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The performance of Owen Paterson, the increasingly beleaguered Environment Secretary, raises serious questions about the Government's ability to tackle flooding and climate change and defend our environment, Friends of the Earth warned today (Wednesday 8 January 2014).

 In the past week alone the Environment Secretary has:

  • Wrongly claimed that "this Government is spending more than any previous government on flood defences";
  • Flatly contradicted warnings from the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Paul Leinster, that forthcoming 15% budget cuts to his organisation will inevitably “impact” the organisation’s ability to deal with flooding, with 550 staff working on flooding earmarked to be sacked;
  • Been criticised by the outgoing President of the NFU for downplaying the climate risk to farmers;
  • Suggested ancient forests could be felled by developers.

 Friends of the Earth's Executive Director, Andy Atkins said:

 "With Owen Paterson in charge of defending the country from flooding, the Government's credibility is sinking fast.

"The Environment Secretary says the government is spending more on flood defences, when in fact he's presided over a real-terms cut and hundreds of Environment Agency jobs are under threat - his refusal to accept the science of climate change may be blinding him to the human costs of the consequences of this.

“With everyone from the Government's climate envoy to the President of the NFU warning that climate change will increase flooding, the storm-damaged Environment Secretary has serious questions to answer.”


Notes to editors:

1. Owen Paterson was quoted as saying: “This Government is spending more than any previous government on flood defences." Independent [8 January].

Analysis of Defra figures by Friends of the Earth suggests this is not the case. According to Defra's figures, the Government spent £2,366m on flood defence over the four-year period from 2007-2011, slightly more than the £2,320m being spent by the Coalition over the current four-year period, 2011-2015. Furthermore, the Coalition's budget for flood defences is not inflation-proofed, meaning it amounts to a real-terms cut. Full details and analysis in our blog.

2. "The Environment Secretary should stop promoting the benefits of climate change and recognise that the extreme weather it brings ruins livelihoods, a farmers’ leader has said" - Times £ [8 January 2014].

3.  Environment Agency Chief Executive Paul Leinster has warned that government cuts will inevitably “impact” the organisation’s ability to deal with flooding. More than 550 staff who work in flooding could lose their jobs as part of the restructuring, according to figures obtained by The ENDS Report, an environmental policy magazine. Mr Leinster told the magazine: “Flood risk maintenance will be [further] impacted. All of our work on mapping and modelling and new developments in things like flood warning will also have to be resized. And we’re looking at a proportionate reduction in the number of people in flood risk management.” 

4. Campaigners attack proposals to allow destruction of ancient woodlands - Guardian [4 January 2014]

5. For more than 40 years we’ve seen that the wellbeing of people and planet go hand in hand – and it’s been the inspiration for our campaigns. Together with thousands of people like you we’ve secured safer food and water, defended wildlife and natural habitats, championed the move to clean energy and acted to keep our climate stable. Be a Friend of the Earth – see things differently. For further information visit

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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust