In common with most organisations dealing with the effects of COVID-19, Natural England is following government guidance and taking all steps necessary to protect our staff and help prevent the spread of the virus.
We also know that many people across the country rely on our services and we’re aiming to continue our essential operational work as far as it is safe to do so, for us and for other people.
This includes the advice and guidance we offer, our regulatory work, and helping to maintain the public’s access to nature in a safe and responsible way.
The situation continues to develop and we will keep our operations and advice to staff under review over the coming weeks, in light of any new advice from government.
Please be aware that in common with other public service organisations we expect that increased staff absences caused by COVID-19 will inevitably reduce our capacity over the coming weeks and months, despite our best efforts to minimise any disruption. We will use contingency planning to maintain our statutory and customer-facing activities. We will publish updates on any changes here.
Our staff are now working at home as far as possible and we have systems in place to allow most of our work to be undertaken remotely. All can still be contacted as usual by email and phone.
Meetings and engagements with customers and stakeholders continue but will now be conducted via phone, email or video conferencing.
As of 20 March our offices remain open to staff, as needed, but may not be open to visitors. Please do not attend our offices.
Post sent to our offices may not be opened so we would advise you to send correspondence by email to our enquiries team wherever possible.
Our customer enquiries service (email@example.com, Tel: 0300 060 3900) remains open. Given the pressures now and to come on staff we ask you to use the email option in the first instance.
Our regulatory work
Sites of Special Scientific Interest consent, wildlife licensing, the Wildlife Incident Investigation Service, planning and marine consents and comments
We will prioritise our resources to try to ensure that we can continue to assist all those people, businesses and groups who need consents and permissions from Natural England so that they are able to continue to provide key services and goods to the nation.
For now, all these services are operating as normal. We will also seek to maintain these services as a top priority, for example by reallocating other staff at the point when staff absences may lead to some disruption to our services. It may also mean for example, responses to planning consultations and licence applications may take longer than usual. We will make sure this is communicated to you.
Site Visit and Field work, including farm advice
Where field work can be carried out safely alone, and without the need for our staff to be in contact with partners, the public, landowners etc, this will continue. For example, monitoring the condition of SSSIs and assessing the possible impacts of a planning application.
We are, however, keeping under review visits that need us to meet others, so for example advice to farmers on Catchment Sensitive Farming may no longer be given face-to-face. If you have a scheduled face-to face visit, your Natural England contact will be in touch with you where possible to discuss next steps. We are working with the RPA and Defra to manage any issues which may arise in relation to the work NE does on agri-environment schemes
Public access to nature
At this difficult time it’s essential that people take steps to protect themselves and others, and we urge everyone to follow the NHS advice to either stay at home if they have symptoms or to social distance to stop coronavirus spreading.
However, many people will want to seek solace in nature and outdoors exercise which we know can have numerous benefits for health and well-being, especially at a time when we all face social isolation and anxiety. Helping people to enjoy these benefits is a core part of our purpose and we will encourage everyone to do so as long as they are taking the necessary precautions. We will periodically issue advice about using greenspace, nature reserves and footpaths etc. in line with PHE advice on social distancing.
National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
We will keep our NNRs open (subject to government guidance), provided we have the staffing levels necessary to ensure health and safety of the public. Be prepared for visitor facilities such as cafes and toilets to be closed and please be mindful of proximity to other people when using bird hides etc. People wishing to visit NNRs owned or run by other bodies should check first with them.
National Trails and England Coast Path (ECP)
All our National Trails remain open. Anyone seeking advice on the accessibility of opened stretches of the ECP should check with the relevant local authority. Again, please be aware of social distancing if using footpaths.
Our work with Defra and Local Authorities to propose and create new stretches of path continues and we will be in touch with our partners to understand the impact, if any, on progress, in due course. We will update this page as necessary we review and refine our work, and as the situation changes.
Keeping up to date
We will update this page as necessary as we review and refine our work, and as the situation changes.
Natural England wishes everyone well during this difficult period. We remain committed to to our mission to build partnership’s for nature’s recovery, which the nation will need more than ever. I hope that this can bring us all together again in partnership, safely and enthusiastically, very soon.
Marian Spain, Interim Chief Executive
20 March 2020