James Cross steps down as CEO, as Chairman Andrew Sells prepares to retire in the New Year
The government has today confirmed that James Cross has stepped down as chief executive at Natural England, after four years in the role.
Marian Spain, a current Board member of Natural England and the chief executive of Plantlife International, has been appointed to take over as interim chief executive shortly. “This appointment will provide leadership and continuity while the recruitment of a permanent successor is carried out,” the government said.
The news comes as the government’s independent environmental advisor found itself at the centre of a row over Defra’s decision to reassign 400 staff from Natural England and the Environment Agency to work on Brexit-related issues at the government department.
Around 50 staff from Natural England, including 13 who work on protecting sites of special scientific interest in the UK have reportedly been reassigned, alongside 350 staff from the Environment Agency.
The government acknowledged that some of the work undertaken by the agencies would be re-assigned or paused. Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh slammed the decision. “Preparations for leaving the EU must not get in the way of protecting our treasured natural spaces and iconic British wildlife,” she said.
The move also comes ahead of the retirement next year of Natural England’s chair Andrew Sells.
Announcing his departure, Cross directly referenced the recent staff raid.
“We are now entering a new phase for Natural England, as we look forward to a new Chair joining in January and begin preparations for the 2019 Spending Review,” he said in a statement. “This follows a significant period of change, with the Countryside Stewardship/Environmental Stewardship transfer to the Rural Payments Agency on 1 October and the movement of a number of people through secondment and assignment processes. I feel it is the right time to allow fresh leadership of the organisation to tackle these challenges and opportunities.”
Cross said the agency had achieved a lot since he joined in 2014. “I’m particularly proud of the network of marine conservation zones, the England Coast Path and pioneering new ways to connect people with nature through care farms and nature-friendly schools,” he said. “I’m immensely proud of everyone I’ve worked alongside within Natural England. My personal highlights have been the many, many amazing site visits I’ve been lucky enough to experience, seeing first hand our brilliant people doing what they do best.”
Chair Andrew Sells thanked Cross for his “leadership, drive and sheer hard work he has given to Natural England over the last four years”.
“He has been a key architect of important reforms to our organisation, enabling it to secure significant gains for the natural environment through efficiency, innovation and collaboration in a difficult financial climate,” he added.
Newly appointed interim CEO Marian Spain said she was “delighted to be appointed to such an important role at a crucial time for Natural England and the environment as a whole”.
“Natural England has a wealth of talented people passionate about making a difference for the natural world and I look forward to working with them,” she added.