Council duty on biodiversity clarified last year

Pauline Wynter 16/01/2024

Under the Environment Act 2021 public authorities, including town and parish councils, have a duty to do what they can to conserve and enhance biodiversity.

Government guidance issued last year set a deadline of January 1 2024 for councils to decide what action they can take, and said they must agree policies and objectives as soon as possible afterwards, and act to deliver them. Town and parish councils, unlike other authorities, are not obliged to publish a report on their actions.

Kate Benham, chair of ACT, says: “I think this duty is really important and we would be pleased to work with any councils developing these policies and actions.”

Many councils in Devon may be unaware of their duty as clarified under last year’s government guidance, but some have taken steps to comply. For example, Brixham Town Council, which addressed the issue in the November meeting of its Community & Environment Committee, resolved to:

  • Create a biodiversity policy.
  • Refresh the council’s climate and environment action plan to include.
    more detailed and ambitious plans to conserve and enhance
    biodiversity in Brixham.
  • Link in with local groups in Brixham already working on nature
    conservation.
  • Carry out a biodiversity audit of council landholdings.
  • Increase community awareness of biodiversity.

The SLCC, the membership body for council clerks. officers and others, issued a draft response to the biodiversity duty and a draft model biodiversity policy in October. It suggested town and parish councils could as a minimum: 

  • Have biodiversity as an agenda item for a meeting before the end of 2023.
  • Note what action they are already taking to conserve and enhance biodiversity.
  • Agree what further steps they should take to conserve and enhance biodiversity.

Such steps may include: 

  • Reviewing what biodiversity or nature recovery plans are already in place from other local  authorities, e.g. potential for jointly-supported wildlife corridors. 
  • Making contact with local voluntary groups working on nature conservation.
  • Carrying out a biodiversity audit of council landholdings and/or the whole council area,  potentially involving residents in a “BioBlitz” 
  • Gathering expert advice on possible actions in support of biodiversity, such as from Caring  for God’s Acre and the Eco Church initiative in respect of churchyards 
  • Drafting an action plan that covers action that the council will take itself as well as support for the actions of other local bodies. 

The SLCC adds: “Whatever action is agreed, as a minimum local councils could ensure they address biodiversity concerns when commenting on planning applications.” 

South Gloucestershire has produced a useful Nature Action Plan Field Guide to assist those with little or no ecological background. It aims to help councils assess a site for wildlife, identify opportunities and understand how to make sure site management benefits nature.