Paddy Feeny, who was poised to head comms at Defra, will instead move to the newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as comms director, it emerged this week. Feeny starts at the DECC in two weeks.
At the same time, Defra interim director of comms Rory O'Donnell is also defecting to the DECC. O'Donnell becomes private secretary to secretary of state Ed Miliband.
Defra director of strategy Jill Rutter has stepped in temporarily while a new recruitment trawl gets under way.
Feeny, former comms director at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, changed his mind after Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the creation of the DECC.
Insiders said the Defra comms job was seen as less interesting because the department was no longer responsible for curbing the rise of greenhouse gases.
A Defra spokesperson said: 'Whenever a new department is created, some staff who have been recruited into one of the parent departments move into the new one. Defra is pressing forward to recruit a new director of comms as a priority.'
Climate change campaigns will be run out of the DECC, but waste will remain with Defra. Despite the changes, the Defra comms role still has headline-grabbing potential - the department is responsible for floods and animal disease outbreaks, which can quickly become national emergencies. It has had no permanent comms director since Steve Morris went to Portland PR in June.
Meanwhile, the DECC has appointed Nick Turton as acting head of news. He joins from the Department for Business and Regulatory Reform, where he was deputy head of news. The DECC's comms directorate is expected to cover a press office of about 12, corporate/internal comms, campaigns and stakeholder comms.