Haskins review prompts greens' alarm

Environment secretary Margaret Beckett moved this week to head off fears that the government's review of rural service delivery will water down wildlife protection.

Lord Haskins has now submitted his report on the way that services are delivered in rural areas to DEFRA. The report is understood to recommend that many of the operations delivered by the Countryside Agency would be better performed by the regional development agencies.

Environmentalists are concerned that Haskins's call for service delivery and policy-making to be split into separate bodies will lead to English Nature being absorbed within a land management agency with a wider socio-economic remit.

An English Nature spokeswoman said: "We are very concerned that the full range of our functions and duties has not been considered by the review and we will seek strong reassurances that our role as wildlife and biodiversity champion will not be compromised."

Friends of the Earth has written to Beckett to seek reassurance that English Nature is not being muzzled as a result of its criticism of government policies, notably the extra house building proposed in the South East.

In a speech to rural bodies this week, Beckett said: "I recognise the benefits of independent voices within the DEFRA family for important issues such as biodiversity and other rural concerns. We must preserve and strengthen these voices." She also described the countryside as a "national asset".


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