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
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
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 lifea 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:
agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business, communities,
the special nature conservation sites in England.
Enablinghelping others to
manage land for nature conservation through grants, projects and
conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable
1.2 In fulfilling our statutory duties,
Establish and manage National Nature
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
Promote research relevant to nature
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 lifea
diverse natural world provides aesthetic pleasure, health benefits,
educational opportunities, culture and a sense of well-being.
Provides natural ecosystem servicesreducing
the risk f flood damage, pollution filtration, climatic stability
and nutrient recycling.
Provides natural assets from which
we can derive economic benefitsgenetic 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
2. GENERAL COMMENTS
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
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 AuditFifth 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 countsIndicators 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
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 remitwe 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 setsa set of indicators for monitoring progress
in relation to community strategies (www.audit-commission.gov.uk/pis/quality-of-life-indicators.shtml)
and a library of local performance indicators to judge how well
local authorities are meeting local objectives (www.local-pi-library.gov.uk).
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
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 Developmentthe UK
Strategy (DOE, 1994) and A better quality of lifea 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