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Natural England (NE) sponsorship

The NERC Act sets out Natural England's purpose - to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development. The Act states that this purpose includes:

  • Promoting nature conservation and protecting biodiversity
  • Conserving and enhancing the landscape
  • Securing the provision and improvement of facilities for the study, understanding and enjoyment of the natural environment
  • Promoting access to the countryside, open spaces and encouraging open air recreation, and
  • Contributing in other ways to social and economic well being through management of the natural environment.

The Board of Natural England comprises a Chair and no more than 15 members. The Chief Executive is also an ex-officio member of the Board.

Role of Defra in relation to Natural England

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has sponsorship responsibility for Natural England and is accountable to Parliament for its activities and performance. His/Her responsibilities include: agreeing Natural England’s strategic objectives and policy and performance framework; approving the amount of grant-in-aid to be paid to Natural England; and carrying out responsibilities specified in the founding legislation including appointments to the Board, approving the terms and conditions of Board members, appointment of the first Chief Executive, approval of the appointment of subsequent Chief Executives and laying of the annual report and accounts before Parliament.

The role of the sponsorship team is to act as the primary source of advice and support to the Secretary of State on the discharge of his/her responsibilities in respect of Natural England and the primary point of contact for Natural England in dealing with the Department. This role includes: steering the NDPB’s strategic policy direction in line with Ministerial and Departmental policies and objectives through the corporate planning cycle; representing Natural England’s interests within the Department and elsewhere; establishing and administering a framework of controls governing transactions between Defra and Natural England; processing grant in aid claims; and fostering sound financial management and accountability within Natural England through financial and performance management monitoring. The team also supports the process of appointment of members to the Board of Natural England.

Agreement under Section 78 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (‘Part 8 Agreement’)

As part of Natural England's corporate governance framework, a Part 8 Agreement under Section 78 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act has been put in place. This is an agreement made between the Secretary of State and Natural England. It is a published written statement which authorises Natural England to discharge the listed statutory functions which were formerly undertaken by the Rural Development Service. Review points are built in every five years, although the agreement can be amended at any time if necessary. Four amendments have been made to the agreement and should be read alongside it.

Broadly, the Agreement authorises Natural England to undertake various statutory functions relating to:

  • Pest and Weed Control
  • Control of Pesticides and Plant Protection Products
  • Farm Woodland Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme
  • Wildlife Licensing
  • Agri-Environment
  • Heather and Grass Burning
  • Energy Crops Scheme
  • All functions in relation to consultations required under paragraph (w) in the table in Regulation 10 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995
  • Overgrazing and Unsuitable Supplementary Feeding
  • England Rural Development Programme Enforcement
  • European sites and local land charges
  • Caravan and camping exemption certificates

The full text of the Agreement and the two amendments can be found at the link below.

Further information


Enquiries about Natural England should be sent to:

Enquiries about Government’s sponsorship of Natural England should be sent to Martin Willcox.


General telephone enquiries: 0117 372 8548

Fax: 0117 372 8250

Page last modified: 1 April 2010
Page published: 23 October 2008