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Written Statement - The Natural Environment Framework – ‘A Living Wales’

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Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing

The A Living Wales consultation was launched on 15th September 2010 and was open for responses until 31st December 2010.

 

A Living Wales was the most popular consultation on the WAG website in September, October, November, and we are currently waiting for confirmation of whether it was the most popular consultation in December. This consultation has been confirmed by the Central Web Team as the second most popular Assembly consultation ever, attracting around 6,600 views and almost 3,000 visits.  The consultation document was downloaded over 1,200 times during the consultation period. 

 

So far we have received 186 responses to the consultation ranging from short email messages to documents with multiple annexes.  It will take some time to consider these responses.  Two processes have been put in place to achieve this.  Project managers and work stream leads are continuing to consider responses as they come in to identify links, gaps and offers of support.  In addition, the full set of responses is being analysed in order to develop a summary of responses and statement of next steps.  

 

The next steps outlined below reflect our current thinking and will undoubtedly be amended in light of consultation responses.  A further update report will be provided in February.

 

The Living Wales Programme consists of the following work streams:

 

Building the Evidence Base (which coordinates work streams A,B and C)

 

A.     Ecosystem Health

B.     Valuing Ecosystems

C.    Geographical Information Systems

D.  Regulatory and Management Approaches

E.  Refreshing Partnership Mechanisms

 

All work streams are managed by a chair and project manager and have held at least two meetings (some have held far more than this). Each work stream had produced a draft project plan, which is currently being amended in light of consultation responses.  All work streams are open to involvement from external  public, private and voluntary sector bodies, either as part of the core membership of each work stream or as part of a wider reference group. This is an opportunity for everyone to help us develop this new approach and have an input into its design.

 

The Delivery Bodies Review

There are strong links with the Delivery Bodies Review: refreshing the institutional arrangement of CCW, EAW and FCW.  

Ministers have authorised further work to be undertaken on the option of establishing a single environmental body for Wales. A steering group will be established to guide the next phase and Ministers will shortly consider its membership and terms of reference.  This work will take account of all considerations including financial and policy issues, in particular, the work of A Living Wales, the Natural Environment Framework for Wales. This will also look at the exact purpose and functions of a single environmental body and will lead to the development of a detailed business case 

A brief update on progress and next steps for other work stream follows:

 

A.       Ecosystem Health

 

This work stream is considering the issues of keystone species and resilience and what constitutes a healthy

ecosystem.  They have drafted an extended set of definitions, a detailed report on reasons for failing to reach the

targets and a list of key documents relating to ecosystems goods and services. 

 

The work stream is drawing extensively on existing work on all habitats (terrestrial, freshwater and marine) to answer the question of what ecosystems we want and need and whereabouts they should be in Wales to provide the services we need.  This information will be critically important to enable other work streams to fully appraise the effectiveness of the current regulatory and management approaches, to design appropriate GIS and to appraise potential economic tools.

 

They will be producing map based outputs and will be liaising with the GIS work stream early in 2011 to ensure that these are compatible with delivery systems already in use. We envisage the group being expanded to include increased academic input later in the process and sharing of re-drafted definitions and list of ecosystem types with the other work streams early this year.

The work stream is working on real examples to illustrate the principles of ecosystem health and resilience and have produced a worked model for woodlands, which will be tested with other habitat types.  The model looks at the factors and processes which influence site condition and landscape function. They are working closely with Sustainability & Environmental Division to analyse the current monitoring effort to determine how well this can deliver for our future needs and have produced a review of the concept of keystone species as indicators of ecosystem health and determined that they are not suitable for our purposes. As well as maps and a technical summary, they will be providing well worked case studies for most of the outputs.  This work stream will produce a shared monitoring mechanism to enable us to maximise the benefit from all the information that we collect, the first elements of which will be in place by May 2011.  

 

B.      Valuing Ecosystems

 

This work stream will consider relevant economic evidence, economic tools that can be used to secure ecosystem outcomes, as well as wider social and environmental economic data. It is hoped that this group will provide valuations of key elements of environmental capital in Wales and an assessment of current tools for valuing economic capital early in 2011.

 

An initial review of the evidence base has determined that, while there is a large (and growing) UK and international evidence base on the value of ecosystem services, there is relatively little Wales specific information available.  As a first step to addressing this issue, three case studies are being developed looking at the change in the value of ecosystem services in Wales associated with:

  • An expansion of the network of Marine Protected Areas;
  • Increasing access to Urban Green Spaces, and;
  • A woodland expansion programme.

The group is also intending to identify the key gaps in the evidence base in Wales and to consider how best to address those gaps.

 

One of the key questions asked of the group in the consultation document was whether there was any value in developing formal accounts for natural capital in Wales.  There is a considerable amount of work being undertaken at an International level to develop a robust and consistent methodology for incorporating the value of environmental resources and ecosystem services into national accounting systems.  For example, at the recent Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, the World Bank launched a global partnership and 5-year pilot project aimed at developing the systems needed to bring the full value of benefits from ecosystem services into national accounting frameworks.  While it is felt that there is little value in Wales developing its own accounting methodologies in isolation of what is being done elsewhere in the world, there may be scope to start assembling the physical datasets that will be required to produce natural capital accounts.  This is something that will be explored further in the coming months.  

 

C.      Geographical Information Systems (GIS)

 

A key deliverable for the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) evidence substream is to source and compile a spatial evidence base of relevant and robust geographic data to support the needs of the framework. This ongoing process has brought together the skills of GIS and data professionals from across the public sector in Wales in a collaborative exercise to improve knowledge of, and access to, a wealth of geographic information held by these organisations. This process has achieved an increase in the breadth and depth of evidence available to support the framework.

 

Accompanying these achievements have been improvements to the way that data is exchanged across organisations to enable the flow of data to be more efficient and reactive and the creation of a prototype online map portal in support of the ‘A Living Wales’ consultation process.

 

Further testing of the NEF GIS mapping portal as a communication tool will be undertaken, with a view to publish interactive maps of key datasets that can be of benefit to different user communities. Improvements will be made to produce a more comprehensive system anticipated for May 2011. 

 

D.      Refreshing Regulatory and Management Approaches

 

The Regulatory and Management approaches work stream is focusing on a thorough review of the existing regulatory framework as it applies to the emerging Natural Environment Framework principles. Our approach has been to form a core group of experts (principally regulators) to devise an assessment format designed to elicit key insights and provide an initial evidence base that will act as a foundation for our work over the next few years. The assessment is a combination of a targeted questionnaire for a wider group of regulators and the regulated, a literature review of previous reviews of legislation and 1:1 interviews with a wider group of regulators and the regulated. This evidence base will be focused on the effectiveness of the legislation to deliver its intended purpose and its wider impact on the delivery of healthy ecosystems and their services.

 

The work stream has already identified a key dependency with both the Living Wales principles and the wider evidence work. We need to be clear on what we require from our land and seas and their exploitation by society in order to appraise the effectiveness of current regulatory and management approaches to deliver these outcomes. There may be a future need for key, underlying legislation, however this should not prevent us from identifying and putting in place simple processes and key management approaches to make the implementation of our existing suite of legislation more effective.

 

Initial indications based on discussion by work stream representatives, rather than from the results of the assessment that has only just begun, are that there appears to be significant scope for the improvement in how the existing legislation is applied and implemented. This is not just in pure process terms but also in how 'embedding' the implementation of legislation in wider management approaches can prove to be an effective delivery approach. This is an area the work stream is keen to investigate further but we need to do this in a sequential manner, having built a strong foundation that will serve us well in the medium-term.

 

E.       Refreshing Partnership Mechanisms

 

This work stream is leading consultation activities and managing the communication plan for A Living Wales.  A pack of tools (key messages, presentation materials and workshop outlines) has been developed for use by partners. As part of this process, work stream members and other partners are seeking input from a far wider range of stakeholders than are currently involved with ecosystem enhancement and protection. 

 

The work stream membership includes both environmental and non-environmental bodies and includes tourism, manufacturing industry, agriculture and communications experts.  Their priority so far has been to raise awareness and encourage responses.  Whilst difficult to directly attribute to this work, attendance and presentations at numerous conferences and meetings seem to have ensured a significant response in terms of visits to the WAG website, downloads of the consultation document and formal responses submitted.

 

The group believe that they have achieved their initial priority of wider engagement with stakeholders and key sectors. In the current economic climate with many organisations suffering financial hardship, we have to work at a pace that is conducive to them and their resources. There is a feeling that we need to focus on securing even wider and deeper sign-up to some of the fundamental Living Wales principles.  More time is required in which to seek responses from organisations and assess whether any sectors have been missed and we need to discuss the Living Wales concepts more with the wider general public.

 

The fact that this work stream has concentrated on soliciting consultation responses by  attending "partner" organisations' meetings and making presentations means that they deliberately haven't begun the work of exploring how partnership working will be different under the new framework which we  believe will be their key work in phase 2.

 

Next Steps

 

A summary of responses and statement of next steps will be made available in February 2011, along with a selection of update reports such as:- a refreshed and extended definitions paper, progress reports on indicators and monitoring, and the potential for natural capital accounting.  Additional case studies and further developments of the GIS Portal will also be available.