Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by The Herpetological Conservation Trust and The Bat Conservation Trust (OS 11)

  Our interest in this Inquiry is restricted to a single aspect; namely the Ordnance Survey's role in the promotion of Biodiversity Conservation. The Government, through the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, has engendered significant enthusiasm for the conservation of the UK's wildlife and natural habitats. This plan takes on board key international and European responsibilities, not least the Convention on Biological Diversity1 and the EC Habitats Directive2. This process requires commitment from statutory and voluntary sector organisations and significant input from committed individuals.

  However this process has been hampered by a number of factors. Firstly resources. While significant sums are available through the statutory conservation agencies these cannot hope to achieve all that is needed to achieve many of the targets in the Action Plans. Initially there was a strong preference for financial support through industrial or commercial "champions", though this was met with little success and little active promotion by Government. The change of Government saw a shift in emphasis; it would appear that there is now a preference for using public sector resources. While we have seen an apparent increase in direction (eg creation of a Statutory Duties for Government Departments to have regard to the Biodiversity Action Plan (Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000), promotion of local action via "Community Strategies" (Local Government Act 2000) we have seen little "on the ground" to convince us that adequate resources are being made available.

  A further weakness in the process is the availability of data and information. This is needed to allow assessments of the status of species and habitats and to assess conservation needs. Through the National Biodiversity Network* we see a national initiative to try to rectify this. The Herpetological Conservation Trust (HCT) and The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) are two of many organisations that are committed to seeing the ambitions of this project realised. The strengths and weaknesses of the NBN approach were discussed during the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee Inquiry into UK Biodiversity3. In the Inquiry report it was noted that "National Biodiversity Policy relies on freely available, good quality data; this pre-requisite must not be blocked by the Government or by academic institutions". We are looking to commitment from Government to help this situation improve.

  Increasingly this information is becoming map based and stored electronically. Maps are required for producing habitat inventories, for identifying the location of protected species, for reporting on change in status and or identifying sensitivity maps of use to local planning authorities. Such information is also central to the development of local action plans and for the implementation of Planning Policy Guidance relating to nature conservation. Maps are also required for planning projects, for example for applying for grants or for requesting felling licences or other consents. Thus we see an increasing need for good quality map based data for taking forward Biodiversity conservation, much of in response to the requirements of statutory authorities. We also note the requirements of the EC Habitats Directive for monitoring the status of our threatened habitats and species. Again while the onus lies with Government to provide this information, this will not be possible without the commitment of non-Governmental organisations and individuals.

  We believe that the Ordnance Survey should be helping with these causes. The organisation is well suited to providing a "Champions role" to the whole Biodiversity Action Plan, supporting it through the provision of maps (paper and electronic) and technical support, to ensure the use of high quality and up to date information by Partners. Currently the copyright and licensing fees serve to decrease the availability of information and add further procedural and financial barriers to a wider involvement. They serve to restrict the quality of data, often maps produced that can be exchanged are poor quality sketches—recorders preferring to provide poor data than be required to buy OS material or risk illegal copying. Most Governmental bodies and Local Authorities buy Service Level Agreements with the Ordnance Survey; some non-Governmental Bodies will be able to obtain grant aid to purchase such maps from Governmental sources. Thus where legitimate OS products are used to provide biological data (often back to Governmental bodies and local authorities) these may have been paid for several times, thus escalating the cost of Biodiversity conservation initiatives.

  As a Governmental body that aims to maximise the benefit of geo-spatial information to all sectors of British life, the Ordnance Survey should look to maximise its support for the Biodiversity Action Plans. The conservation of Biodiversity is seen as a key measurement of Sustainability, and while various bodies and individuals are committed to assisting with its conservation, ultimately the responsibility for its conservation (and meeting international and European Commitments) lies with the Government.

  We are aware of existing arrangements allowing the provision of 1:50,000 maps to support the "Recorder 2000" biological recording programme. However this level of details is not adequate for all aspects of conservation work. More detailed products are required.

  We therefore believe that the Government should work with the Ordnance Survey to develop the necessary mechanisms by which bone fide Biodiversity Partners and contributors to the National Biodiversity Network can make full use of OS products free of charge and without restrictive limitations of subsequent production and copying of such information. This may be through reviewing the OS's Revenue Target, or via explicit inclusion of such organisations and individuals within the Service Level Agreements held by National Conservation organisations. We would also suggest that additional resources are made available, perhaps at the OS, at the Department or via a Statutory Conservation Organisation, to ensure that the project is managed. This may involve the creation of a post to oversee appropriate licence agreements or to provide technical support to advise on which products are most appropriate for different uses. This would provide a mechanism by which some of the increased resources for the National Biodiversity Network, recommended by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee Inquiry on UK Biodiversity, could be found. Given the nature of the Ordnance Survey's work, this body could provide a valuable lead in developing an environmental charter and promoting the conservation of Biodiversity. Such ideas are amongst many identified through the Inquiry on UK Biodiversity.

  This action would also offer a significant incentive for the continued involvement of the voluntary sector at a time when the initial gloss of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan is beginning to wear off, and at a time when people are beginning to question the Government's continued commitment to the plan. We look forward to continuing to work with the Government to deliver Biodiversity targets and to help engender wider support for the process. To achieve this, we need an active contribution from the Ordnance Survey.

REFERENCES1  UN Convention on Biological Diversity (1992).

2  Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats of wild fauna and flora (1992).

3  Environmental, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee (2000). UK Biodiversity. Twentieth Report. House of Commons Session 1999-2000. Report & Proceedings of the Committee.

*  Note: references to the National Biodiversity Network in this document refer to the network of recorders and mechanisms by which records are exchanged and do not refer to the National Biodiversity Network Trust.

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