A message from Tony Juniper

Credit Eleanor Church

President of The Wildlife Trusts since 2015, Tony Juniper explains why he is stepping aside to take on the role of Chair of Natural England.

Since November 2015 it has been my honour and privilege to represent the Wildlife Trusts movement as its President. Now, however, and with great sadness, I must next month step aside. This is because I have been appointed to be the new Chair at Natural England, and in that new role must be independent of the many groups that have interests in the work of that important public body.

The Wildlife Trusts movement contributes so much to the conservation cause, especially through our highly devolved structure, which brings an authenticity and grounded-ness to its work that is without parallel. At that devolved level, we manage nature reserves, we raise awareness, we mobilize voices and influence planning decisions. We collect data and we speak to the media, locally and nationally. We influence policy and inspire through ideas, leadership, art and the passion of our people.

It is my sincere hope that during the coming few years we will together finally begin to achieve the historic turnaround for Nature that we all know is so desperately needed.

It is a truly remarkable phenomenon, and one with which I have been very proud to have been associated. And my connections with The Wildlife Trusts movement go back to long before I was lucky enough to be declared President. My first role in conservation was with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Naturalists Trust (now BBOWT), working during the mid-1980s on what was at the time a ground-breaking conservation education project.

Since then, I have worked with The Wildlife Trusts in many different ways, including during my many years at Friends of the Earth, when we worked in common cause toward several significant achievements, including what became the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000). More recently, and shortly before I became President, I traveled around the country meeting staff and volunteers at Wildlife Trusts to see their impact firsthand, with many of their stories inspiring my 2015 book ‘What Nature Does for Britain’.

That book was part of an attempt on my part to help shift society’s overall perception and approach toward Nature, and to hopefully help make it clearer that looking after and restoring our natural environment is a sound and rational investment that brings many valuable returns for society, rather than as it is so often seen, as a cost that can only be afforded in the good times.

Many people in The Wildlife Trusts have been similarly occupied and as a result of what we have all been doing that basic shift in approach does now finally seem to be emerging. It is visible in several emerging recent positive moves, including in the adoption of the 25 Year Environment Plan. This will seek to leave our natural environment in better shape that we found it, and to do this via, among many other things, the establishment of a new Nature Recovery Network, new farming policies that will ensure the use public money to promote public goods and seeking to lever net positive gains for Nature from development and infrastructure.

Natural England has a vital role to play in realising the opportunities at hand and considering the state of Nature across our country, and the rising pressures upon our precious wildlife and landscapes, its work has never been more important. At Natural England my aim will be to support and hone the impact of the organisation’s wide-ranging activities, from protecting our National Nature Reserves to advising farmers and from opening England’s new coastal path to ensuring greater public access to our wonderful natural areas. I will be seeking to celebrate, protect and deepen the impact of Natural England, not only for the sake of our wildlife and beautiful landscapes, but also for the huge benefits that our success brings for society.

The Wildlife Trusts movement will of course continue to be a key partner of Natural England, and so our collective effort to not only stem the decline, but to begin the task of restoring our wildlife, will continue long into the future. With this in mind, and as I make the transition into the new role, I very much look forward to continuing to work with so many friends and colleagues across the country. It is my sincere hope that during the coming few years we will together finally begin to achieve the historic turnaround for Nature that we all know is so desperately needed.