Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from English Nature


  We see three distinct areas that need reviewing to assess the extent to which the UK Government has adequately monitored progress on sustainable development: institutional arrangements and accountabilities, strategy development and reporting and monitoring against indicators.

  Sustainable development at the national level has been boosted by the upgrading of the Green Minister's committee to a sub-committee of Cabinet as ENV (G) and the amalgamation of the UK Round Table and British Government Panel on Sustainable Development into the high profile Sustainable Development Commission. This could be further strengthened by a "sustainable development unit" within each Government department to co-ordinate and oversee action.

  We feel there is scope for improvement at the regional level in monitoring the sustainable development outcomes of the regions and a need for either DTLR or DTI to take on a scrutiny role at the national level and the Regional Assemblies/Chambers at the regional level. The Government Offices could also assist by reporting on sustainable development progress in their annual reports to central Government (in the same way the Rural White Paper commits them to future explicit rural reports and a collective report on the regional implications of national rural policy developments).

  DTI and DFID have produced their own sustainable development strategies (DEFRA and DTLR are developing strategies) and we would like to see other Government departments follow suit. The strategies should show how the department is meeting the key commitments set out in A better quality of life—a strategy for sustainable development for the UK, and the quality and monitoring and reporting arrangements of these strategies should be independently reviewed. The strategies should be high level documents which link to PSA targets and the headline and core sustainable development indicators (the approach taken in the departmental Sustainable Development Reports for Treasury as part of the 2002 Spending Review) and report on progress annually.

  Integrated Policy Appraisal/Sustainability Appraisal methodologies have raised awareness of a wider range of cross-cutting sustainability issues but the arrangements need to be reviewed to identify best practice, how successful the uptake has been and how the appraisals have actually changed or informed policy.

  The development of headline and core sustainable development indicators has been instrumental in improving monitoring and reporting arrangements. However, stronger links need to be made between indicators and specific policies, vertical integration is needed to the regional and local level and those indicators "requiring development" should be treated as a priority.

  It will be extremely difficult to improve some of the headline sustainable development indicators without a fundamental change in some sectoral policies. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) are classic examples in relation to biodiversity. In particular, the perverse production subsidies of the CAP have led to a massive decline in the diversity of wildlife in the last 50 years, including populations of wild birds, which is a headline indicator and DEFRA PSA target.


  1.1  English Nature is the statutory body that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife and natural features of England. We do this by:

    —  Advising—Government, other agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business, communities, individuals.

    —  Regulating—activities affecting the special nature conservation sites in England.

    —  Enabling—helping others to manage land for nature conservation through grants, projects and information.

    —  Enthusing—advocating nature conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development.

  1.2  In fulfilling our statutory duties, we:

    —  Establish and manage National Nature Reserves (NNRs).

    —  Notify and safeguard Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

    —  Advocate to government departments and others effective policies for nature conservation.

    —  Disseminate guidance and advice about nature conservation.

    —  Promote research relevant to nature conservation.

  1.3  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues.

  1.4  English Nature promotes biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development globally, nationally and locally because it:

    —  Enhances quality of life—a diverse natural world provides aesthetic pleasure, health benefits, educational opportunities, culture and a sense of well-being.

    —  Provides natural ecosystem services—reducing the risk f flood damage, pollution filtration, climatic stability and nutrient recycling.

    —  Provides natural assets from which we can derive economic benefits—genetic resources, pharmaceuticals, food and other crops (eg for energy, fibre).

    —  Provides a measure of the health of the wider environment.

    —  Is critical to future generations because diminishing biodiversity affects their ability to meet future needs.


  2.1  English Nature's submission to this inquiry concentrates on part (c)—the extent to which the Government has adequately monitored UK progress on sustainable development. We have not been actively involved in the preparations for the World Summit, covered in parts (a) and (b). In relation to Agenda 21 issues this response concentrates on our statutory remit of monitoring biodiversity policies and site level outcomes. Key points on sustainable development and biodiversity are made within section 2 of this response, supported by historic background information in Annex A on how the current monitoring and reporting mechanisms for biodiversity have developed.


  2.2  We feel that significant progress has been made in the last three years in implementing and monitoring progress on sustainable development. This is largely a result of the publication, in May 1999, of A better quality of life: a strategy for sustainable development for the UK. This strategy has been a milestone in setting out what the UK's priorities are, key actions and commitments, how progress should be measured and the roles and responsibilities of the public and private sector. English Nature will be closely reviewing the Government annual reports on how this strategy is progressing to ensure that the Government maintains its focus on developing policy to deliver against the indicators.

  2.3  The sustainable development duty given to regional bodies (Section 4 of the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998) and local authorities (Sections 2 and 4 of the Local Government Act 2000) is leading to the development of regional/local strategies and frameworks which provide the context for monitoring sustainable development at the regional and local level. Most regions now have Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks (RSDFs) with a suite of regionally focussed indicators to measure progress and we hope to see a similar approach taken at the local level in Community Strategies.

  Although the production of these frameworks is a good start we are concerned that there is no national overview on what the RSDFs are actually delivering. The process of Framework development and partnership working is reviewed by the Regional Co-ordination Unit but we feel there is a role for the fledgling Sustainable Development Unit in DTLR to monitor the progress the regions are making and ensure that they are taking equally into account economic, social and environmental issues. Similarly, at the regional level, we see a role for the Regional Assemblies/Chambers and Government Offices' in monitoring progress against regional commitments.

  2.4  Government departments are measuring their own progress as a result of the Greening Government Initiative (with results set out in the Annual Reports of the Green Ministers Committee) and in departmental sustainable development strategies. We have yet to see the outcome of these strategies will be and although some attempt has been made to outline targets (for example, in the DFID strategy and the DTI's current refinement of proposed targets for its strategy) this is an area which needs improvement. We are waiting for the DEFRA sustainable development strategy, which will be published at the end of April, and would like to see all other departments follow suit.

  It would be a useful exercise for the EAC to commission a review of the content of these strategies to look at the breadth of issues covered, if the strategies are complementary (and working to achieve the key actions and commitments set out in A better quality of life) and what the monitoring and reporting arrangements are. A similar exercise could be carried out for sectoral sustainability strategies (produced mainly by trade associations) which we have found to be very viable in quality. Water UK's strategy for the water sector is the only good example we have seen.

  In addition, Public Service Agreement targets are excellent mechanisms for monitoring a department's progress and we think the EAC should review the draft new PSA targets, being developed as part of 2002 Spending Review, to see how they take sustainable development into account.

  2.5  One area of continuing concern is environmental policy appraisal, which is still inadequate, largely qualitative and inconsistent. The EAC is well aware of these problems, which were well documented in Environmental Audit—Fifth Report (Session 1999-2000). The development, by DEFRA and DTLR, of the Integrated Policy Appraisal tool will, if properly implemented, provide a consistent approach to appraisal of economic, environmental, social and distributional (eg gender, age, regions) issues. This is a new tool, being used for the first time in relation to spending proposals for the 2002 Spending Review, but it would be useful for the EAC to review how each department is using the tool and the quality of the appraisals (particularly the quantitative material continued in them).

  This concern also applies to the regional level. The Sustainability Appraisals of Regional Economic Development Strategies were thorough in most cases, but how they actually influenced the content of the strategies seems to be largely unknown. The only evidence we have seen of how an appraisal has affected the end strategy is in the One North East regional strategy.

  2.6  The UK's progress on monitoring sustainable development has been substantially strengthened by the development of the headline and core sustainable development indicators set out in Quality of life counts—Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment. For the first time we can monitor change over a whole range of issues, in a meaningful way, see the effectiveness of policies aimed at reversing negative trends and assign specific responsibilities to the public and private sector. As a note of caution it is difficult to see how some of the negative trends will be reversed if we continue to use incentives which lead to environmental damage (eg until we can implement significant reforms to the CAP, both within member states current remit and at EU level, the Populations of wild birds indicator is likely to continue its decline); or pursue policies which do not have sustainability as the underlying objective (eg we are concerned that the proposed reforms to the planning system do not have all three aspects of sustainable development fully embedded into the process).

  On a more positive note, we are pleased that The Treasury is taking account of how departmental priorities influence the direction of headline and core indicators in the 2002 Spending Review. The impact on indicators is set out in each department's Sustainable Development Report.

  The indicators give non-departmental public bodies such as English Nature a clear remit—we have a strong corporate focus on helping DEFRA meet the PSA target that supports the indicator Extent and management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The annual reporting cycle on headline indicators (the quality of life barometer) maintains the impetus on key issues and public interest.

  Some of the existing core indicators need further development, as it is difficult to see what is actually being measured. Quality of life counts acknowledges this problem (for example, the core indicator Biodiversity Action Plans needs to be replaced by an indicator tracking progress) and, as we are nearly half way through the reporting cycle, it would be prudent to check on what is happening with the indicators requiring further development. Other indicators are yet to be developed, for example Access to the countryside and Countryside quality. We are concerned that monitoring of outcomes in these areas may be neglected if the development of these indicators is not forthcoming.


  2.8  In response to Article 6A of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the UK Government published, in January 1994, Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan. The UK was one of the first countries to produce a strategy, which set out an ambitious vision to establish the goals, principles and objectives for conserving biodiversity. The Plan covers the first five years of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP). It will contribute to the UK's reporting of its implementation of the CBD to the next Conference of the Parties in 2002 (COP6). Sustaining the variety of life: five years of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (Report of the UK Biodiversity Group, DETR, March 2001) sets out the significant achievements over the first five years (See Annex A). The core sustainable development indicator Biodiversity Action Plans measures progress on BAP. This requires some development, as outlined in 2.7 above.

  2.9  There has been much progress made on implementing the UKBAP over the past five years (see Annex A) and we would like to see this progress maintained at the national, regional and local level. The England Biodiversity Group is addressing the strategic issues of the UKBAP by producing the England Biodiversity Strategy, which will go to Ministers at the end of July 2002. It is important for all Government departments to be involved in this process (because of the land they own as well as the impact of their policies) and we would like to see departments providing an input to the relevant work streams. DTLR has already indicated to us they will have an input to the Strategy.

  2.10  The linkages between Community Strategies and Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAPs) is another key area. The DETR circular 04/2001 on the Countryside and Rights of Way Act specifies that LBAPs are amongst the elements local authorities should build on when preparing the Community Strategies. This is further emphasised in the Rural White Paper. Although local authorities are not necessarily the lead partner in LBAPs they certainly have an important role to play and we are (and would encourage others) to promote the suite of local sustainability indicators being introduced by the Audit Commission. The indicators comprise two sets—a set of indicators for monitoring progress in relation to community strategies ( and a library of local performance indicators to judge how well local authorities are meeting local objectives ( We have developed a number of biodiversity indicators for these two sets (in line with the national set of core indicators) and would ask all local authorities to consider using them for the sake of consistency and ease of benchmarking performance.


  2.11  Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) safeguard for future generations the finest of England's wildlife and natural features. English Nature's objective is to maintain a series of special sites that are well managed and in "favourable condition".

  2.12  The term Sites of Special Scientific Interest dates back to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which improved the level of protection for sites and gave us the basic framework within which nature conservation policy operates. Despite this protection English Nature's data shows that, of the sites assessed, less than 60 per cent are in favourable condition (Annual Report 1999-2000). This is mainly due to overgrazing, neglect and poor management.

  2.13  The management and protection of sites need to be improved if we are to fulfil both parts of the core sustainable development indicator Extent and management of Sites of Special Specific Scientific Interest and achieve DEFRA's Public Service Agreement target of 95 per cent of SSSIs in favourable condition by 2010.

  2.14  Sustainable Development—the UK Strategy (DOE, 1994) and A better quality of life—a strategy for sustainable development for the UK both highlight the need for better protection and management of SSSIs and wildlife and habitats in general. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 contains provisions to strengthen the protection and management of SSSIs in England and Wales. This legislation will help English Nature and DEFRA to meet the PSA target and move the SSSI indicator in the right direction. One of the more significant provisions of the Act is the new duty on public bodies which requires them, when exercising statutory functions that may affect SSSIs, to take reasonable steps, consistent with the proper exercise of these functions, to further the conservation and enhancement of the features for which the site is of special interest. This is significant progress for wildlife protection in England and Wales.

  2.15  The delivery against the SSSI indicator will be improved if we encourage business and public bodies (eg privatised utilities) to report on the condition of the SSSIs which they own. We have an active programme of engagement with individual businesses (and business and environment programmes) to encourage reporting against the condition of SSSIs in annual environmental reports an the incorporation of SSSI and wider biodiversity criteria into existing environmental standards/reporting guidance. Hanson Building Materials Europe and Thames Water are already using our data for reporting. The Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment is considering biodiversity issues on behalf of Government and it is likely that this area of work will be progressed through the business work stream of the England Biodiversity Strategy.

February 2002

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