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 all working at home. 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 24 March our offices are temporarily closed to staff and visitors. Please do not attend our offices. Post sent to our offices will not be opened so we would advise you to send correspondence by email to our enquiries team wherever possible.
Our customer enquiries service (firstname.lastname@example.org, 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. Where, however, a decision by Natural England requires us to make an inspection there may be a delay if staff are unable to travel to undertake site visits. 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, that responses to planning consultations and licence applications take longer than usual. We will make sure this is communicated to you.
Site visit and field work
All field work, either undertaken by ourselves or our contractors is currently suspended for an initial 3 weeks (from 22/3/20).This now includes work that can be carried out by our staff alone, as well as that which we suspended last week that requires contact with others.
Public access to nature
At this difficult time it’s essential that people take steps to protect themselves and others, and everyone must follow the latest government rules to stay at home except for food, health reasons or work, with outdoor exercise close to home and no more than once a day.
Many people will want to seek solace in nature and outdoor 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 everyone to enjoy these benefits is a core part of our purpose and we continue to encourage people to exercise daily in the natural environment as long as they are taking the necessary precautions.
In light of new rules from Government on outdoor exercise and limiting travel we have update our advice on using greenspace, nature reserves and footpaths etc. in line with PHE advice on social distancing.
National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
Our NNR facilities such as carparks and visitor centres are closed and we would strongly advise people not to travel to NNRs. Local residents may still use them for exercise as long as they follow the new social distancing guidance. Management work on NNRs is currently limited (for an initial 3 weeks) to essential tasks that are critical for things such as public safety, animal welfare and water level management.
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 and follow the guidance above.
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. 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 our mission to build partnerships 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
Updated 25 March 2020