[holding answer 20 July 2006]: None of the current functions of English Nature or the Countryside Agency will be discarded in the transfer of responsibilities to Natural England, although some of the Countryside Agency’s responsibilities will transfer to the Commission for Rural Communities rather than to Natural England. We took the opportunity in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to consolidate and simplify the way in which the roles of these bodies have been described in legislation since the 1940s. However the statutory purpose of Natural England is deliberately drawn widely to encompass everything which the predecessor bodies were able to do. It will, of course, be a matter for the Board of Natural England, in consultation with Ministers, to decide how to distribute its resources between its various functions.
[holding answer 20 July 2006]: Significant progress has been made towards establishing Natural England. For over a year, the constituent bodies that are to form the new agency have been operating as a confederation of partners working together under a common overarching vision and purpose. In May this year we established Natural England as a “skeleton body”, with Chair, members and senior officers, to undertake preparatory work. In June, this skeleton body published a document setting out its “Strategic Direction”. Work is well under way on the remaining arrangements for Natural England to take on its full statutory functions on 1 October.
[holding answer 20 July 2006]: In addition to the transfer of responsibilities from the Countryside Agency and English Nature, Natural England will also assume responsibility for the majority of the functions which are currently undertaken by DEFRA’s Rural Development Service. Principal among these is the administration of agri-environment schemes. The functions will be formally set out in an agreement, under part 8 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, between the Secretary of State and Natural England.
[holding answer 20 July 2006]: Natural England will need to work effectively with a wide range of stakeholders at both the national and the regional level. Our Rural Strategy 2004 confirmed the particular importance we attach to the need for Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency to work closely together. A Memorandum of Understanding was agreed in September 2005 setting out how this could be achieved and it was a subject of lively debate during the passage of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. The first major collaborative project between Natural England and the Environment Agency, on catchment sensitive farming, has begun.