“We used to have a pot of money at the Environment Agency specifically allocated for nature conservation projects. This was the only time Biodiversity staff had access to funds for positive projects such as river rehabilitation or wetland creation.
We used to go out on the ground for field investigation, so we saw when people did works without consent. Frontline staff would collect water samples and macro-invertebrates for measuring water quality.
But cuts in budgets and dwindling staff numbers meant the job got more and more desk-based, and decisions were taken away from staff who knew the patch.
This meant we missed the opportunity to really understand how catchments worked and the pressures they were subjected to. We missed the opportunity to develop personal relationships with landowners and businesses. The monitoring network was greatly reduced, making it less likely to pick up chronic and diffuse pollution. The organisation was seen as negative, wielding the big stick of regulation. We began to lose credibility – if people see others getting away with unconsented works, they cannot see the point of bothering to get a permit themselves.
As the cuts happened, we kept thinking – how are we supposed to do our job?”