Evaluation of the Compliance and Quality of Biodiversity Duty Reports 2015

A review of biodiversity duty reporting by public bodies in Scotland.

Executive Summary


The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 places a duty on all public bodies in Scotland, requiring them to further the conservation of biodiversity when carrying out their activities. Biodiversity can be defined as the variety of life on Earth and covers the genetic materials within the different species of animals and plants, the species themselves, and the communities they make up ( SNH, 2011).

As set out by the Wildlife and Natural Environment ( WANE) Act 2011, public bodies must also publish a report on their compliance with the biodiversity duty every three years. The first reports under the WANE Act were due on 1 st January 2015. Following this date, the Scottish Government commissioned a study to evaluate the compliance and quality of this initial round of biodiversity duty reports.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the study was to assess biodiversity duty reporting by public bodies and the activities undertaken to meet the duty. In particular, the study aimed to:

  • Assess what approaches had been employed in public body reporting;
  • Provide an overview of the biodiversity activities reported;
  • Assess the contribution that the activities were making to delivery of the '2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity' [1] (the biodiversity strategy), the Six Big Steps for Nature outlined in 'Scotland's Biodiversity - a Route Map to 2020' [2] and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (from the UN Convention on Biological Diversity [3] ); and
  • Identify the lessons to be learned for the next round of reporting in 2018. This included producing a guidance document and revising the reporting template (originally developed by the LBAP officer network).


The study used three main approaches to gather information, including:

1. A review of biodiversity duty reports: 56 reports were identified and reviewed for their content, style, format and the activities reported;

2. An internet based survey of all the public bodies that were believed to be in existence between 2012 and 2014 and so should have published a biodiversity report by January 2015: 81 out of 139 eligible public bodies responded to the survey, giving an overall response rate of 58%; and

3. Telephone interviews with public bodies that had published a report and those that had not. Eleven interviews were held, with all interviewees being asked about actions the Scottish Government could take to assist with reporting.

All information obtained was brought together and analysed to answer the research questions. Comments and opinions from public bodies were used to produce the guidance, refine the reporting template and develop policy recommendations.


Internet research and the survey responses indicated that 61 biodiversity duty reports had been produced. This total represents 44% of the 139 public bodies believed to have been in existence during the reporting period. According to the survey responses, 35 public bodies (25%) did not publish a report. The remaining 43 public bodies (31%) may have produced a report, but they did not respond to the survey and no report has been identified on the internet.

Of the 61 reports produced, 56 were identified and reviewed; the study team was not able to obtain the remaining five reports [4] . The review determined that 42 reports (75%) were standalone documents whilst 14 (25%) were published as part of another document. Two thirds of the reports (37 or 66%) appeared to use or partially use the reporting template. The most commonly included section was on actions, with 44 reviewed reports (79%) providing information on specific biodiversity actions. Actions reported included practical actions, communications work and supporting activities, such as encouraging staff members to take part in biodiversity related volunteering. Where public bodies felt that they had limited scope to undertake biodiversity actions, they generally reported sustainability actions. These included waste reduction, carbon and water use, and sustainable procurement.

There are two characteristics that affect the range of biodiversity related activities that a public body could carry out. These include (1) whether a public body owns or is responsible for land; and (2) whether a public body's main responsibilities involve biodiversity. The reviewed reports indicate that the activities recorded were contributing to all 20 of the key steps from the biodiversity strategy that were likely to be relevant to some or a majority of public bodies. This is despite the fact that the assessment is underestimating the contribution of public bodies to biodiversity because not all activities will have been reported, and it has not been possible to assess every reported activity against each key step. Since the key steps were linked to the Six Big Steps for Nature and the Aichi Targets, the study has also determined that public bodies' activities are contributing to all Six Big Steps for Nature as well as 12 of the 20 Aichi Targets. The eight Aichi Targets, to which the reviewed reports do not appear to contribute, include those aimed more at policy and decision making by national governments [5] or their departments, and targets relating to specialist knowledge or specific ecosystems which are not relevant to the majority of Scottish public bodies.

Several reasons were cited where public bodies did not produce a report. These included a lack of awareness of the need to report, a belief that the biodiversity duty was not relevant to them and a general fatigue in relation to reporting with this being seen as a box ticking exercise. Other factors affecting reporting included the individual responsible for reporting leaving the organisation, the prioritisation of work against the organisation's core functions (with biodiversity not seen as one of these) and fear/uncertainty relating to the reporting requirement. Public bodies that produced biodiversity duty reports were interested in receiving feedback from the Scottish Government. They also raised concerns about financial constraints and a lack of resources having the potential to affect their ability to report in the future.

Conclusions and policy recommendations

Many public bodies have carried out biodiversity actions and reported on them as required by the WANE Act. Other organisations have not produced a report for various reasons. A third group of organisations may have produced a report, but they did not respond to the survey and no report has been located.

Whilst the engagement work undertaken as part of this study is likely to have raised the profile of biodiversity duty reporting, there are still several actions that the Scottish Government could take to facilitate and encourage future reporting. As suggested by public bodies, these could include further awareness raising (in particular, greater communication with public bodies), the provision of advice and guidance on both potential biodiversity activities and report production, and the provision of feedback when reports are submitted.

Drawing on the findings, this study has developed six specific policy recommendations as follows:

1. The Scottish Government should publish the biodiversity duty reports on their own website (rather than including a link to another organisation's website).

2. The Scottish Government should acknowledge receipt of all report links/reports from public bodies.

3. Biodiversity duty reports should be added to the list of documents on the Model Publication Scheme. This scheme is operated by the Information Commissioner and helps public bodies to identify what they need to publish.

4. The Scottish Government should raise awareness amongst the general public of the requirement to carry out biodiversity activities and report on them (e.g. by issuing bulletins to the news page of the Scottish Government website around reporting time).

5. The Scottish Government should improve communication with public bodies about the biodiversity duty, in particular, by providing them with an annual update to ensure that biodiversity remains on each organisation's agenda every year. Reminder emails could also be sent out two to three months before reports are due.

6. The Scottish Government should publish guidance on the reporting process that includes examples of reports and activities from different types of public body. This guidance should be updated for future reporting rounds as good practice develops.


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