(Also known as the biodiversity duty for public authorities.)
Under the biodiversity duty (published 2006), public authorities must consider how to conserve biodiversity in all their actions. Oddly, the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Natural England have just now published guidance on how this should be achieved.
Sadly, as we have come to expect, this guidance is all about minimising ‘red tape’ and as such it’s stripped back to the point of indecency! Regular readers of our blog will know that we often take issue with government guidance that lacks the detail required to make it useful and that often dismisses or ignores the issue of irreplaceable ancient woodland. This guidance, however, takes this to a whole other level, managing to be factually incorrect as well as breathtakingly scant on any useful detail. Such is the poor quality of the new guidance that some well-qualified commentators have described it as ‘useless’ and ‘bizarre’ – some have gone as far as suggesting it was a draft that was published in error!
So what is so wrong with this guidance? Well, from a Woodland Trust point of view there is no specific mention of irreplaceable habitats, or ancient woodland. Its consideration of tree planting is derisory:
‘using sustainably sourced native tree and plant species in new planting’
– this is just common sense; what does ‘sustainably sourced’ actually mean? Just a small amount of detail could give so much more value to something that is surely fundamental to any long-term commitment to biodiversity.
Worryingly, the guidance fails to mention Parish and Town Councils which fall under Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 Duty. As the importance of neighbourhood planning continues to grow this would appear to be a glaring error.
The document goes on to deliver more pearls of wisdom: “Public Authorities should be putting up nest boxes at schools and keeping verges clear of litter.” If it wasn’t so depressing it would be funny.
Here is our favourite piece of advice from the guidance to leave you with:
‘Public authorities can promote biodiversity at beaches by……creating canals to act as habitats for wildlife’
Maybe the authors need to learn about the engineering challenges of building sandcastles before they attempt to write any more guidance on biodiversity. Otherwise our precious ancient woodland will continue to go the way of sandcastles…
Needless to say we will of course be speaking to DEFRA and Natural England about this guidance, to both express our disappointment and to ask for it to be revoked and updated as soon as possible.
Victoria Bankes Price, Planning Adviser