Natural England, the new body which will take over access issues in October, is being starved of cash, according to its boss.
The Independent reports it has seen an email from its chairman Sir Martin Doughty to the Environment Secretary, arch Blairite David Milliband, which says the wheels are coming off the new organisation before it even launches.
Defra, the super agency created in the wake of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis of 2001, controls the new organisation's budget and, surprise surprise, it has cut the amount of money available to do the job.
The Independent quotes Doughty's email: ""I am deeply concerned that current financial demands being placed upon us by Defra are eroding our capacity to deliver these benefits before we even begin.
"I understand the need for Defra to live within its budget and Natural England is committed to playing its part in that – we are already committed to £7m of cuts. This is on top of nearly £8m in cuts imposed in December last year. However, [Defra] has now asked us for an additional £12m to be obtained in-year from Natural England and our founding bodies."
The underfunding calls into question the Blair Government's commitment to the outdoors and conservation. Cue Dave 'Green' Cameron's environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth who says the natural environment is first in line when it comes to budget slashing. But he's not alone: both the National Trust, and Buglife, the Inverterbrate Conservation Trust, say Natural England's work will be compromised.
No, grough didn't know there was such a thing as the Inverterbrate Conservation Trust either, but top marks to them for backing those creatures we just tread on normally.
Crucially, as well as being set the task of getting 95 percent of England's Sites of Special Scientific Interest in shape AND protecting skylarks, turtle doves and grey partridge, Natural England, established by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, is charged with looking after the access and recreation roles previously handled by the Countryside Agency. grough thinks it's not looking good for the future of access issues in England.
So we're all off to Scotland, where the Land Reform (Scotland) Act lets us do what we should be doing. Watching grey partridge, skylarks and turtle doves and being careful not to step on any bugs.