In 2004 the Scottish Parliament passed a new law, the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. The Act has created a duty on public bodies “in exercising any functions, to further the conservation of biodiversity as far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions.”
In addition, the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 (referred to as the WANE Act) makes it a duty for all public bodies to publish a report on the actions they have taken to meet their biodiversity duty every three years. Reports must be available by 2014. The Scottish Government has issued guidance and a reporting template for use by local authorities.
The Comhairle’s Management Team has registered the importance of the biodiversity duty, agreed to deal with this duty corporately and supported the process of integrating biodiversity management corporately within existing Comhairle plans, strategies and initiatives.
The Scottish Executive, in association with SNH and CoSLA, has developed web based guidance on the delivering the Biodiversity Duty which can be viewed on the Biodiversity Scotland (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) website.
The guidance provides advice to local authorities and other public bodies on the best way of embedding biodiversity conservation within mainstream policy and service delivery.
The guidance sets out in simple and straight forward ways the steps that councils and other public bodies could take to comply with the new biodiversity duty. The Comhairle has agreed to follow the 4 step process set out in the Scottish Executive guidance.
The development of a Biodiversity Policy Statement is one of the initial steps in the biodiversity duty process. The biodiversity policy statement lays the foundations for delivering the biodiversity duty and is the driver for the Comhairle’s contribution to biodiversity conservation.
All aspects of the Comhairle’s operations have a potential impact on biodiversity from direct effects such as purchasing, facilities management, travel plans, grounds maintenance to the indirect effects of the Comhairle’s functions, including its plans and policies. The biodiversity policy reflects the Comhairle’s recognition of the range of these impacts, and sets out a framework for reducing negative impacts and maximising benefits to biodiversity.
The Comhairle’s Biodiversity Policy Statement was approved on 21 June 2007.
A Biodiversity Duty Working Group has been established with representatives from each Department and 2 Comhairle Members. The role of the Working Group is as follows:
- Input to development of Biodiversity Duty Delivery Plan
- To consider the impacts on biodiversity of their departmental activities/functions
- To co-ordinate implementation of the relevant elements of the Delivery Plan
- To report on delivery progress for Comhairle and Scottish Government Reports
Biodiversity Review of Comhairle Activities & Functions
The Biodiversity Duty Working Group has undertaken a review of Comhairle operations, activities and functions. The review identifies and assesses the impacts of all our functions on biodiversity and forms the focus of future objectives and targets in the Biodiversity Duty Delivery Plan for 2012-2014. Where significant negative impacts were identified, consideration has been given to the options to mitigate these impacts.
One of the objectives of the plan is to raise awareness of biodiversity amongst Comhairle staff and Members.
A programme of awareness raising commenced during Scottish Biodiversity Week in May 2010, which included a survey offered to all staff and Members. The aim of this initial survey was to assess the current level of biodiversity awareness amongst staff and Members.
The survey shows that of those staff and Members that responded, there is a reasonable level of biodiversity awareness. However, the survey respondents are only a small proportion (15%) of the overall Comhairle staff as at March 2010. It is encouraging that a significant proportion of respondents value the biodiversity of the Outer Hebrides although action taken at home, in the garden and croft is limited. There is potential to increase the level of activity taken to benefit biodiversity through raising awareness generally. Respondents have indicated actions that they will realistically take to benefit biodiversity and in the next survey it will be interesting to see what action has been taken in the intervening year of awareness raising activities.
Motivations to undertake actions at home (green purchasing) and in the garden are broadly similar.
The awareness survey was repeated in May 2012 to gauge the effectiveness of awareness-raising efforts since 2010.
Respondents were asked what they thought of the Outer Hebrides' natural environment, which is made up of moorland, machair, croftland, lochs and streams, the coastline and hills and mountains and every living thing these support. It is encouraging to see that 58.5% of respondents thought the Outer Hebrides’ natural environment was very important to them in their everyday life (an increase of 4.5% on 2010) and over 33% thought it was quite important.
Overall there is a greater interest in the Outer Hebrides’ biodiversity among staff and Members since 2010. When asked how interested they were in the Outer Hebrides' biodiversity, 58% of respondents were very interested (compared to 49% in 2010) and 35% were slightly interested (compared to 41% in 2010).
Respondents were asked to consider how much they personally value biodiversity in the Outer Hebrides. 73% of respondents valued the Outer Hebrides’ biodiversity very much (compared to 68% in 2010) and 23% valued it a little (compared to 28% in 2010). Only 1.3% did not value biodiversity at all and 3% didn’t know enough to say.
The 2010 survey indicated that there was potential to increase the level of activity taken to benefit biodiversity through raising awareness generally. However, the levels of activity e.g. activity undertaken in the home, garden or croft to benefit biodiversity have not changed significantly since 2010. It is recommended that more needs to be done to encourage and support staff and Members in taking action.