The new Environment Secretary Steve Barclay “should speed ahead with quick wins” as his predecessor leaves a legacy of “complacency”, campaigners have said.
Mr Barclay became the 10th Environment Secretary since 2010 as he moved into the role from Health Secretary during Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle on Monday.
He replaces Therese Coffey, who resigned from Government during the reshuffle after holding several ministerial jobs including health minister and work and pensions minister, and also served as deputy prime minister under Liz Truss.
Campaigners are now calling on Mr Barclay to act quickly as they criticised the Government and Ms Coffey over the recent response to environmental challenges facing the UK.
Several have called on Mr Barclay to tackle the poor performances of water companies and sewage pollution and give more support for regenerative farming and nature restoration, and deliver on long-promised waste-reduction schemes.
Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Therese Coffey’s time as environment secretary was mired in controversy.
“Her lasting legacy will be the complacency she showed in dealing with the ongoing sewage scandal, which has seen the near-complete deterioration of our precious rivers and seas.
“While she did ensure the UK played a positive role in last year’s UN biodiversity talks, she will also be remembered for unhelpful speeches that pitted the interests of farmers, business leaders and environmental groups against each other instead of working to unite them.
“Steve Barclay is picking up a brief that has been neglected throughout the majority of his party’s time in office – there is a lot of lost time to make up for.
“Given the dire state of nature in the UK, he must start by urgently addressing the poor performances of polluting water companies and the regulator Ofwat.
“He must support farmers to work in harmony with nature and slash harmful emissions, and properly resource and restore trust in the government’s wildlife and environment watchdogs.”
Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “This Government was elected on a manifesto promising ‘the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth’.
“Instead, we’ve had a programme of broken promises, from farming reform to waste reduction and pollution prevention.
“The new Secretary of State for the Environment still has time to respond to the huge public demand for environmental improvement and rekindle a green light in government.
“Braver support for regenerative farming, support for habitat and river restoration, and long-promised waste-reduction schemes could reshape our economy for the better.
“In his first days in office, Mr Barclay should speed ahead with quick wins: a horticultural peat ban, ratifying the Global Ocean Treaty, a 30×30 delivery plan, a phase-out of lead ammunition and a chemical reduction strategy. These would really show he means business for nature.”
Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: “We congratulate Steve Barclay on his appointment as Environment Secretary.
“Last week marked two years since the Environment Act became law but the Government has yet to implement measures in it to cut deforestation out of supply chains and tackle the UK’s role in the destruction of precious places like the Amazon.
“This should be a day one priority for Mr Barclay.
“We urge him to hit the ground running and act immediately to put the UK back on track to meet its environmental and climate commitments.
“He must recognise that the costs of inaction on climate and nature are high and will be borne by ordinary households up and down the UK.
“This new appointment must not be an excuse for new delays.”
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “At the last election, the Conservative party was promising “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”.
“Now the in-tray for the incoming Environment Secretary is filling up faster than a river downstream from a sewage plant.
“The issues are stark and require urgent leadership: clean up our waterways, get a grip on plastic pollution, help to deliver breathable cities, ratify the Global Ocean Treaty and make farming deliver for nature.
“That’s the success we need. So Steve Barclay needs to act fast, because unfortunately the British public are already seeing what failure looks like.”
Mr Barclay said: “I am delighted to be leading the Defra team and to be backing British farmers and fishing.
“I am excited to be championing rural communities and supporting our excellent food producers.
“This government remains committed to leaving our environment in a better state than we found and halting and reversing the decline of nature – preserving our vital natural heritage for the benefit of future generations.
“The work of the department is also vital for the economic health of the nation, including protecting our communities from the impact of climate change. I look forward to driving innovations in green technology and supporting UK prosperity.”