Tony Juniper will take over as Natural England chair on 23 April
Respected environmental campaigner to take up role at independent advisory body, as questions over budget cuts and post-Brexit position continue
Tony Juniper has been confirmed as the new chair of Natural England and will take over at the helm of the government’s embattled independent environmental advisory body next month, it was announced today.
Juniper, who was first announced as Defra’s preferred candidate last month, will take up the post on 23 April, replacing outgoing chair Andrew Sells who is set to retire.
Juniper will be tasked with helping oversee the independent agency’s role in protecting England’s natural environment as the UK leaves the EU – including the delivery of Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
However, he will also be expected to help rebuild confidence in the agency’s role following significant cuts to its budget over the past decade.
The appointment means Juniper, one of the UK’s most high profile environmental campaigners, will stand down from two of his existing positions as WWF UK’s executive director for advocacy and campaigns and president of the Royal Society for Wildlife Trusts.
During Parliamentary hearings to assess his suitability for the role, Juniper also declared that he is a member of the Green Party. However, he has confirmed he will not remain a member of the Party during his Natural England chairmanship, Defra said.
Juniper described his appointment as a “real honour”, and said he looked forward to working across the country to deliver “the biggest possible positive impact that we can”, from protecting national nature reserves and advising farmers to ensuring greater public access to England’s natural areas.
“Natural England’s vital role in defending and enhancing our nation’s natural environment has never been more important,” he said. “As Chair, my aim will be to celebrate, protect and deepen the impact of Natural England’s excellent work, not only for the sake of our wildlife and beautiful landscapes, but also for the huge benefits that our success brings for society.”
Juniper has previously held executive roles at Friends of the Earth and is a former advisor to the Prince of Wales, a post which recently saw him co-author a book – the Ladybird Guide to Climate Change – alongside Prince Charles and climate scientist Emily Shuckburgh.
Juniper joins Natural England at a challenging time for the agency. It has faced significant budget cuts over the past decade, while reports have detailed how many of its staff have been reassigned to work on Brexit planning within Defra.
Natural England’s CEO James Cross announced he was stepping down late last year, directly referencing the raid on staff in the statement confirming his departure.
Meanwhile, during a recent hearing with MPs, outgoing chair Sells openly questioned the extent to which the agency was still independent from government.
Confirming his appointment on Twitter yesterday, Juniper suggested there was “so much more that can be done” at Natural England.
I’m delighted to see final confirmation today from @michaelgove of my new role of Chair @NaturalEngland I’m so much looking forward to working with everyone in doing all we can to aid Nature’s recovery. There is so much that can be done… https://t.co/smmiw0Lz3w
— Tony Juniper (@TonyJuniper) 12 March 2019
Despite concerns Natural England’s resources are currently overstretched, it is widely tipped to have a key green governance role if the UK leaves the EU as planned. The government is continuing to work on its plans for a new green watchdog to oversee domestic environmental laws and regulations, but existing agencies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency could still end up with an increased workload post-Brexit, especially if the UK were to leave the EU without an exit deal.
Confirming Juniper’s appointment yesterday, Environment Secretary Michael Gove hailed his “great experience and passion” for conservation, and said Natural England would have a key role in delivering green policy.
“Natural England has a key part to play in the government’s 25 year plan for the environment and ensuring we can protect nature for future generations,” Gove said. “That is why I am looking forward to working with Tony as he leads the organisation and ensures Natural England can continue delivering the government’s environmental priorities.”
Juniper’s appointment was widely welcomed by environmental groups and across the green economy, amid hopes his appointment will help empower the agency to ensure strong protections for England’s natural environment after Brexit.
Tim Breitmeyer, president of farm and landowner trade body the CLA, called for close collaboration between the two organisations. “Society will only be able to meet the goals and objectives of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan if Natural England and landowners work closely together to deliver a healthy environment alongside productive farming and the wider rural economy,” he said.
Marks & Spencer’s director for sustainable business, Mike Barry, described the appointment as “great news”.
Great news. Nature faces huge challenge. Needs the brightest and the best to help it thrive. Good luck @TonyJuniper https://t.co/rjmKLdEEgW
— Mike Barry (@planamikebarry) 12 March 2019