The departure of Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary has been widely welcomed by green groups, with some labelling him the worst in the role for decades.
Mr Paterson – who previously served as Northern Ireland Secretary of State from May 2010 until September 2012 – drew the ire of environmentalists over the badger cull, flooding defence spending and for his scepticism over man-made climate change, despite heading up the department responsible for adapting to the impacts of global warming.
Critics accused him of ignoring scientific evidence on environmental issues – mostly prominently on climate change – and claimed he made a mockery of Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to be the “greenest government ever”.
But he proved to be a friend to farmers, a key part of his brief as Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, taking their side on the need to cull badgers to tackle TB in cattle and in opposing the ban on widely-used pesticides linked to bee declines.
Mr Paterson’s replacement Liz Truss immediately faced calls from animal welfare campaigners to ditch the controversial badger cull, and to take a more scientific approach to environmental policy.
A spokesman for campaign group Greenpeace said: “Liz Truss has written extensively on the importance of science to education and the economy.
“If she can bring that respect for evidence and rigour into her new role, then we should see a more coherent approach to the environment than the embarrassing shambles of the last few years.
“Common sense and the laws of probability dictate that Liz Truss will be better than Owen Paterson. She starts with a clean slate and we wish her well.”
Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, said: “Mr Paterson failed to take the threat of climate change seriously and will be remembered as the man who failed to take action to protect Britain against it.
“Having Paterson, who wilfully ignored scientific evidence on climate change, as well in instituting the badger cull, in the post of Environment Secretary made a mockery of David Cameron’s promise that his administration would be the ‘greenest government ever’.
“Liz Truss, Mr Paterson’s successor, has a mammoth job in a short period of time to turn around Britain’s approach to climate change, to protecting biodiversity, to dealing with bovine TB, and many other issues.”
Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said Ms Truss’s priorities must include protecting households from the impacts of climate change, increasing flood defence investment, drawing up an action plan to help bees and working to restore nature.
“Above all, we hope she will mark a clean break with Owen Paterson by listening to science and striving for evidence-based decision-making.”
He added: “David Cameron is right to give Owen Paterson the boot – he’s the worst Environment Secretary the UK has had for decades.
“Mr Paterson has wilfully ignored scientific evidence on climate change, championed pesticide firms instead of bees and massively under-invested in flood defences, leaving thousands of households at risk of future flooding.”
Mark Jones, vet and executive director of the Humane Society International UK, said the departure of Mr Paterson as Environment Secretary provided an opportunity for the Government to re-examine its “disastrous, divisive and pointless badger cull”.
“In order to demonstrate her support for both England’s wildlife and its farming community, his replacement Liz Truss should immediately abandon the badger cull and set about implementing the genuinely science-led cattle and farm-based measures to tackle bovine TB that are so urgently required.
“Only then will England hope to see the kind of dramatic decline in tuberculosis that we are seeing in Wales, where the infection is being brought under control without a single badger being killed.”
But National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Owen Paterson for his hard work and dedication to farming and agriculture over the past two years.
“He showed an understanding of farmers and the farming industry and knew how important food production and food security is.”
He added: “Farmers grow and produce the raw ingredients for one of the country’s most successful sectors; food and drink, worth some £92 billion to the UK economy.
“I look forward to meeting with Liz Truss at the earliest opportunity and working together on some of the key issues facing our sector.”
Ms Truss said: “I am delighted to be appointed as Environment Secretary. I look forward to tackling the important issues facing our rural communities including championing British food, protecting people from flooding and improving the environment.
“I have greatly enjoyed my role at the Department for Education and would like to thank the excellent team there for all their hard work. I look forward to working with the team at Defra.”