In August 1945 the Government set up a Wild Life Conservation Special Committee (Huxley Committee) to examine the needs of nature conservation in England and Wales. Its report, published in 1947, recommended a list of proposed nature reserves where wildlife would be studied and protected, the creation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for areas outside the statutory reserves, the undertaking of survey and experimental work, a series of institutes of terrestrial ecology, and the setting up of an official biological service to establish and maintain the reserves, to carry out the necessary research, and to advise on nature conservation generally.
A separate committee made similar proposals for Scotland.
The Government accepted the principles in the report and in 1948 set up a Nature Conservancy Board and a Biological Service, responsible to the Agricultural Research Council. Shortly afterwards the Board was renamed the Nature Conservancy, and was established as a separate body under the aegis of a committee of the Privy Council by Royal Charter of 23 March 1949. Its functions were 'to provide scientific advice on the conservation and control of the natural flora and fauna of Great Britain; to establish, maintain and manage nature reserves in Great Britain, including the maintenance of physical features of scientific interest; and to organise and develop the research and scientific services related thereto'.
The Nature Conservancy was headed by a Director, appointed by the Lord President of the Council (up to 1965), and by the Secretary of State for Education and Science (after 1965).
The Nature Conservancy derived its statutory powers from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. It owned or leased National Nature Reserves (NNR), or entered into a nature reserve agreement whereby the landowner, lessee or occupier would allow the Conservancy to implement a management programme for nature conservation on their property. The Act granted the Conservancy powers to acquire land by compulsion, to lease or enter into a managment agreement with the land owner, in order to properly maintain a reserve , and to formulate by-laws for the protection of each reserve.
In line with the recommendations of the Huxley Committee, the Conservancy created SSSIs, and established a number of stations to undertake survey and experimental work. The first of these were at Merlewood in the Lake District and Furzebrook in the Isle of Purbeck. The largest was at Monks Wood in Huntingdonshire.
In 1965 the Nature Conservancy became part of a new research council, the Natural Environment Research Council. The government's responsibility for nature conservation was thereby transferred from the Lord President of the Council to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but the Nature Conservancy's responsibility for establishing and managing reserves, and for undertaking relevant research, remained virtually unchanged. In 1973 Nature Conservancy was abolished and replaced by the Nature Conservancy Council.
Nature Conservancy Council
In 1973 the Nature Conservancy Council was established by the Nature Conservancy Council Act. It was as a grant-aided body, financed by and responsible to the Department of the Environment. The new Council was responsible for establishing, maintaining and managing National Nature Reserves, providing advice and disseminating knowledge about nature conservation, and for commissioning or supporting research relevant to nature conservation. Research staff of the former Conservancy remained in the Natural Environment Research Council and became staff of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology.
The Nature Conservancy Council was headed by a Director, appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment. There were two deputy directors, one responsible for conservation and management, and one for research. Conservation and management functions included branches for conservation, operations, committees, international matters, land agents, biometrics, education, information, technical services, maps, and establishment and finance. Research functions included the research stations and regional organisation.
In 1990, the Nature Conservancy Council became responsible for England only and separate bodies were set up for Wales (Countryside Council for Wales) and Scotland (Scottish Natural Heritage). In 1991 the Nature Conservancy Council was renamed English Nature and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee was set up to deal with UK-wide and international conservation issues.