The white smoke has appeared from the Natural England papal chimney – we now know who the new Natural England Chief Executive is – James Cross. He has arrived fresh from being the second CEO of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). Before that he was Assistant Chief Inspector of Courts for England and Wales.
Cross has sat on a number of Defra Management Boards as well as his MMO role. As this biog from the MMO website says Cross excels in “business diagnostic and turnaround skills.” He is particularly proud of his work with the Northern Ireland Coroner’s service following the Good Friday Agreement; and also his investigation into a tragic case where a defendant was released from custody by mistake at Leeds Crown Court when an arrest warrant was already in place for them, and they went on to commit a murder that same day. It’s worth noting that the Justice Minister that Cross worked to as Assistant Chief Inspector of Courts was Maria Eagle, now Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment. Before his 5 years at the Courts Inspectorate, Cross spent 4 years developing his management skills at HM Revenue and Customs.
Hopefully with that background he will be quite interested in Natural England’s legal role and regulatory functions.
However, the marine environment is unlikely to welcome Cross to Natural England, since he has resided over 4 years of inaction, delay and “unhelpfully moving the goalposts” according to a very critical report from the Environmental Audit Committee over the implementation of the Marine Act for Marine Conservation Zones. Only 27 Marine Conservation Zones have so far been declared, and even these don’t have management plans yet.
The committee’s chairwoman, Joan Walley, said: “Marine conservation zones can protect our seas from over-fishing and give species and habitats space to recover, ultimately benefiting people whose livelihoods depend on healthy seas.
“But the Government has been too slow in creating these zones, and it has failed to get coastal communities and fishermen on board.
“It is now well over four years since the launch of the programme, yet only 27 of the 127 sites recommended by independent project groups have been designated.
“The Government must stop trying to water down its pledge to protect our seas and move much more quickly to establish further protection zones and ensure they can be enforced.”
Now it may be that Cross was working away feverishly in the background to get more of a commitment for MCZ’s out of the Government, and actually if it hadn’t been for his superhuman efforts there would only have been 3 MCZs declared up until now. That is quite possible, given the appalling record on the environment from the Coalition. I guess we will have to wait and see on that one.
In other Natural England Board news, NE has announced new appointments to its Non-Exec Board. First of all it’s worth noting who has left the Board – Doug Hulyer – a great conservationist with a depth of knowledge of the sector second to none, who has achieved a huge amount both at NE and as an HLF trustee. He was also an English Nature board member since 2002 so he knows how the organisation has changed and understands its history. He will be seriously missed.
A whole load of Non-exec directors are up for reappointment or for leaving in September and it remains to be seen who will stay on. David Hill, chair of biodiversity offsetting vehicle The Environment Bank has been on the Board since 2006 and I would be surprised if he stayed on; Professor David McDonald of the Oxford university Wildcru and badger expert may well have been given his marching orders as another 2006 appointee; the others were appointed in 2009 or 2011 so may well stay on for another stint.
New appointments include
- Andy Clements BTO Chief Executive. This is an excellent choice (though his knowledge of wildlife beyond birds may not be as strong or deep as Doug Hulyer’s);
- Simon Lyster – another strong voice for nature and ex Trustfinder General for The Wildlife Trusts.
- Teresa Dent Chief Exec of the Game Conservancy – clearly a nod to the huntin shootin and fishin brigade. Not good news for Hen Harriers.
- Julia Aglionby, Chief Exec of the Foundation for Common Land. This is an interesting appointment as FCL are relatively new and still finding their role. But I hear good things about FCL and I think she will bring a different perspective for the uplands and commons issues that NE has to address.
- John Varley of Clinton Estates. Varley has held a number of senior non-exec roles including on the Lawton panel and the forestry panel. Varley has first hand experience of the tricky balance between conservation and recreation as a trustee of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths conservation trust.
Does it matter who these Non-Exec appointments are? How much influence do they really have?
I have written at length about the new Chair Andrew Sells. Bear in mind the Board appoint the Chief Exec (with a final sign off by the Secretary of State). And they set the tone for the staff, particularly the Exec Board Directors. And they decide on policy. And they decide whether SSSIs get confirmed or not. And they have a great deal of influence in the wider sectors, through their networks of contacts.
NE non-exec board members can be apostles for nature conservation broadly and NE specifically, or they can be apostates, and everything in between. So getting the right board is absolutely critical. At least the new appointments could not be said to be Defra place-men and women, which must be good news.
Who knows, perhaps Mr Sells read my advisory post to him?