Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Department for Environmen
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)


Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Politics and Administration


The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the government department responsible for environmental protection, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries and rural communities in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Concordats set out agreed frameworks for co operation, between it and the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive, which have devolved responsibilities for these matters in their respective nations.

Defra also leads for the United Kingdom on agricultural, fisheries and environmental matters in international negotiations on sustainable development and climate change, although a new Department of Energy and Climate Change was created on 3 October 2008 to take over the last responsibility; later transferred to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy following Theresa May's appointment as Prime Minister in July 2016.


The department was formed in June 2001, under the leadership of Margaret Beckett, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) was merged with part of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) and with a small part of the Home Office.

It was created after the perceived failure of MAFF, to deal adequately with an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease. The department had about 9,000 core personnel, as of January 2008.

In October 2008, the climate team at Defra was merged with the energy team from the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), to create the Department of Energy and Climate Change, then headed by Ed Miliband.


Defra is responsible for British Government policy in the following areas

Adaptation to global warming
Air quality
Animal health and animal welfare
Chemical substances and pesticides
Inland waterways
Land management
Marine policy
National parks
Plant health
Rural development
Sustainable development
Waste management
Water management

Some policies apply to England alone due to devolution, while others are not devolved and therefore apply to the United Kingdom as a whole.

Executive agencies

The department's executive agencies are:

  • Animal and Plant Health Agency (formerly the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, formed by a merger of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, and later parts of the Food and Environment Research Agency. Animal Health had launched on 2 April 2007 and was formerly the State Veterinary Service)
  • Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
  • Rural Payments Agency
  • Veterinary Medicines Directorate

Key delivery partners

The department's key delivery partners are:

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
Consumer Council for Water
Environment Agency
Fera Science (formerly the Food and Environment Research Agency, now a company in which Defra holds a 25% stake)
Forestry Commission (a non-ministerial government department including Forest Enterprise and Forest Research)
Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Marine Management Organisation (launched on 1 April 2010, incorporates the former Marine and Fisheries Agency)
National Forest Company
Natural England (launched on 11 October 2006, formerly English Nature and elements of the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service)
Ofwat (a non-ministerial government department formally known as the Water Services Regulation Authority)
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Sea Fish Industry Authority

A full list of departmental delivery and public bodies may be found on the Defra website.

Defra in the English regions

Policies for environment, food and rural affairs are delivered in the regions by Defra's executive agencies and delivery bodies, in particular Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency, Animal Health and the Marine Management Organisation.

Defra provides grant aid to the following flood and coastal erosion risk management operating authorities:

  • Environment Agency
  • Internal drainage boards
  • Local authorities

Aim and strategic priorities

Defra's overarching aim is sustainable development, which is defined as "development which enables all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life without compromising the quality of life of future generations." The Secretary of State wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister that he saw Defra's mission as enabling a move toward what the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has called "one planet living".

Under this overarching aim, Defra has five strategic priorities:

  • Climate change and energy.
  • Sustainable consumption and production, including responsibility for the National Waste Strategy.
  • Protecting the countryside and natural resource protection.
  • Sustainable rural communities.
  • A sustainable farming and food sector including animal health and welfare.


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Alena Potapova

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