Anger at £200m reduction in environmental budgets

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The Independent Online

Environmentalists have reacted with dismay to the news that wildlife protection, waste management, protection of fisheries, canal repairs and flood defence would all have to be scaled back because of massive emergency funding cuts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

About £200m, or roughly 5 per cent of the department's annual budget, is to be cut nowbecause the budget has seriously overrun.

Defra is in the red because of a number of unforeseen difficulties, not least that of repairing the fiasco earlier this year at the Farm Payments Agency, when the system for distributing a new form of EU subsidy failed to cope with demand and left many farmers struggling.

The cuts will impact on delivery of environmental policy in a number of areas, including the new wildlife watchdog, Natural England, which is due to replace English Nature in October.

As revealed in The Independent last week, senior figures in Natural England feel it will be hamstrung by the £12m cuts it faces. The chairman, Sir Martin Doughty, told the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, that the cutbacks risked "the wheels coming off the organisation" even before it was launched.

Yet Natural England is by no means the only body facing the squeeze; spending will also have to be slashed at the Environment Agency, the Sustainable Development Commission, British Waterways and the Rural Development Service. Of these, the Environment Agency cuts will be the heaviest, at nearly £24m.

Although the construction of new flood defence works would go ahead, maintenance of existing ones would be slowed down, the agency's chief executive, Baroness Young of Old Scone, said. "You can only cut back on the maintenance for a very short time. After that you start storing up trouble for yourself," she warned.

Green groups were immediately critical. "At a time when our environment faces the unprecedented threat of climate change... it is extraordinary that Defra should suffer a £200m shortfall," said Simon Reddy, policy director at Greenpeace.

Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Most of Defra's energies are already spread too thinly." Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's conservation director, said: "The RSPB fears we are about to enter an era of broken promises on wildlife."

Warning on 'climate porn'

Alarmist language used to discuss the threat of global warming is tantamount to "climate porn", offering a thrilling spectacle but ultimately distancing people from the problem, the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank has warned.

This alarmism excludes the possibility of real action, suggesting the problem is too big to overcome, a study by the left-leaning think-tank says.

It said discussion on climate change is confusing, contradictory, chaotic, and disempowering. "Alarmism might even become thrilling, effectively a form of 'climate porn'," it said, adding that the use of inflated or extreme language should be avoided and the focus should be put on small actions.

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