‘We are one step closer to our mission of restoring and enhancing the environment’: Defra’s Tamara Finkelstein on a momentous year

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs perm sec tells us about 12 more months of dealing with Covid while pushing ahead with new challenges
Tamara Finkelstein. Photo: Baldo Sciacca for Civil Service World

By Civil Service World

22 Dec 2021


What was your highlight of 2021?

This year has been a big year for Defra, and as 2021 draws to a close I am delighted to say that we are one step closer to our mission of restoring and enhancing the environment, leaving it in a better state for the next generation. We took the environment bill through parliament to create the environment act. This landmark legislation will improve air and water quality, tackle waste, increase recycling, halt the decline of species and improve our natural environment. This forms just one part of the major programme of legislation we have passed this year and last, including on agriculture, fisheries and animal welfare. 

A key highlight was attending the international climate change summit Cop26. Defra played a key role, which did not go unrecognised with Al Gore, former US vice president and Nobel Laureate for climate change leadership, praising the work of the department. Achievements included the Nature and Land-Use Day, which saw pledges from 45 governments of urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming, and the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land-Use where over 130 world leaders, accounting for more than 90% of the world’s forests, committed to work together to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?

This year we continued to face challenges as a result of both Covid-19 and managing the end of the EU transition period, with more recent supply chain challenges. This has required us to be agile in moving people to where they are most needed, listening to our stakeholders, acting fast and joining up across government. I never cease to be amazed by the care and support people in Defra show each other and how they find new ways for us all to connect through our Defra communities and staff networks.

What is your number one priority for 2022?

Defra is an ambitious department. Leaving the EU has meant that for the first time in nearly half a century we are able to define new laws, new priorities and new ways to engage with the public and our sectors. Top priorities for the coming year include enhancing our environment through implementing our landmark environment act. We will also be supporting farmers and land managers through the Agriculture Transition Plan, supporting innovation in our fisheries industry through the £100m UK Seafood Scheme and outlining the new National Food Strategy white paper. We will continue to manage critical risks for government such as floods, animal disease and food supply.

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

David Attenborough.

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