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Local and Public Authorities
- NERC Duty
Section 40(1) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 places a duty on Public Authorities to consider biodiversity in their full range of activities. It is a legal requirement that:
“Every public body must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity.”
This is a wide-ranging duty and covers all aspects of public authority work from the formation of policies and strategies, management of their estate, development work through to community engagement. Good performance can deliver many other important social, economic and environmental benefits.
Demonstrating compliance with the NERC Duty
A Public Authority that is actively implementing its NERC duty will be able to show that:
- Biodiversity conservation and enhancement is appropriately integrated throughout all departmental policies and activities
- All staff, managers and, where relevant, elected members understand how biodiversity issues relate to their own decisions and actions
- It provides sustained support to local biodiversity initiatives, such as its Local Biodiversity Action Plan
- Biodiversity is properly protected and enhanced in line with statutory nature conservation obligations
- It has access to professional ecological expertise
- It supports the Local Environmental Record Centre and uses the up-to-date biodiversity information provided
- It reports on progress towards national and local biodiversity targets
- It performs well against National Indicator 197, where relevant
Review of the Duty
The NERC duty is currently under review. Consultants, Entec, have been appointed by Defra to look at how public authorities have responded to the duty and to report on:
- What has been delivered as a result of the duty
- Problems that have been encountered in responding to the duty
- Whether there are differences in responses from different authorities or across different regions
- How Scottish authorities have responded to their more robust legal duty to ‘further the conservation of biodiversity’ (as opposed to the English equivalent ‘to have regard’ to this purpose)
- Depending on the results, actions that could be adopted to improve the implementation of the duty
This study is due to be submitted to DEFRA in mid-March 2010 and should be publicly available shortly after.
There is significant amount of guidance available to Public Bodies on what the NERC duty means for them and the types of action they can take to satisfy their duty. Some of this guidance is set out below:
Defra Guidance for Local Authorities in Implementing the Biodiversity Duty
The Wildlife Trusts, Local Authority Services and Biodiversity (see useful files)
Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, A Duty to Conserve Biodiversity - a Guide for Local Authorities in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (see useful files)
SEEBF Guide for Elected Members
Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, Parish Councils and the Duty to Conserve Biodiversity (see useful files)
National Indicator 197
Unitary Authority reporting to Government
Unitary Authorities must report annually to the Government on the performance of their wide-ranging services. Performance is measured against approximately 200 specific national indicators. These indicators cover very broad areas in great detail, such as: the percentage of child protection cases reviewed within required timescales, secondary school persistent absence rate, the number of net additional homes provided, average journey time per mile during the morning peak etc.
Implications for Biodiversity
The Government recognises that, at a global scale, plants and animals are being lost at an alarming rate and wants to ensure that biodiversity is valued, safeguarded and enhanced. It considers that many biodiversity benefits are highly dependent on local action because biodiversity can be protected or lost by actions on individual sites.
Berkshire’s Unitary Authorities are key partners in the Local Sites Partnership and play a pivotal role in conserving biodiversity. One of the indicators which Unitary Authorities must report against is National Indicator 197 (NI 197). This measures the performance of Unitary Authorities at protecting and improving their local biodiversity. It is a calculation of the “proportion of Local Sites where positive conservation management has been or is being implemented”.
Although Local Sites receive some protection against development pressures through the planning system, there is no requirement to ensure appropriate management of these sites. The maintenance of virtually all wildlife habitats is dependant on human intervention in one form or another; this may be through a hay cut and/or grazing of species-rich grasslands or ride management and coppicing of woodlands. Measuring the positive management of Local Sites is a proxy for measuring Local Authority performance for biodiversity in its local area.
How can Unitary Authorities improve their performance against NI 197?
All Unitary Authorities must report on NI 197 regardless of whether they have chosen it as a performance improvement target in their Local Area Agreements. The results for the six Unitary Authorities in Berkshire for the financial year 2008/09 can be found below:
TVERC, Baseline figures for National Indicator 197 - Improved local biodiversity and geodiversity in Berkshire 2009 (May 2009)
Unitary Authorities can improve their performance against National Indicator 197 by:
- Establishing a proactive programme through the Local Sites Partnership or organisations, such as FWAG, for providing management advice on Local Sites and monitoring implementation of this advice
- Ensuring effective management is taking place on Local Sites controlled by Local Authorities by establishing management plans and confirming delivery of identified actions
- Supporting the Local Sites Partnership in its role in identifying Local Sites and administering the Local Sites system
- Choosing NI 197 as a performance improvement target in Local Area Agreements
- Ensuring Local Sites are adequately protected in the planning system through appropriate policies in Local Development Frameworks
SEEBF Guide to National Indicator 197
This includes details of the cross-cutting benefits that biodiversity conservation can offer to other Local Authority social, economic and environmental objectives such as improved quality of life, health and education, and better climate change adaptation measures.