House of Lords Select Committee’s report ‘The countryside at a crossroads: Is the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 still fit for purpose?’

House of Lords Select Committee’s report ‘The countryside at a crossroads: Is the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 still fit for purpose?’ was recently released. In it the Select Committee for the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 concluded that the continual reduction in resources to the bodies that oversee our natural resources and rural communities. The Committee has argued that this has already had a noticeable, negative impact on England’s biodiversity, environment and the social and economic welfare of rural areas. As ecological consultants we liaise with Natural England on behalf of our clients to gain European Protected Species Mitigation Licences (EPSML) for development, nowhere is the lack of resources more evident, with the pressure to push through rapid changes to the licencing system.

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Recommendations included in the report

  • We recommend that responsibility for rural affairs should be transferred from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This change would ensure that responsibility for rural communities sits within the central Government department that is responsible for communities as a whole as, indeed, it did prior to the creation of Defra.
  • We recommend that Natural England should be funded to a level commensurate with the delivery of its full range of statutory duties and responsibilities. We share the concerns of witnesses who have told us that Natural England no longer has a distinctive voice, and urge the Government to take action in recognition of these concerns.
  • We recommend that responsibility for promoting and embedding rural proofing across Government departments should be assigned to the Cabinet Office, within a single purpose unit with the necessary resources and experience required to exert influence on all departments.
  • We recommend that the NERC Act should be amended in order to add a reporting requirement to the biodiversity duty; the Government should also consider strengthening the wording of the duty.