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Senior Defra adviser take on top job at biggest environmental coalition in England

26 September 2019

Wildlife and Countryside Link [1], the largest environmental coalition in England, with 54 member organisations, is delighted to announce that Dr Richard Benwell will join it as Chief Executive from 1 October 2019.

Prior to taking up this appointment Dr Benwell has held a series of influential positions in the civil service, House of Commons Commission, and the environmental movement [2]. Most recently, as policy adviser to the Secretary of State at Defra, he contributed to development of the Department's three flagship bills: the Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill. He has also been highly engaged with, and active in, Wildlife and Countryside Link over the 5 years that he worked at Link members RSPB and then WWT (Wildfowl and Wetland Trust). This makes him perfectly positioned to head the joint voice of the environment sector.

Dr Richard Benwell, said: ‘The twin challenges of protecting nature and stopping climate change outweigh short-term political questions a hundredfold. The British identity as a nation of environmentalists and animal-lovers will long outlast any labels like “Remainer” or “Brexiteer”. We must not let political turmoil shake our resolve to create a better environment for everyone.

He added: ‘It is a great honour to be chosen to lead Wildlife and Countryside Link and build upon the great achievements of my predecessor, Elaine King. Our aim will be to amplify the voices of the millions of green-minded people in this country, and to champion policies that will speed our way to a greener future.

Martin Spray, Chair of the Board of Trustees for Wildlife and Countryside Link and Chief Executive at WWT, said: ‘We are delighted that Richard has taken on the mantle of leading this vital coalition at such a time of risk and change for our natural world. Having worked with Richard directly and through his role at Defra I know that he has the policy, political and big picture insight that is so essential to influence the protection and improvement of our environment. Richard has the perfect blend of skills, knowledge and contacts to ensure the joint voice of the environment sector is heard and heeded.’

Nicola Hutchinson, Trustee for Wildlife and Countryside Link and Director of Conservation Programmes at Plantlife, said: ‘Richard has always been passionate about the need for environmental groups to work together to effect change, and it has never been more important for us to speak with unity on our nature crisis. Richard is joining us at an exciting time as we develop our next five year strategy, and we look forward to his leadership delivering innovations and improvements which will help to make the coalition even more effective.’

Dr Benwell takes over the role of Chief Executive at Wildlife and Countryside Link from Dr Elaine King, who recently took up the role of CEO at the Chilterns Conservation Board after more than eight years with Wildlife and Countryside Link.

Dr King said: ‘I’m delighted at Richard’s appointment. I cannot think of a better person to take up the reins at Wildlife and Countryside Link. Richard’s experience and vast knowledge of the sector and the challenges it faces, make him ideally suited to tackling the threats and maximising the opportunities ahead for our environment.’


Notes to editors:

1. Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 54 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature. Our members campaign to conserve, enhance and access our landscapes, animals, plants, habitats, rivers and seas. Together we have the support of over eight million people in the UK and directly protect over 750,000 hectares of land and 800 miles of coastline.

2. Prior to his role at DEFRA, Dr Benwell combined policy and campaigning roles at two of the top conservation organisations in the country. He was Head of Government Affairs for WWT (the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) from 2015 and was Parliamentary Programme Manager at RSPB from 2013. He was involved in notable wins for nature, ranging from campaigning for the 25 Year Environment Plan and new nature laws, to improving flood protection and restricting fracking in protected sites.

He began his political and environmental career as a House of Commons Clerk for the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee, and earlier as a researcher in the House of Lords, contributing to parliamentary scrutiny of the Climate Change Act and other environmental laws.
Richard’s environmental interest extends beyond the “9 till 5”. He began birdwatching as a schoolboy in Birmingham and he still finds renewed energy for environmental campaigning by enjoying nature with his family. He has been a director of Westmill Solar Cooperative, the first community-owned solar farm in the UK, down the road from his home in Oxfordshire.

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