Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM)


The Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM), as the leading membership organisation supporting professional ecologists and environmental managers, welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Natural Environment White Paper Inquiry.

Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

IEEM was established in 1991 and currently has over 4,000 members drawn from local authorities, government agencies, industry, environmental consultancy, teaching/research, and voluntary environmental organisations. The Institute has led the way in defining and raising the standards of ecological and environmental management practice with regard to biodiversity protection and enhancement. It promotes knowledge sharing through events and publications, skills development through its comprehensive training and development programme and best practice through the dissemination of technical guidance for the profession and related disciplines.

IEEM is a member of:

Society for the Environment.

European Network of Environmental Professionals.

IUCN—The World Conservation Union.

Europarc Federation.

Professional Associations Research Network.

United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020 Network.

IEEM Comments on: Natural Environment White Paper Inquiry

Q1. What actions are required across Government Departments, from local government and by civil society to deliver the White Paper’s proposals to grow a green economy and reconnect people with nature?

1. Introduction

(a) In working towards sustainable development and a green economy, IEEM urges the Government to recognise the three aspects of sustainable development—economic, social and environmental—and remember that they are interdependent and must be addressed together. Moving towards a green economy must also be about more than just reducing carbon emissions, we must protect and enhance our natural capital—the ecosystems and biodiversity upon which we depend—and take into account their true value, for example, to our economy and our health and well-being.1

(b) Ecology and environmental management has the potential to play a significant role in moving to a green economy in terms of creating jobs, promoting sustainable development and sustainable business practices and also in protecting and enhancing our natural capital, upon which our financial economy ultimately depends.

2. Ecological and Environmental Management Knowledge and Skills Shortages and Gaps

(a) Regarding barriers preventing the transition to a green economy, IEEM would like to highlight the current knowledge and skills shortages and gaps in the ecological and environmental management profession. It is to our profession that businesses and industry will need to turn to access expertise and competence to enable them to move to a greener economic model in relation to biodiversity. Yet there is a danger that needs and expectations will not be fully met. Until now, anecdotal evidence has provided the only basis to support claims of skills shortages and/or gaps in the profession, but IEEM has recently published the findings of research it commissioned on this important issue. The report, Ecological Skills: Shaping the Profession for the 21st Century,2 found evidence of skills gaps and skills shortages that are crucial to our capacity to deliver a green economy. Some of the key findings from the report are included below.

(b) There are many emerging challenges for the ecological and environmental management profession, including:

(i)the requirement for ecologists and environmental managers to work effectively in multidisciplinary teams on a par with other professionals;

(ii)the need for improved collation and management (including quality assurance) of ecological data for national and international databases and access to these;

(iii)decline in the availability of both professionals and volunteers with fieldwork skills in both species identification and survey methods and techniques (including the use of advanced technologies);

(iv)the need for ecologists to understand and manage risk and uncertainty, and, furthermore, to be able to communicate risk, uncertainty and probability to clients and policy-makers;

(v)the critical state of taxonomy and systematics, due to many factors, including the retirement of experts and the lack of investment in taxonomy by universities, statutory bodies etc;

(vi)the need for ecologists and environmental managers to have access to economic models and tools so as to be able to plan for sustainable development and incorporate ecosystem values into Strategic Environmental Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment, Sustainability Analysis and Biodiversity Offsetting;

(vii)soil science, environmental epidemiology (including biosecurity), microbiology, energy supply and its impact on the environment, and freshwater science were also priorities raised in our research;

(viii)reduced resources for ecological and environmental management activities as a result of significant budget cuts across the statutory and education sectors and reduced margins in the consultancy and industry sectors in both Britain and Ireland;

(ix)constantly evolving legislation and regulations and the lack of coherence between legislation at one level (eg European) and its application at another (eg national);

(x)changes to the spatial planning system and the devolution of powers to local and neighbourhood levels;

(xi)the lack of understanding of the concept of ecosystem goods and services amongst professionals, the public and policy-makers;

(xii)the need to adopt an evidence-based approach to demonstrate the benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services;

(xiii)the challenge of engaging stakeholders at all levels, including clients, policy makers and the public; and

(xiv)the specific challenge emerging from those working in the marine environment to develop professionals’ appreciation that marine planning and monitoring requires different methods and techniques to those employed on land.

(c) Knowledge Gaps and Shortages

(i)Environmental economics, including understanding of ecosystem goods and services, is an area where not all professionals are fully confident that their knowledge is sufficient to meet foreseeable future challenges. There is a need for ecologists to emphasise the links to ecosystem valuation and biodiversity offsetting.

(ii)Professionals recognise their lack of knowledge in freshwater, coastal and marine systems and processes (relative to terrestrial systems and processes). This is again confirmed by employers and stakeholders who have concerns that reduced funding will exacerbate the problem. Professionals not specialising in marine ecology have a poor understanding of marine systems and processes and that marine biotopes are subject to different planning principles to those that apply to terrestrial environments.

(iii)Professionals identified gaps in their knowledge of cartography and data, environmental management systems and audit, and industry and organisational structures.

(iv)By contrast, professionals are relatively confident in their knowledge of environmental legislation and policy.

(v)Microbiology was an area of knowledge need raised as a priority by a number of stakeholders in different contexts. For example, microbes in marine biotopes, micro aquatics, micro invertebrates, plant pathology and biosecurity.

(vi)Stakeholders also drew attention to the need for ecologists to have a good understanding of the requirements of spatial planning systems at various levels and of construction techniques to mitigate threats to habitats.

(d) Specialist Skills Gaps and Shortages

(i)The erosion of skills in taxonomy and systematics which is giving cause for concern, as highlighted by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s report in 2008: Systematics and Taxonomy Follow-up.

(ii)Closely related to taxonomy and systematics are species identification skills. Species identification skills are reasonably good in respect of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians and higher plants, but poor in respect of fish, lower plants, lichens, algae and fungi.

(iii)Professionals recognise there are gaps in their ecological survey, sampling, analysis, assessment, evaluation and monitoring skills, particularly in respect of invertebrates, fish and bird communities.

(iv)Professionals are fairly confident about their skills in habitat creation, restoration and management in woodland, lowland grassland and urban/brownfield environments. They are less confident about their skills in marine, coastal and upland environments, where fewer respondents are required to practise. Stakeholders made the point that habitat translocation will become a skill increasingly in demand as a result of climate change and biodiversity offsetting.

(v)There is an urgent need for ecologists and environmental managers to develop skills in the use of new technologies, particularly IT, mobile technology and genetics, which have the potential to revolutionise survey approaches.

(vi)Other priority skills areas identified included developing effective and ethical approaches to invasive species and combating the spread of diseases.

(vii)Finally, there is the need for ecologists and environmental managers to focus less on individual species or habitats and instead to take a landscape approach, recognising the importance of ecological networks and connectivity.

3. Recommendations

(a) Regarding priorities for action, IEEM recommends that, in relation to the knowledge and skills gaps and shortages in the ecological and environmental management profession, a robust structure of education, training, continuing professional development and accreditation must be developed. This will ensure the profession and its professionals are able to deliver the knowledge and skills required to achieve effective protection and enhancement of the natural environment, biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem goods and services which will underpin a green economy. The following recommendations collectively set out an ambitious but critically important agenda of actions.

(b) Strategy for Education, Training, Career and Professional Development of Ecologists and Environmental Managers

(i)A strategy for the education, training, career and professional development of ecologists and environmental managers should be developed, including:

1.the definition of a set of core competences;

2.the definition of role profiles;

3.a system of accreditation of first degrees and postgraduate courses based on a detailed Knowledge, Skills and Applications Framework;

4.the definition of competence requirements linked to recognised professional standards and professional body membership grades;

5.the production of materials and activities to promote the career opportunities in ecology and environmental management to secondary school and post-16 students;

6.planning tools to help ecologists and environmental managers develop their careers and the competences required to take the next step;

7.a system of accreditation for short courses;

8.the accreditation of professionals’ specialist areas of competence;

9.a structured approach to continuing professional development (CPD); and

10.support to employers in providing structured professional development programmes.

(c) Further Development of a Knowledge, Skills and Applications Framework (KSA)

(i)Originally conceived simply as a tool for identifying, classifying and analysing skills needs, the KSA Framework for Ecologists and Environmental Managers has developed into an important output in its own right, since it identifies the core knowledge, skills and applications for the profession.

ii)The KSA Framework should be developed further, in particular:

1.expanding the knowledge, skills and applications to finer levels of detail; and

2.developing levels that describe the various depths of knowledge or skill required by professionals at different stages in their careers.

(d) Addressing Knowledge and Skills Gaps and Shortages

(i)A strategy for addressing the knowledge and skills gaps and shortages identified in the above research should be produced to stimulate a range of accessible, flexible and affordable learning opportunities to meet these needs.

(ii)The priority knowledge and skills requirements identified in this research should be published. Members of the profession should be encouraged and supported to address their individual CPD needs in these priority areas, either through self-study or through a range of accredited courses and other learning opportunities.

(e) Assuring the Quality of Professional Work

(i)To ensure that ecologists and environmental managers deliver work to the highest standards (for example in survey work) a needs-based programme of training, tools and good practice guidance should be provided. Whilst not a regulated profession, self-regulation should continue to be promoted through membership of the appropriate professional membership body that has the mechanisms in place to take action against those whose competency falls below the required standards.

(f) Communicating the Importance of the Natural Environment, Biodiversity and the Value of Ecosystem Goods and Services

(i)Communicating to and influencing politicians, policy-makers, other professionals and the public of the importance and value of the natural environment and biodiversity and the ecosystem goods and services they provide is fundamental to meeting biodiversity targets and hence human welfare requirements. Succeeding in this communications challenge will lead to a greater understanding and valuing of the role of ecologists and environmental managers in protecting and enhancing these assets which, in turn, will make a career as an ecologist or environmental manager more attractive to future generations. Key stakeholders should consider formulating a communications strategy to achieve these goals.

4. Further Information and Engagement

(a) IEEM would be pleased to provide further information and advice in the process of this inquiry or beyond should this be of value.

Q2. Will the institutional framework outlined for delivering the proposals (in particular Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships) be effective? Does the proposed Natural Capital Committee have sufficient powers?

5. IEEM supports the vision and positive intentions of the Natural Environment White Paper, however we are seriously concerned that the draft National Planning Policy Framework3 currently under consultation will seriously undermine this ambition.

Q3. What further research and/or evidence is required to develop practical programmes sufficiently detailed to deliver the White Paper’s ambition to fully embed the value of nature into policy delivery?

6. Further to our evidence provided for questions 1 and 2, IEEM has now commenced work on the Knowledge, Skills and Applications Framework (KSA) through a joint venture with the University of Portsmouth and has appointed a Knowledge Transfer Partnership Accreditation Project Manager. This will develop a more detailed competency framework for the profession. Allied to this is the development of a graduate ecologist/environmental manager knowledge and skills matrix that will underpin the Institute’s accreditation of higher education course programmes that deliver the knowledge and skills that employers require. Consultation with recently employed graduates and their employers will lead to the production of graduate role profiles which can be used to promote the profession to potential students and to guide higher education course leaders on course content that supports the employability of their graduates. The Institute will look to accredit such courses through a formal accreditation process.

Q4. What evidence is there from other countries that the approaches proposed in the White Paper can be successfully applied in practice?

7. No Comment.

Q5. What resources will be needed to fully deliver the White Paper’s ambitions and how can these best be provided? How might the value of “services” provided by ecosystems to beneficiaries be translated into spending that will enhance the natural environment?

8. In addition to our previous comments, we are concerned about the effects of public spending cuts on the loss of local authority and statutory agency ecologists and the knock-on effects that this will have on our ability to effectively deliver the aspirations of the Natural Environment White Paper.

9. In answer to the second part of the question, regarding translating spending into enhancing the natural environment, IEEM would like to see the recommendations of the Lawton Review4 implemented and supported, the statutory sector strengthened, better biodiversity monitoring and data management, and better integration of biodiversity into the planning system.

Q6. Does the White Paper set out an accurate assessment of the barriers to public engagement with the natural environment and make the most effective proposals for re-engagement?

10. No comment.

26 September 2011

1 See The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity reports (www.teebweb.org)

2 Freely available to download at http://www.ieem.net/skillsreport.asp

3 http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/draftframework

4 Making Space for Nature: A review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network—see http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2010/09/24/nature-news/

Prepared 16th July 2012