Species reintroduction inquiry – government publishes response

27 October 2023

Environment and climate
A white-tailed eagle on the surface of the sea

The Efra Committee has published the government’s response to its report on species reintroduction. The response concludes that species reintroduction “is not a priority for the government”.

A species reintroduction is the return of a plant, animal, or fungi to an area from which it has been lost.

Reintroduction aims to re-establish a viable population of the species within its natural range.

The process can be beneficial, but can also present a risk of causing adverse environmental, economic, and social impacts. Many farmers will be interested in these benefits but also rightly concerned about the potential impact of a reintroduction on their business and on food production.

27 October 2023

Government responds to Efra Committee report

The government has published its response to the Efra Committee’s report on species reintroduction, stating that “the reintroduction of species is not a priority for the government” and that many of the committee’s recommendations won’t be progressed.

The NFU welcomed the Efra Committee’s report and expressed disappointment that that the government won’t be taking the majority of its recommendations forward, especially the recommendation to create a species reintroduction strategy.

Read: Species reintroduction ‘not a priority’ at this time, says Defra.

We’ve summarised the government’s response to the Efra Committee’s recommendations and the NFU’s reaction below:

Interim species abundance targets and reporting every two years

In its response, the government has pointed to interim targets published in the EIP (Environmental Improvement Plan) in January this year. It added that the time taken for data collection and reporting makes reviews every 2 years impractical, however the government are looking to identify other short-term metrics that can help measure our progress towards meeting the targets.

The NFU has highlighted the important role of farmers and growers in delivering the environmental targets while also producing food, and the need for clarity about how exactly this could be achieved through ELMs.

List of priority species, register, classification and long-term strategy on species reintroduction

Reintroduction is not a priority for the government, and it will not be producing a strategy, a list of priority species for reintroduction or set approach to managing high/low risk species. The government has said it has already produced the best practice guidance in the Code for Reintroductions alongside information on applying for a licence. Applications for a licence will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Although the prioritisation of other policy areas is welcome by the NFU, if species reintroductions are still a possibility, we do need a clearer idea about how government will manage any future reintroduction proposals as well as its long-term vision for existing reintroduced populations.

England Species Reintroduction Taskforce

The Efra Committee recommend that the England Species Reintroduction Taskforce needs to engage with key stakeholders before 2024 and that the government needs to provide clarity about the role and terms of reference of the Taskforce by October 2023.

In its response the government has said its terms of reference were agreed in 2022 and published online via a dedicated website.

The Taskforce has plans to meet with stakeholders such as landowners and manager this autumn. It aims to bring together experts from a range of disciplines to provide evidence-led advice and guidance on existing and potential species conservation translocations in England.

The NFU will be meeting with the Taskforce this autumn to discuss members’ thoughts about conservation translocations.

Species reintroduction code and guidance

Responding to the committee's recommendation to revise and reissue the species reintroduction code and guidance by January 2024, Defra has said the document was first published in 2021 and is based on international best practice guidance and therefore they not not feel a revision is needed at this time.

The NFU would still like to see the code and guidance strengthened in several areas including on what is required on stakeholder consultation, project management and exit strategies. We also need clarity from the government about how the code is applied, and the factors considered when a species introduction licence application is reviewed.

Rapid response consultants

On the point of support and funding for farmers and land managers, and a network of rapid response consultants, the government has said any release proposal should provide this management support and funding to manage the impacts. The government’s focus remains on incentivising delivery of wider environmental benefits through ELMs.

The NFU is concerned that once a project comes to an end or where there are illegal populations, land managers and farmers don’t have this support or funding to deal with any impacts and therefore take on the costs. The government should provide this longer-term support and funding where needed.

Protected status of beavers

The government has said that, given the fact beavers were given protected status last October, it is too soon to review this. As such, it would not be appropriate for the taskforce, which has no formal role in decisions of this nature, to undertake a review of the protected status of beaver.

The NFU is concerned about the impacts of beavers on farming businesses and the need for effective management.

11 July 2023

Efra publishes the species reintroduction report

The report acknowledges the NFU's concerns regarding the potential impacts of species reintroductions on rural landscapes and farming practices. The NFU has long advocated for a clear government framework outlining the process for managing species reintroductions in England.

In this context, the committee's recommendation for the government to establish a species reintroduction strategy by January 2024 is seen as a positive development. The NFU looks forward to collaborating with the government to ensure responsible decisions align with the views of farming communities. You can read the key recommendations and conclusions from the report below:

Clarity on the government's vision

The report highlights a lack of clarity about the government's long-term vision for species reintroductions. Therefore, the government is urged to create a species reintroduction strategy by January 2024. This strategy should include a list of priority species for reintroduction, a vision for each species, and a rationale for not supporting other species.

Streamlined processes for low-risk species

For species posing minimal or no risk, the current reintroduction system is considered overly bureaucratic. The report recommends that government should categorise commonly requested species into low, medium, and high risk, establishing differentiated channels and processes for managing cases within each risk category. High-risk reintroductions should undergo national impact assessments and broader consultations. The NFU supports a more rigorous approach for high-risk reintroductions but emphasises the importance of defining "high risk."

Funding and support for those affected

Those affected by species reintroduction, including farmers and landowners, should have access to adequate funding and support to mitigate potential negative impacts. Budget provisions should be an integral part of the government's reintroduction strategy. The NFU welcomes financial support but emphasises the need to take proactive steps to mitigate impacts before reintroducing a species.

Enhancing the Defra England Species Reintroductions Taskforce

The report notes the slow establishment and insufficient stakeholder engagement of the Defra England Species Reintroductions Taskforce. The government should provide clear guidelines to enhance stakeholder engagement and drive the revision of the species reintroduction code, guidance, and licensing regime. The NFU seeks engagement and involvement with the taskforce.

Protected species with risk assessment

If a reintroduced species is to be granted protected status (as in the case of beavers), a risk assessment and management plan should precede the granting of protected status. The status of protected species, such as beavers, should be periodically reviewed by the England Species Reintroductions Taskforce in consultation with the Stakeholder Forum. The NFU expresses concern about the potential impact of protected beavers on farming businesses and the need for effective management.

In response to the report's findings, the NFU acknowledges that certain species reintroductions can significantly affect the countryside and farming but recognises that many species could have benefits and are not controversial.

The NFU reiterates its call for a government framework and welcomes the committee's recommendation regarding a species reintroduction strategy by January 2024. It emphasises the importance of considering these recommendations, addressing species control and compensation for additional costs, and collaborating to make responsible decisions aligned with the views of farming communities.

28 February 2023

NFU gives evidence at oral evidence session

The Efra Committee convened an oral evidence session to delve deeper into the topic of species reintroduction. The session featured a panel comprising NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw, Professor Alastair Driver, Director of Rewilding Britain, Judicaelle Hammond, Director of Policy at the CLA (Country Land and Business Association), and Evan Bowen-Jones, Chief Executive of Kent Wildlife Trust. The panel discussed several key aspects of species reintroductions:

The need for a national policy framework

All panel members advocated for the development of a nationally agreed policy framework for species reintroduction. This framework should provide a structured approach to species-specific impact assessments, reintroduction strategies, risk management, and exit plans.

Robust stakeholder consultation

The panel emphasised the importance of a rigorous stakeholder consultation process. Informed decisions on species reintroduction require engagement with key stakeholders at both national and local levels. This is particular vital when stakeholders such as farmers and landowners could be affected by a reintroduction.

Role and remit of the Species Reintroduction Task Force

Concerns were raised about the clarity of the Species Reintroduction Task Force's mandate and advisory role. Transparency in its operations and communications was deemed essential to inspire confidence among farmers and landowners.

Tailored approaches to reintroduction

Acknowledging the diversity of species and ecosystems, the panel concurred that a one-size-fits-all approach to species reintroduction is impractical. Each species proposal should undergo a thorough analysis to weigh the benefits against the costs.

The role of ELMS

Tom Bradshaw expressed concerns about straining the budget allocated for ELMs due to the ambitious scope of various environmental outcomes. Instead, he stressed the importance of projects securing comprehensive private funding and suggested that the government should support longer-term management costs once projects conclude.

Professor Driver and Evan Bowen-Jones argued for the inclusion of ELMs in delivering reintroductions, particularly for landscape-altering keystone species and a "payment for presence" mechanism within ELMs to facilitate coexistence with farming practices.

Private investment

All panel members agreed on that private investment should play a role in funding appropriate species reintroduction projects. As evidence of successful reintroductions accumulates, private investment is expected to increase.

Stakeholder engagement and consultation

Judicaelle Hammond highlighted a lack of guidance on conducting consultation processes for species reintroductions. She proposed introducing a legal requirement for consultation at both national and local levels.

Tom Bradshaw emphasised that consultations must thoroughly engage key stakeholders such as farmers and landowners to build a comprehensive understanding of risks and opportunities.

Species management

The panel recognised the potential risks of species reintroductions, such as disease outbreaks. They agreed that culling would need to be an available management option in reintroductions if unintended consequences arise but this should be seen as a last resort.

Tom Bradshaw emphasised the need for an objective body to make management decisions when issues arise, suggesting that Natural England could fulfil this role. He stressed that predetermined "triggers" for management measures should be part of the reintroduction strategy.

There were some concerns about the complexity and potential issues with indemnity schemes for compensation, equally it was noted that compensation schemes for farmers to manage risk effectively would be important.

Illegal releases

Professor Driver expressed concerns about the lack of knowledge regarding illegal species releases, which could undermine the success of legal reintroductions.

Tom Bradshaw called for stronger enforcement regimes and stated that the responsibility and costs of illegal releases should rest with the government and regulators, not farmers or farming businesses.

The Efra Committee's oral evidence session provided valuable insights into the multifaceted challenges and considerations surrounding species reintroduction, with consensus emerging on several key aspects that could shape future policies and strategies in this domain.

6 January 2023

Consultation closed

This consultation has now closed.

24 November 2022

NFU gathers member views for Species Reintroduction inquiry

The NFU gathered evidence from its membership to respond to the Efra Committee's inquiry.

We recognise that reintroductions can play a role in delivering nature recovery, however, there are concerns about the adverse impacts a reintroduction could have and the challenges of predicting reintroduction outcomes through, for example, goals or targets, before populations are released or established

We've outlined our position in a draft response, which corresponds to the 8 questions posed by the EFRA Committee into how to facilitate and manage species reintroduction. 

Read our draft response in full: EFRA inquiry | Species Reintroduction – NFU draft response

More information on species reintroductions, and the 2021 guidance for a reintroduction, can be found on the government's website: GOV.UK | Reintroductions and conservation translocations in England: code, guidance and forms.

4 November 2022

Efra opens the call for evidence

The Efra Committee opened an inquiry into the benefits of species reintroduction, and how to balance these with any potential negative impacts on other land-users and local communities. 

The inquiry will focus on 8 questions ranging from how to ensure local communities and landowners are consulted on reintroduction proposals, to what the government can do to prevent unregulated species reintroductions, and what we can learn from previous species reintroduction programmes.

The full list of questions can be viewed on the UK Parliament website: UK Parliament | Call for evidence – Species Reintroduction.

This inquiry is currently accepting evidence until the 6 January 2023 and will be welcoming submissions from anyone with answers to the questions in the call for evidence.

The NFU will be submitting evidence to represent members views.

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  • The Efra Committee launched an inquiry into how to balance the benefits of species reintroduction, verses potential conflicts that may arise with landowners and local communities.
  • The NFU sought evidence from members before 15 December to help shape its response.
  • NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw gave evidence at an oral evidence session convened by the Efra Committee on 28 February.  
  • The Efra Committee has published the species report July 2023.
  • The government's response to the report is published in October 2023. Defra has decided that most of the report's recommendations will not be taken forward.