State of Natural England report

10 November 2020

A decade of austerity with pay cuts, budget cuts, cuts to grants and a decline in staff numbers is putting England’s natural heritage at risk.

That is the finding of the second report by Prospect into the State of Natural England which shows that the agency does not have the resources it needs to continue to adequately fulfil its responsibilities. The first report was published in 2019.

Over the past two years Prospect, the main union for workers in Natural England, has spoken to its members about their experiences at work, analysed budgets and grants, and assessed programmes. What we have found is an agency getting beyond crisis point.

Natural England is the body responsible for maintaining and protecting England’s natural environment. It is responsible for: protected sites such as national parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest; countryside stewardship, helping farmers and landowners enhance the biodiversity of their lands; planning and development policy; the marine environment; ramblers’  favourites like the England Coast Path, and many more things which make our natural heritage what it is.

Natural England is at risk because its funding has been slashed and its workforce reduced. Natural England’s government-funded Grant in Aid budget has declined by 49% in six years and almost two-thirds over a decade. Over that time the agency has gone from more than 2,500 staff in 2010 to, we estimate, around 1,900 staff now.

Workers in Natural England were subject to a 1% pay cap for eight years. This has improved this year but the increase comes nowhere close making up for the real-terms losses of the past decade. There is also an 8.4% gender pay gap which shows little sign of being reduced.

This is the reality of government austerity and its effect on agency staff – highly qualified workers facing financial hardship, increased workloads, loss of pension accrual, terrible morale and looking to move elsewhere for a better deal. Successive ministers have made things worse by undermining and attacking the independence of the work of agency experts.

Prospect is calling for:

  • Natural England’s wide and important remit for people, nature and the green recovery, to be properly recognised and funded.
  • It’s autonomy as a non-departmental public body to be meaningfully restored.
  • The damage caused by the pay cap to be reversed and pay progression and pay equality, to be restored.
  • To achieve pay parity with the rest of Defra, particularly for pay scale minima and maxima.
  • To no longer be covered by the civil service pay guidance and be subject to an independent pay review body.

Download the full report.

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said:

“There is a yawning gap between the government’s rhetoric on climate change, the environment and biodiversity and the reality of years of underfunding our environmental agencies.

“Protecting nature means investing in the people who do that work. Natural England is at the heart of this agenda but it can only be effective if it is properly funded and the importance of its staff properly recognised.

“The disproportionate cuts, out-dated and unfit pay framework, and significant pay inequality all need to be addressed. The UK has a world-class natural environment which is treasured by the public, but this natural heritage will suffer if the expert custodians of our natural heritage continue to be treated as second class public servants.”

Natural England

Highlighting the valuable work the organisation does and the threats it faces.