Publication - Research and analysis

Evaluation of the Compliance and Quality of Biodiversity Duty Reports 2015

Published: 27 Oct 2016
Environment and Forestry Directorate
Part of:
Environment and climate change

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

102 page PDF

1.1 MB

102 page PDF

1.1 MB

Evaluation of the Compliance and Quality of Biodiversity Duty Reports 2015
3 Key findings

102 page PDF

1.1 MB

3 Key findings

This chapter provides the key findings from the various research activities including the review of identified biodiversity duty reports, matching the reported activities to the biodiversity targets, the internet based survey and the telephone interviews. The research carried out indicates that 44% of public bodies produced a biodiversity duty report for January 2015. In total, 56 reports were reviewed. The biodiversity activities reported by public bodies appeared to be contributing to all 20 of the key steps identified as relevant from the biodiversity strategy. Themes raised by the survey and interviews include confusion amongst some public bodies over what biodiversity is (with a few public bodies thinking that biodiversity duty reporting is not relevant to them) and a desire for more communication from the Scottish Government on the duty and the need to report. Public bodies are keen to see examples from other public bodies that have similar characteristics to them (i.e. in terms of having assets/land, and level of biodiversity knowledge). Concerns were also raised about seeing the duty as a box ticking exercise, and having the financial (and other) resources to be able to continue implementing activities and reporting upon them in the future. These points indicate that several of the lessons learnt from the review of the climate change duty report (Sustainable Scotland Network, 2016a) are also of relevance for biodiversity duty reporting.

3.1 Overview

This section presents the main themes and issues identified from the analysis. It also provides a summary of the findings from the desk research, including the internet based survey of public bodies and the telephone interviews.

3.2 Themes and issues identified

3.2.1 Overview

This section provides a summary of the key themes and issues resulting from the analysis of the findings. It brings together issues identified from the review of the published biodiversity duty reports, the survey, and the telephone interviews. It identifies points that are relevant for the development of the revised guidance and template, as well as wider issues associated with the biodiversity duty reporting process.

3.2.1 Reporting rates

Combining the totals from the survey responses and the internet research conducted for this study shows that 44% (61) of the 139 public bodies in Scotland have produced a report that outlines or addresses their responsibility towards biodiversity conservation in the time period 2012-2014 [14] . These reports may have been produced with the specific function of meeting the biodiversity duty reporting requirement or have been produced as part of another report and unintentionally met the reporting requirement.

The survey responses and internet research show that 25% (35) of the 139 public bodies have not produced a report that meets the biodiversity duty reporting requirement.

The remaining 31% (43) of the 139 public bodies may have produced a biodiversity duty report but there is no evidence to confirm this (i.e. they did not complete the online survey and a biodiversity duty report has not been found through online research). It could be that a report has been produced and published but is only available upon request or as a hard copy since the WANE Act only states that the report is to be published; it does not state that the report has to be available online. Without a response from these 44 public bodies it is not possible to confirm whether they have completed a biodiversity duty report or not.

3.2.2 Lack of awareness or confusion over what biodiversity actually is

In some of the biodiversity reports reviewed, there is a lot of information on sustainability, carbon emissions and management, but little mention of actions directly related to biodiversity. Evidence from the survey, and from talking to public bodies, suggests that in some cases this is because public bodies do not actually understand exactly what biodiversity is, and confuse biodiversity actions with those related to sustainability or reducing carbon emissions. It is acknowledged that sustainability actions can benefit biodiversity. For example, using environmentally friendly cleaning products minimises the impacts on aquatic species once these chemicals are washed down the drain. Decreasing water consumption can benefit aquatic habitats since it means that less water needs to be abstracted for human use. It is, however, important to note that to comply with the biodiversity duty, public bodies should report actions that have a direct impact on biodiversity. This suggests that the guidance document needs to provide basic background information on biodiversity, as well as example actions. This will ensure that public bodies have adequate information to both carry out their biodiversity duty (under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004) and report upon it (as per the WANE Act).

3.2.3 Belief that biodiversity is not relevant to the actions of the public body

Data from the survey indicated that one of the main barriers to biodiversity duty reporting during the first round was the perception by some public bodies that biodiversity focused actions were not applicable to the public body's role and thus there were no actions to report on. This barrier highlights two key issues: a) a lack of understanding with regard to how biodiversity links to the role and responsibility of each public body; and b) a lack of information on practical actions public bodies can undertake.

This later point was also highlighted in a 2010 Audit Scotland report when discussing the impact of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 on biodiversity. The report referred to a survey of public bodies undertaken by SNIFFER (2009) which identified that almost half of the survey respondents felt that they were unable to fulfil their biodiversity duty due to insufficient guidance being available. This would indicate that despite the development of resources such as the Biodiversity Scotland website [15] , some public bodies are still struggling to find guidance and information that can help them meet their duty. This point has implications for the revised guidance in that it needs to be applicable to all public bodies, and not just include examples from those who have land and/or a biodiversity function/officer. This is reinforced by comments made during the telephone interviews. One consultee noted that they would be most interested in seeing example reports from organisations in similar situations, i.e. ones that were office based with little, if any, outside space. This would then help them to see what their organisation could actually do.

3.2.4 Lack of clarity over what biodiversity actions could be carried out

For some public bodies, there was a lack of clarity in terms of what they could (or indeed should) do for biodiversity. One survey response noted that there needed to be more information on what biodiversity actions were expected to ensure that the production of the biodiversity duty reports was more than a 'box ticking' exercise. Another noted that there needed to be guidance on what represented an acceptable level of activity under each heading (i.e. the different sections of the template).

This is perhaps an issue that is more relevant to the first round of biodiversity duty reports than later ones, since future reports will be able to draw on the range of activities presented in the reports already published. However, it does indicate that public bodies are looking for guidance on what activities to carry out and report upon.

3.2.5 Types of organisation reporting on staff volunteering

For local authorities, the reviewed biodiversity duty reports generally do not make any mention of staff volunteering. This is perhaps because local authorities have the capacity to carry out biodiversity activities as part of their day-to-day functions.

They own land and are often actively involved in its management for biodiversity, sometimes with biodiversity focused organisations such as conservation charities. They also host events and workshops for the public, as well as run practical conservation days through their countryside ranger services. Thus, whilst their staff may carry out voluntary work, the local authorities have many other activities to highlight within their reports. Reporting on staff volunteering is perhaps more appropriate for organisations that do not own land or assets since this will be one of the few activities that they will be able to carry out. Thus, the revised guidance needs to bear in mind that different types of public bodies are likely to be able to undertake different activities. A range of examples is therefore required.

3.2.6 Feedback

Several survey respondents and interviewees have requested that feedback be provided to public bodies on their biodiversity duty reports. This issue links to the uncertainty felt by some public bodies in that they were not sure what the Scottish Government was expecting from them.

This point has perhaps been raised because public bodies are comparing the biodiversity duty reporting process with that for the annual climate change reports, where all the individual reports have been reviewed. For the climate change reporting, the format was fixed, with all public bodies having to complete an Excel spreadsheet. This is likely to have facilitated the process of reviewing and comparing the reports. It may also explain why some survey respondents have asked for a structured biodiversity duty reporting template for all public bodies to follow, since this would better enable comparisons between public bodies.

Whilst this study is not able to provide feedback to individual public bodies, it is hoped that the review of the reports as well as the online survey and telephone interviews will identify the most important issues relating to biodiversity duty reporting, and thus enable actions to be taken to provide more support and guidance to public bodies in the next round.

3.2.7 Financial implications of the biodiversity duty

Of the organisations that have produced a biodiversity duty report, several public bodies pointed out that financial constraints and a lack of staff resources are seen as future challenges. However, looking at the survey responses of those who have not published a report, lack of money is generally not viewed as a barrier (only two out of 35 highlighted budgetary constraints as one of the main reasons for not reporting). This could perhaps be because they are not aware of the funding and resources that might be needed to carry out biodiversity related activities. Alternatively, where organisations have implemented biodiversity actions and reported upon them, they may be more aware of the resource requirements, and hence see funding as an issue that could affect their ability to meet their biodiversity duty. This suggests that there may be a need for the revised guidance to highlight actions which could be carried out without considerable investment in terms of funding and staff resources. This might help ensure that organisations that have already published reports are able to continue to meet their biodiversity duty and report on it.

3.2.8 Communication about the biodiversity duty and the associated reports

Some public bodies have published biodiversity duty reports and so are clearly aware of the need to report under the WANE Act. There are other public bodies that are not aware of the requirement. The results from the internet survey suggest that there is actually a third group of public bodies that is aware of the Act but does not fully understand the requirement in that they do not think it applies to them (for example, if their day-to-day activities are not related to biodiversity). This suggests that additional communication about the Act and its relevance to all public bodies may be needed.

3.2.9 Making it easier to find the published reports

During this study, extensive research was undertaken to identify as many biodiversity duty reports as possible. However, it may be the case that additional reports have been produced but have not been found by the study team. The need for all reports to be available from one location is a point that has been raised by several consultees [16] . This would both provide a resource base for public bodies wanting to identify additional biodiversity actions, and also serve to show which public bodies had produced a report. Indeed, in relation to this point, one survey respondent suggested publishing a list of public bodies along with a traffic light system to indicate whether or not they had met their biodiversity duty.

3.2.10 Meeting the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004

Initial analysis of the completed biodiversity duty reports has shown that although many evidence positive and constructive actions to improve biodiversity conservation, some are done simply to meet the requirement of producing a report and show little evidence of tangible actions and contribution towards meeting the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Indeed, it was commented by a consultee that an organisation could undertake minimal action and so meet the biodiversity duty without actually doing anything significant for biodiversity. A further respondent noted that having a duty to publish a report did not really help them protect biodiversity. More information and clarity were requested on what actions were actually expected.

It should be noted that the lack of detail in some reports may be due to having limited biodiversity actions to report on or a lack of understanding regarding biodiversity conservation. Vice versa could be said in the absence of a biodiversity duty report; not producing a report does not necessarily mean that the public body has not undertaken biodiversity conservation actions.

The two acts work well together but it should be borne in mind that meeting the requirements of one does not mean the requirements of the other are necessarily met.

3.2.11 Drawing on the lessons learnt from climate change reporting

Several interviewees mentioned climate change duty reporting and the need for this study to consider the lessons learnt from this process too. The Sustainable Scotland Network ( SSN) recently reviewed the public sector climate change reporting process to identify potential improvements. Work included checking through the reports produced, as well as asking public bodies for feedback on the process ( SSN, 2016a). Public bodies made several suggestions for improving future climate change duty reporting, including (but not limited to) ( SSN, 2016a):

  • More training to assist with completing report sections;
  • Better management/governance support; and
  • Need for better communications from the SSN itself.

In response to these points, the SSN noted that they were developing improved guidance notes with examples and a list of 'reporting leads' for each organisation, so that relevant communications are provided to the most appropriate individuals (Sustainable Scotland Network, 2016). The SSN also commented that more work was required to improve the support provided to organisations, and to promote reporting.

Given the survey responses for this study, the above issues are all considered pertinent to the biodiversity duty reporting process too.

3.3 Findings from desk research

3.3.1 Review of identified biodiversity duty reports

Biodiversity duty reports were identified through desk based research (i.e. internet searches) and the online survey. The desk based research identified 53 publicly accessible biodiversity duty reports; the majority of these were located in the "about us"/corporate section of the public body website or on a dedicated webpage within the public body website. A Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) document available on the Biodiversity Scotland [17] website provided 36 links to public body biodiversity duty reports (or the webpage where they were published). However, one of the links was for a biodiversity duty report published by SSE which is not considered to be a public body and six links went to a webpage that was not linked to biodiversity or did not provide access to the biodiversity duty report. The online survey identified a further eight biodiversity duty reports; however only three of these could be accessed online.

Of the 56 biodiversity duty reports reviewed, 75% (42) were standalone reports with the remaining 25% (14) embedded within another report; these were predominantly sustainability reports. There does not appear to be any relationship between organisation type and whether a standalone or embedded report was produced. Two-thirds (66% or 37) of the public bodies used or partially used the template headings to structure the biodiversity duty report. Of the 19 biodiversity duty reports that did not appear to use the template, 14 were embedded within another report. Thus, none of the organisations that used an embedded format followed the structure given in the template.

Over half the reports reviewed contained information relating to organisation structure, examples of leadership or corporate management of biodiversity.

Actions taken to improve biodiversity was the most widely included section, with 79% (44) of reports identifying actions taken to improve biodiversity and 77% (43) identifying practical actions. Partnership initiatives featured quite heavily within the reports with 70% (39) indicating they had undertaken this form of work. The type of practical activity undertaken varied extensively and could be broadly categorised as follows:

  • Activities undertaken around offices and land holdings;
  • Activities undertaken as part of main responsibilities (prominent in local authority reports);
  • Activities undertaken with the general public;
  • Activities undertaken with staff;
  • Activities undertaken to educate and raise awareness; and
  • Activities undertaken to assist with the incorporation of biodiversity into other areas of work (mainly policy and strategy focused).

Examples of biodiversity activities included:

  • Non-native species management plans put in place to control and reduce the spread of these species;
  • Creation and management of wildflower meadows;
  • Putting up nesting boxes and bug hotels;
  • Production of guidance documents for staff;
  • Running community volunteer projects to engage people in the natural environment; and
  • Undertaking biodiversity surveys.

Where public bodies felt they had limited scope to undertake biodiversity actions they generally reported sustainability actions such as waste reduction, carbon and water use and sustainable procurement. Although these actions are unlikely to have a direct impact on biodiversity in comparison to other actions such as habitat creation, they are thought to have an indirect impact. Thus, if a report contained information regarding sustainability actions it was classified as partially covering the section; 13% (7) of reports reviewed were classified in this way.

A large proportion (71% or 40) of the reports identified steps the public body had taken to incorporate biodiversity measures into other areas of policy, strategies or initiatives.

Just over half (52% or 29) of the reports detailed information on follow-up work carried out to measure the impact on biodiversity. However, only 13% (7) provided information and/or findings on monitoring in terms of trends or areas for concern. It should be noted that this could be due to the timeframe of the reports, i.e. if a public body has only just undertaken activities and/or monitoring it may be too soon to see a trend or areas for concern. Only a small percentage (21% or 12) of reports indicated whether the data collected through monitoring had been added to the National Biodiversity Network Gateway ( NBN) [18] or Biodiversity Action Reporting System ( BARS) [19] . This could be due to several factors including: a lack of suitable actions to report on, a lack of resources available to enter the information to the databases, or a lack of awareness regarding the databases, how they can be used and by whom.

Working together with other organisations, communicating the biodiversity works undertaken and raising awareness of biodiversity conservation was demonstrated by a high proportion of organisations. For each of these areas, over 60% of biodiversity duty reports provided some information.

Actions/activities included:

  • Using social media and press releases to connect with the general public;
  • Using an internal intranet to disseminate information to staff;
  • Working with local charities, community groups and biodiversity partnerships;
  • Holding regular and one-off interactive events; and
  • Training for teachers.

One area that only a small percentage (5% or 3) of reports covered was the identification of opportunities for staff to take part in practical actions such as volunteering. Examples provided by the reports included:

  • Encouraging staff to litter pick around the office building;
  • Taking staff on a volunteer day to plant native trees; and
  • Encouraging staff to partake in an annual "spring clean".

It is thought that possible reasons for not reporting on opportunities for staff to take part in practical actions such as volunteering could include resource constraints, increasing staff workloads or volunteer days being used for other areas/themes. Reasons for such a low percentage need further investigation as this could be a useful tool for public bodies that do not undertake biodiversity activities as part of their day-to-day duties or have minimal land holdings.

Just under half of the reports contained a section that described the public bodies' biodiversity highlights from the past year (46% or 26) and future challenges (43% or 24). A proportion of the reports outlined future targets or ambitions for biodiversity in place of challenges.

Considering report format, the biodiversity duty reports were produced in a variety of styles ranging from simple word documents to colourful reports illustrated with photographs and charts. This probably reflects the issue that public bodies were not necessarily sure what the Scottish Government was expecting. Therefore, some produced documents clearly aimed at showcasing their work to the general public, whilst others focused on providing information that showed how they had met their statutory duty. Colourful and stylised reports are thought to be useful for engaging the general public, with pictures providing additional information and in some instances making the actions reported more memorable. However, it should be noted that producing a stylised report may require additional time and resources and therefore may not be suitable for public bodies with limited resources or time pressures (and is also, in itself, unlikely to bring additional biodiversity benefits). Presenting information in tables was a common feature within the biodiversity duty reports; this was done primarily when there was repetitive information for several projects or partnerships (such as timescale, location, funding, outcomes, etc.). The tables worked well to provide key information when used in balance with other forms of information presentation (i.e. case studies, bullet points or paragraphs).

3.3.2 Matching activities reported by public bodies to the key steps from the biodiversity strategy

This exercise involved assessing the published biodiversity duty reports to identify the key steps of the biodiversity strategy to which public bodies were contributing.

The assessment indicated that the reported activities were contributing to all 20 of the key steps deemed relevant to public body activities. This is despite the fact that the assessment is expected to be underestimating the contribution because: (1) not all activities will have been reported; and (2) it has not been possible to assess every reported activity against each key step. Instead, information extracted during the initial review of the biodiversity duty reports was matched to the key steps.

Considering the 56 reports reviewed, the three key steps (from the biodiversity strategy) to which the most public bodies were contributing were:

  • Establish plans and decisions about land use based on an understanding of ecosystems. Take full account of land use impacts on the ecosystems services that underpin social, economic and environmental health (79% or 44 reports included activities relevant to this key step): example activities included East Dunbartonshire Council reporting how biodiversity was included as a component in several corporate plans and policies such as East Dunbartonshire LBAP 2010-2013, East Dunbartonshire Open Space Strategy, Local Plan 2, Local Development Plan Main Issues Report ( MIR), Kilpatricks Green Network Strategy, and Campsie Green Network Strategy;
  • Government and public bodies, including SNH, SEPA and FCS, will work together towards a shared agenda for action to restore ecosystem health at a catchment-scale across Scotland (70% or 39 reports included activities relevant to this key step): example activities included Scottish Water working with SEPA and SNH so that their investment programme identifies the assets that require enhancing for biodiversity; and
  • Support local authorities and communities to improve local environments and enhance biodiversity using green space and green networks, allowing nature to flourish and so enhancing the quality of life for people who live there (63% or 35 reports included activities relevant to this key step): example activities included Skills Development Scotland encouraging staff to undertake volunteering such as native tree planting.

The steps to which only a very small number of public bodies were deemed to be contributing included:

  • Ensure that measures taken forward under the Common Agricultural Policy encourage land managers to develop and retain the diversity of wildlife habitats and landscape features (3 or 5% of reports);
  • Achieve good environmental status for Scottish seas (6 or 11% of reports);
  • Integrate protected areas policy with action for wider habitats to combat fragmentation and restore key habitats (8 or 14% of reports); and
  • Ensure that biodiversity and ecosystem objectives are fully integrated into flood risk management plans, and restore wetland habitats and woodlands to provide sustainable flood management (8 or 14% of reports).

These steps necessitate specific habitat types or land uses, or require the public body concerned to be able to carry out habitat management, thus may only be available to selected public bodies.

The full results are provided in Annex 7, which indicates the number of reports including activities that are believed to contribute to each key step. It is important to note that these numbers are likely to be an underestimate of the total number of public bodies carrying out activities that are contributing to Scotland's biodiversity targets for two reasons. Firstly, not all organisations have produced biodiversity duty reports, and secondly, this study has not been able to assess all the reported activities, instead it has focused on matching the activities identified as part of the review of the reports to the key steps. It is also important to note that no attempt has been made to look at the strength of the contribution towards the targets.

Given that biodiversity activities reported by public bodies are thought to have contributed to all 20 relevant key steps, this means that there has also been a contribution to all of the Six Big Steps for Nature (see Annex 8 to see how the key steps are thought to match to the Six Big Steps for Nature).

The activities reported in the published biodiversity duty reports are also thought to contribute to 11 of the 20 Aichi Targets [13] (see Annex 8 to see how the Aichi targets match to the key steps). The biodiversity duty reporting process as a whole is also thought to contribute towards a twelfth Aichi Target, namely Target 1 relating to people being aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably. Through requiring public bodies to publish a report, the WANE Act is raising awareness of biodiversity and the actions organisations (and individuals) can take to conserve biodiversity.

The eight Aichi Targets to which the reviewed reports do not appear to contribute cover:

  • Targets that are aimed more at policy and decision making by national governments or their departments (e.g. Target 3 covering the elimination of harmful incentives such as subsidies); and
  • Targets relating to specialist knowledge or specific ecosystems which are not relevant to the majority of Scottish public bodies (e.g. Target 10 on minimising the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification).

There may well be a few public bodies that have contributed towards these targets as part of their activities [20] . However, as noted above, this study was not able to assess all the reported activities against every target. Furthermore, public bodies may not have reported every activity.

3.3.3 Data from the internet based survey

This section provides a summary of the findings from the survey. It breaks the results down into several sections:

  • All responses - this section includes the results of the introductory survey questions (e.g. on organisation size and type);
  • Responses from public bodies that have completed a biodiversity duty report - this section presents the findings from the survey questions that were specific to those public bodies that had produced a report;
  • Responses from public bodies that have not or do not know if they have completed a biodiversity duty report - this section includes questions on awareness of the biodiversity duty and any reasons why they may not have published a report; and
  • Responses relating to actions the Scottish Government could take to provide assistance with biodiversity duty reporting - questions on potential actions the Scottish Government could take were asked of both those who had completed a report and those who did not complete/did not know if they had completed a report. The responses are therefore reported together in this section.

All responses

Of the 139 public bodies in existence between 2012 and 2014 and invited to partake in the online survey, 58% (81) provided a response. There were several incomplete survey responses and a further two responses were completed by respondents that had not provided an official/accurate organisation name; these responses were therefore not included to avoid any duplications as it was not possible to identify the public body [21] .

Respondents were asked to select the type of organisation they were classified as; they were also given the opportunity to select "other response". Data from the survey indicated that the largest numbers of responses were received from local authorities (26 or 32% of all respondents) and executive national non-departmental public bodies ( NDPBs) (18 or 22%). The survey responses indicate that none of the six invited public corporations completed the survey (see Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1: Responses to "Please select your organisation type" (n=81)

Figure 3.1: Responses to “Please select your organisation type” (n=81)

However, the way in which the survey respondents classified themselves did not always match up with the classification for each public body as provided by the Scottish Public Bodies Directory. For example, a public body may have ticked the box for 'other significant national body' when responding to the survey, yet on the Public Bodies Directory they are classified as a 'public corporation'.

Since the internet survey asked respondents to provide the name of their organisation, it has been possible to match these names to the list of organisations and types given in the National Public Bodies Directory. It has also been possible to identify the type of public body for the seven respondents who ticked 'other response'.

Table 3.1 shows the results of this matching exercise. It presents the number of responses for each public body type according to the categorisation of public bodies by the National Public Bodies Directory.

Table 3.1: Number of each type of public body that responded to the survey according to the classifications given in the National Public Bodies Directory

Type of public body Number of responses
Local authorities 26
Executive non-departmental public bodies ( NDPBs) 22
Health bodies 9
Other significant national bodies 9
Commissioners and ombudsmen 4
Executive agencies 3
Advisory non-departmental public bodies ( NDPBs) 3
Non-ministerial departments 2
Public corporations 2
Tribunals 1
Total 81

Note: Responses have been categorised by matching the organisation name to the list of public bodies and types given in the National Public Bodies Directory.

Table 3.1 indicates that:

  • Local authorities contributed the largest number of responses (26) to the total, accounting for 32% of all total survey responses;
  • Tribunals accounted for the lowest number of completed surveys (1); and
  • All public body types are represented in the survey results if the classifications as given in the National Public Bodies Directory are applied.

Note that for the remainder of this section, the results are reported directly from the survey without any reclassification of responses.

Large public bodies with 250 or more staff made up 64% (51) of the responses; the remainder of the responses were fairly evenly distributed between micro, small and medium sized public bodies (see Figure 3.2). One public body chose not to answer the question relating to size. It should be noted that the answers selected by some of the respondents may not be correct [22] ; for example, one public body selected "micro" when staffing numbers provided on their website indicate that they are actually "large".

Figure 3.2: Responses to "Please indicate your organisation's size" (n=80)

Figure 3.2: Responses to “Please indicate your organisation’s size” (n=80)

Of the 81 public bodies that completed the survey, 53% (43) had produced a biodiversity duty report and 47% (38) either had not produced or did not know if they had produced a biodiversity duty report (Figure 3.3). It should be noted that in four instances this study identified a report or part of a report that could act as a biodiversity duty report for a public body that had selected "No" or "Don't know".

Figure 3.3: Percentage of public bodies that have (yes) or have not (no) completed a biodiversity duty report (n=81)

Figure 3.3: Percentage of public bodies that have (yes) or have not (no) completed a biodiversity duty report (n=81)

Responses from public bodies that have completed a biodiversity duty report

Over three quarters (77% or 33) of the 43 respondents stated that their biodiversity duty report was produced as standalone report. The remaining reports are embedded within another report.

A considerable proportion of the biodiversity duty reports have been made publicly available online. Of the 43 respondents, 93% (40) published their reports on the internet; this will enable sharing with other public bodies, other organisations and the public. It is not known whether the reports that are not available online can be accessed by request. It is worth noting that some public bodies share a website or do not have a dedicated website, thus it might be difficult for these public bodies to make their report available online.

A large proportion of the 43 respondents that had produced a biodiversity duty report were aware of the template document (77% or 33). Of these respondents, 82% (27) had either used and/or modified the template to produce their report and 15% (5) had not used the template at all (Figure 3.4). It is possible that the one respondent that selected "Don't know" could have chosen this answer due to the person/persons that produced the report no longer working at the public body or the survey being completed by someone that was not involved in the production of the report.

All public bodies said that they had written the report; however one public body also stated that they instructed another organisation to write the report. It is not clear if this was an error within the survey response or could be explained by collaboration between the public body and an external organisation.

Figure 3.4: Responses to "Was the biodiversity duty guidance/template used in the production of your report?" (n= 33)

Figure 3.4: Responses to “Was the biodiversity duty guidance/template used in the production of your report?” (n= 33)

Of the respondents aware of the template almost half (43% or 14) thought that the template did not need to be modified, only 24% (8) thought that it did need to be modified and a third (33% or 11) chose "Don't know" (Figure 3.5). The reasons for choosing "Don't know" are not clear but could be due to the time lapse between using the template to produce the report and the survey, or respondents not using the template to produce the report.

Figure 3.5: Response to "Do you think that the template needs to be modified?" Percentage of public bodies that would like to see the template modified (n=33)

Figure 3.5: Response to “Do you think that the template needs to be modified?”

Respondents that thought the template needed to be modified were asked to select the sections they would like to see modified (note that respondents could select multiple sections). Of the eight respondents asked this question two did not choose a section but indicated that they would like to see the template accompanied by training and that the use of the template should be mandatory to enable comparison between reports. Of the respondents that did choose sections that needed to be modified, four chose Section 2 (actions taken to improve biodiversity conservation on the ground). Section 4 (monitoring) was identified as a section requiring modification by two respondents (see Table 3.2).

Specific points made included:

  • The need to provide guidelines and examples of actions that are suitable for offices without outside spaces;
  • Section 2 (actions) should refer to the route map and the Six Big Steps for Nature;
  • There needs to be more guidance in each section, along with a guide to the structure and layout of the report; and
  • The template should be accompanied by training.

Table 3.2: Number of respondents that would like to see changes to each section of the template

Section of the template that public bodies would like to see modified Number of respondents
Section 1: introductory information about your organisation and biodiversity (including governance) 3
Section 2: actions taken to improve biodiversity conservation on the ground 4
Section 3: mainstreaming 3
Section 4: monitoring 2
Section 5: partnership working and biodiversity communications 3
Section 6: biodiversity highlights of the past year (including challenges) 3
Note: respondents could select multiple sections when answering the question

Respondents were also asked if there were any additional sections they would like to see added to the template. Of the seven respondents to this question, a majority (86% or 6) said no. A further question asked respondents if they thought there should be other changes to the template. There were six responses to this question with 67% (4 respondents) indicating that they would like other changes.

Several public bodies provided additional comments on revisions to the template. These requested:

  • A section on how the work that has been done helps to deliver the biodiversity strategy (but this could be incorporated into the other sections);
  • Links to example reports;
  • A review of all biodiversity duty reports could identify how a revised template could be produced to inform the next round of reporting; and
  • A standardised way of producing a report.

Responses from public bodies that have not or do not know if they have completed a biodiversity duty report

Over two thirds (26 or 68%) of the 38 respondents that did not or do not know if they had produced a biodiversity duty report were not aware of the need to do so. Eleven of the respondents that were not aware that they had to produce a report did not state any other factors in not reporting; therefore it can be assumed that if they had known about the requirement to report, they would have done so. This could have increased report production from 53% to a possible 67% amongst survey respondents. Common reasons for not producing a report included a "lack of biodiversity actions to report on" and a "lack of expertise/no designated biodiversity officer" (see Figure 3.6). Several (15 or 39% respondents gave two or more reasons for not reporting; this could indicate that encouraging and/or assisting these public bodies to report in the second round may be more challenging as several factors will need to be addressed.

Figure 3.6: Response to "What were the main reasons for not reporting?" (n=34)

Figure 3.6: Response to “What were the main reasons for not reporting?” (n=34)

Some of the reasons provided by public bodies for not reporting included:

  • Office location/characteristics: one respondent noted that they had a city centre office without any outside space (except car parking). Therefore, they found it difficult to implement any biodiversity actions. Another felt that the duty mainly appeared to be focused on land usage which was not applicable to their organisation;
  • Nature of the public body: one respondent felt that the nature of their business meant that they did not need to consider biodiversity issues; and
  • Lack of awareness: one respondent stated that they had not been aware of the need to report (although they do publish an annual sustainability report). Another commented that whilst they had not previously been aware of the requirement, they now intended to produce a report.

The majority (89% or 34) of respondents that had not or did not know if they had produced a report were also not aware of the template to guide report production (Figure 3.7). All four of the respondents that were aware of the template either felt that the template did not need to be modified (one respondent) or did not know if it needed to be modified (three respondents).

Figure 3.7: Responses to "Are you aware of the template to assist public bodies with their biodiversity reporting duty?" (n=38)

Figure 3.7: Responses to “Are you aware of the template to assist public bodies with their biodiversity reporting duty?” (n=38)

Responses relating to actions the Scottish Government could take to provide assistance with biodiversity duty reporting

Over half (58% or 45) of the public bodies providing a response said that there were actions the Scottish Government could undertake to assist with the biodiversity duty reporting; of these 37% (29) were public bodies that had produced a report and 21% (16) were public bodies that had not produced a report (Figure 3.8). Thus, even where a public body has already produced a report, they may still feel that there is more that could be done to support public bodies with future biodiversity duty reporting.

Figure 3.8: Responses to "Beyond the production of the template, are there any other actions (e.g. setting up an online forum for sharing of best practice) that the Scottish Government could take to assist you with biodiversity duty reporting?" (n=78)

Figure 3.8: Responses to “Beyond the production of the template, are there any other actions (e.g. setting up an online forum for sharing of best practice) that the Scottish Government could take to assist you with biodiversity duty reporting?” (n=78)

Several public bodies provided comments in response to "Beyond the production of the template, are there any other actions (e.g. setting up an online forum for sharing of best practice) that the Scottish Government could take to assist you with biodiversity duty reporting?" Some of the points raised by those who had produced a report included:

  • Online forum or face-to-face meetings: several respondents commented that it would be useful to have an online forum for sharing best practice. Of these, one noted that they were a small organisation with no land, so it would be useful to see how other organisations in a similar position met the biodiversity duty reporting requirements. Another organisation thought that a face-to-face event would be better for sharing best practice.
  • Expectations: one respondent thought it would be useful to have more information on the Scottish Government's expectations in terms of showing compliance with the duty and ensuring continued improvement. Another noted that there needed to be more clarity on what biodiversity actions were expected;
  • Raising the profile of biodiversity: one respondent commented that the Scottish Government should assist with raising the profile of biodiversity. Another thought that national level awareness raising would be useful, since they felt that many services within local authorities were still unaware of the biodiversity duty and did not understand that it applied to all functions and services;
  • Use of the reports: a request was made for greater clarity on how the reports were going to be used;
  • Feedback: several respondents requested feedback on their reports;
  • One location for information: one respondent commented that it would be good to have one location that provided access to all the reports and enabled knowledge sharing/learning between bodies; and
  • Training: one respondent asked for training on how to complete the report. Another asked for guidance prior to the second reporting round.

Public bodies that had not or did not know if they had produced a biodiversity report raised a few similar points, as well as additional ones:

  • Collective seminar/conference: one respondent asked for a seminar/conference with other public bodies to help them understand biodiversity and how their actions may or may not affect biodiversity;
  • Advice: there was a request for advice and support from a named person at the Scottish Government;
  • Best practice examples from similar organisations: one respondent stated that they had city centre offices with no outside space, and would be assisted by learning best practice from public bodies in similar situations;
  • Communication and guidance: one respondent noted that they had not been aware of the need to report and that some form of communication and guidance would be helpful;
  • Online forum: one respondent noted that a forum could be useful when combined with a support line providing advice and assistance; and
  • Reminder system: one respondent commented that some form of reminder system would have been helpful in terms of making them aware of the need to report but also providing them with sufficient time to make a report available before the deadline.

Table 3.3 provides a list of the possible actions identified by public bodies, along with the number of public bodies suggesting each action.

Table 3.3: Suggested actions along with the number of public bodies making each suggestion

Suggested action Number of public bodies requesting each action
Online forum / sharing platform / knowledge hub 14
Best practice / sharing with similar organisations 9
Advice on reporting requirement (how much is needed) / resource links / guidance document 7
Guidance on roles / actions public body should be undertaking / information on next steps / improvements / what is biodiversity conservation 6
Communication from the Scottish Government about the need to report / early warning system / awareness raising 3
Seminar / conference / workshop 3
Advice / support from Scottish Government (named person) / personal visits 2
Clear strategy with regards to how to carry out biodiversity works and manage budget cuts 2
Expert advice (e.g. from RSPB, SNH) 2
Information on how the reports will be used 2
More standardised way of reporting 2
Promotion of collaboration / joined up thinking 2
Publish reports 2
Raise the profile of biodiversity 2
Requirement for measuring action / progress / traffic light system 2
Utilise third party information, support and guidance 2
Contact details 1
Develop different templates dependent upon the needs of the public body 1
Encourage the use of a Biodiversity Duty Action Plan 1
Feedback 1
Training (could link this to guidance or visits or workshops) 1

Several respondents provided information in the "Any other comments" box. Points raised by those public bodies who had reported included:

  • Aligning the requirement to report with the route map: one respondent suggested that biodiversity duty reporting could be aligned with the Six Big Steps for Nature/route map;
  • Variation between reports: another respondent commented that it is not unexpected that the reports vary in terms of quality and substance. They felt that public bodies reflected the actions of wider society, in that society liked biodiversity unless the need to take action to conserve it had negative impacts for income or constrained the way they wished to live their life;
  • Feedback: one respondent note that there would be merit in having feedback from the Scottish Government in terms of which reports are good examples. They also requested a clear and structured template for all public bodies to follow, since this would facilitate comparisons;
  • Acknowledgement: one respondent commented that they had written to the Scottish Government about the reporting measures they had taken, but had not been acknowledged;
  • Provision of advice: one respondent suggested that the Scottish Government and/or SNH could provide further advice on reporting through the LBAP Network meetings; and
  • Purpose of the report: one respondent was not sure about the purpose of the report (other than it fulfilling a statutory requirement).

Comments from public bodies that had not or do not know if they had completed a biodiversity duty report included:

  • Actions to start the reporting process: one respondent commented that now they were aware of the template and the need to report, they would take action to identify what they needed to do, including bringing forward an internal resource plan. Another respondent noted that they were taking steps to rectify the oversight and would be in contact with the Scottish Government; and
  • Aligning reporting requirements: one respondent noted that they need to produce a number of different reports with the same themes at different times. They felt that it would be useful if these reports could be simplified and/or amalgamated.

3.3.4 Data from the telephone interviews

Public bodies that have completed a biodiversity duty report

Interviews were held with five public bodies who had published a biodiversity duty report. Whilst all these public bodies were clearly aware of the reporting requirement, it was noted by one that a more proactive approach to communication was required by the Scottish Government to make public bodies more aware of the requirement. They also felt that some organisations would not necessarily understand what biodiversity actually was. This suggests that further work is needed to raise awareness about biodiversity and the sorts of actions that organisations can take, even if they do not own any land or include biodiversity amongst their everyday functions.

In terms of carrying out biodiversity related activities and reporting upon them, interviewees raised several issues including:

  • Where individuals carry out a lot of biodiversity related work, cutting this down to fit it into the report is a challenge;
  • Public bodies have many reporting commitments. Meeting all these commitments is challenge in itself;
  • Timing is crucial. When putting the biodiversity duty report together, there is a need to bring in information from the various different departments in the organisation. It takes time to do this and also have the report approved by committee [note that the approvals process is likely be dependent on the type of organisation];
  • Funding is a limiting factor and likely to remain so in the future. Biodiversity actions need to be incorporated into other activities;
  • There is a lack of resources for rigorous biodiversity monitoring; and
  • There is an educational barrier in terms of land management. For example, the general public has specific expectations of how amenity land should look. Any changes to land management for biodiversity purposes need to be explained.

A range of actions were suggested to help support public bodies in their reporting including:

  • The provision of a guidance document with best practice examples. One interviewee also noted that there is the potential to learn from the climate change duty reporting template. The template could be structured to take account of the contribution of the activities to the biodiversity strategy;
  • Feedback was required from the Scottish Government on whether the report was as expected, and importantly, whether the reported actions were supporting delivery of the biodiversity strategy;
  • One interviewee felt that there was the potential to take a more tailored approach to reporting, with organisations being guided towards the activity and reporting level that was appropriate for them, perhaps through the use of a flow chart. Whilst one interviewee wondered about setting up a standard report form with simple questions, another thought that a very prescriptive approach to the template would not work. A further interviewee specifically did not want a form to complete because of the variation between public bodies;
  • A sharing good practice event would be beneficial, but there are resource issues with attending such events; and
  • Setting up partnerships between those organisations that know about biodiversity and those that do not. Such a 'buddy system' could help organisations carry out activities and produce their reports.

Additional points raised included concerns that the template was based around bureaucratic box ticking (in particular, the introductory information section) rather than actually taking actions to improve biodiversity. It was also commented that it was better to encourage and support organisations to report rather than imposing consequences for not reporting.

One interviewee was additionally concerned about the need to consider the interactions between biodiversity duty reports and any pre-existing local Biodiversity Action Plans. In relation to this they requested a steer on how much consultation should be undertaken prior to drafting the forward-looking Biodiversity Action Plan part of the biodiversity duty reports, given the challenging financial climate and the likely reluctance of public body managers to commit to something they may subsequently be unable to deliver due to resource issues.

Public bodies that have not completed a biodiversity duty report

Interviews were held with six public bodies who had not published a biodiversity duty report. The main reasons provided for not reporting included a lack of awareness (with several only becoming aware of the need to report when they received the invite to the online survey for this study); a general fatigue relating to reporting with the need to produce a report being viewed as a box ticking exercise; and believing that the requirement was not applicable to them.

Several interviewees were also not aware of having been in receipt of any information on the need to report from the Scottish Government. This is perhaps because the relevant communications were sent to a different individual within the organisation. Indeed, this study encountered difficulties when trying to identify contacts for the internet based survey.

In terms of support required from the Scottish Government, interviewees made a number of suggestions including:

  • Further guidance on the activities to take to meet the biodiversity duty (for example, the development and implementation of Biodiversity Action Plans) and, related to this, what to report on;
  • The need for a named contact at the Scottish Government to whom questions can be directed.
  • Clear leadership on the issue with a commitment to resourcing;
  • Improved communication. One interviewee suggested that communications needed to be better targeted, for example, a letter from the Minister to the head of each public body;
  • An acknowledgement from the Scottish Government when a report is produced for example, all public bodies were provided with feedback on their climate change duty reports;
  • The inclusion of the biodiversity duty report within the Model Publication Scheme, which provides a list of the documents that public bodies should publish;
  • The inclusion of best practice examples within the guidance, with examples from a range of public bodies. Guidance offered needs to be appropriate to the characteristics of the organisation (e.g. size, role and land holdings). A one size fits all approach will not work; and
  • The provision of a checklist of 20 to 30 actions for an organisation to go through. One interviewee noted that the examples needed to be things directly relating to biodiversity, rather than activities such as recycling waste and sustainable procurement which would overlap with the carbon report.

As an additional point, one organisation noted that they intended to set up an annual process to ensure the report was built up over time (instead of everything at the end of the three year period).

In terms of events and training, several interviewees were also asked about whether they would find it useful to have face-to-face events to learn about the biodiversity duty, similar to those held for climate change duty reporting [23] . In general, there was a positive response to this. One interviewee also mentioned that it would be useful to have a forum, similar to the forum for Strategic Environmental Assessments, the National Development Plans forum, etc. Another was concerned that a one day course would take up too much time, and thought that a one hour meeting would be more appropriate.