Natural England needs an annual cash boost of £140m if it is to build proper relationships with farmers and carry out its duties to protect the environment, according to its chair Tony Juniper.
In an interview with Farmers Guardian on NFU dairy board vice chair Paul Tompkins’ farm in York this week, Mr Juniper explained his cash-strapped local teams were struggling to provide the face-to-face support farmers need and were under ‘enormous stress and strain’.
Natural England’s budget has been cut by more than a half over the past decade, from £242m in 2009-10 to £100m in 2017-18.
“This is now limiting our ability to do what we would like to do in being able to have good, ongoing, deeper relationships with the farming community which are about face-to-face conversations,” said Mr Juniper.
“Speaking to quite a few people in farming, [it is clear] how much they value advice from people they recognise, know and trust.
“Those people know their farms, they understand local context and by working together, we can get an awful lot done.
“What I am hoping we can do over the years ahead is make the case for properly investing in the recovery of the natural environment, and as the country makes that step towards resourcing the agencies which do that work, we can be rebuilding the relationships we have with the farming community.”
Asked by FG how much extra money this would require, Mr Juniper said Natural England would need £40m a year to ‘get back to the level of doing the basic day job’.
“If we wanted to get into a position of implementing the 25-Year Environment Plan in the way we think would be best achieving its goal, it would be another £50-100m on top of that,” he added.
A Defra spokesman said: “Natural England and its staff do vital work to protect our invaluable natural spaces, wildlife and environment.
“They will continue to play a leading role in advising farmers and land managers and ensuring our future agricultural policy delivers for nature.”