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Two CEnvs, Including CIEEM President, Give Evidence to Lords NERC Act Committee

02 November 2017   (0 Comments)
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After CIEEM had previously submitted written evidence, CIEEM President Stephanie Wray CEnv gave oral evidence to the Lords Select Committee this week on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. The Committee was appointed on 29th June 2017 to consider and report on the Act, and will report back to government by 31st March 2018.

Sections 40 to 42 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 create a duty to conserve biodiversity. Section 40 places a duty on public authorities in England to conserve biodiversity. Section 41 requires the Secretary of State to publish and maintain lists of species and habitats of ‘principal importance’ for the purposes of conserving biodiversity in England. Section 42 required the Welsh government to publish equivalent lists but has since been superseded by the Environment (Wales) Act 2016.

The other witnesses giving evidence to the Committee today were Chris Corrigan (RSPB), Jo Judge (NBN) and Chartered Environmentalist Stephen Trotter (Wildlife Trusts).

The Committee was interested in whether Natural England is fulfilling its role; to what extent budget cuts have affected Natural England and others; the role of biodiversity data; the differences between the duties in England, Scotland and Wales; natural capital; capacity in local authorities; the understanding of biodiversity duties; and what needs to happen post-Brexit.

Stephanie outlined that Natural England is not achieving its stated aims as biodiversity is still in decline. Budget cuts to Natural England have meant that the organisation’s focus has been reduced and is no longer fulfilling its full remit. To their credit, Natural England is trying to balance this with adopting new and innovative approaches, but this is also not without problems.

Regarding data, Stephanie reiterated the point made by other witnesses that it is vital to good decision-making. A top-down strategy should be informed by bottom-up data.

Stephanie explained that natural capital is more than just the latest buzzword, it is an opportunity to link our existing understanding of biodiversity and ecosystems with new approaches to ‘biodiversity net gain’ and the government’s environmental ambitions. It is important that this is linked as widely as possible to gain support for environmental protection and enhancement from all stakeholders, including the public. The natural capital approach will need good quality data to underpin it, and this in turn will need expert advice to interpret and analyse it.

Stephanie supported the notion that the NERC Act is currently weak and needs to be strengthened, by extending it to include natural capital and ‘net gain’, but also that there needs to be a requirement for all bodies with a biodiversity duty (including local authorities) to have access to ecological expertise.

Brexit is an opportunity for England and the UK to improve our protection and enhancement of the environment. Stephanie said that we need a new Environment Act, which fits with the progressive legislation in Scotland and Wales, that incorporates the Lawton Principles, provides a new ‘net gain’ approach to land and marine management, and creates a strong UK-level enforcement body that works collaboratively with the devolved administrations.

The full evidence session is available to watch on Parliament.tv.

News item adapted from CIEEM news - available here.


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