Natural England, the agency that merges English Nature with elements of the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service, was officially launched last Thursday, 11 October.

With a budget of £500million and 2,500 staff at its headquarters in Sheffield, the agency?s remit is to protect and enhance biodiversity and landscapes, as well as to promote greater access and recreation in the countryside. Formed as a result of the passage of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, it will be responsible for providing incentives for landowners and managers to utilise land in an environmentally-sensitive way.

Concern has already been expressed over Natural England?s responsibility for administering agri-environment schemes, such as Environmental Stewardship, of which some 40,000 landowners and managers ? including many shoots ? are members. Weeks before the agency?s launch, it was ordered by DEFRA to cut its budget by £12million ? part of a drive to save £200million ? a result of DEFRA?s mismanagement of the introduction of the Single Farm Payment scheme.

Of particular interest for many shooters in the creation of the new agency is the progressive transfer of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest Wildlife Enhancement Scheme, which covers many of the sites shooters manage in England, into the Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme, together with the establishment of a single point of contact for all such agreement holders.

To find out more about the new agency, visit www.naturalengland.org.uk