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.

Evaluation of the Compliance and Quality of Biodiversity Duty Reports 2015
4 Conclusions and policy recommendations

4 Conclusions and policy recommendations

This chapter presents the conclusions for each of the study objectives. It also includes a set of recommendations drawing on evidence from the review of the reports, internet survey and telephone interviews, as well as insights from the climate change duty reporting process. The recommendations primarily relate to communication about the biodiversity duty reports and the reporting process with public bodies themselves, but also the general public to help raise awareness and encourage people to read about what public bodies are doing for Scotland's biodiversity. In terms of producing reports, it is recommended that public bodies are provided with more guidance, in particular, example activities and reports. The chapter additionally includes some suggestions for the Scottish Government to consider in terms of facilitating communication with public bodies, maintaining a public record of when reports are due for all organisations, and including biodiversity duty reporting within the best value toolkits.

4.1 Overview

This section provides the conclusions and recommendations. The conclusions are organised according to the project objectives. The recommendations follow, and are accompanied by supporting evidence. There is also a list of suggestions for consideration by the Scottish Government. These suggestions have been developed from comments made by public bodies (during the survey and telephone interviews) as well as ideas from the project team when analysing the findings.

4.2 Main conclusions

Conclusions have been drawn for each of the objectives as described below. Note that objective 1 is broken down into sub-objectives (1a to 1d).

4.2.1 Objective 1

To identify, compare and contrast the reports that public bodies have used to fulfil their biodiversity reporting duty

Objective 1a) Identify and evaluate the range of approaches used by public bodies (for example, format, style, detail included, use of an independent/bespoke report or reporting as part of wider corporate reports e.g. climate and sustainability report) to report on their duty, identify merits of these differing approaches and recommend best practice.

The review of the biodiversity duty reports and the responses received to the online survey indicated that public bodies produced their own reports and did not use external consultants. There was a preference for standalone documents with 75% (42 out of 56) produced this way; the remaining reports were embedded within another report. With some exceptions, embedded reports tended to be produced by public bodies that had relatively limited opportunities to carry out biodiversity related activities (i.e. they did not have a biodiversity department, and/or did not own land/assets). Consequently, embedded reports generally contained less detail than the standalone reports, and were typically included in annual reports, for example, sustainability reports. This may mean that these organisations report on biodiversity annually. Such annual reporting could have benefits in terms of helping to retain biodiversity on the organisation's agenda. It might also ensure that information is recorded every year, thus avoiding the situation whereby a biodiversity duty report is due, and information for the preceding two years has been mislaid. However, the use of an annual embedded report is perhaps less useful for the reader who wishes to compare one public body's actions with that of another organisation. In some cases, it is necessary to look across three sustainability reports to identify the actions for the three year period (but note that this is not the case for all public bodies that have used an embedded format).

The majority of the reports used (59%; 33) or partially used (7%; 4 reports) the template developed by the LBAP network. However, some public bodies used bespoke headings that better fitted their organisation and activities. Whilst the template provided a structure for public bodies to report against, it was noted by some public bodies that more guidance was needed in terms of what type of information and level of detail should be included within the reports. A proportion of local authorities reported practical actions by department (education, health, planning, etc.) and this may be useful for other large public bodies. Several public bodies have developed and used biodiversity duty action plans to help set out what they want to achieve over the three year period. This also appears to have helped with progress monitoring and the integration of biodiversity into multiple areas of an organisation.

Objective 1b) Assess specific reporting in relation to:

1. Governance - leadership and management of biodiversity matters;
2. Action - actions the public bodies have taken to protect and enhance biodiversity and that contribute to the 2020 Challenge;
3. Mainstreaming - how biodiversity has been incorporated into corporate policy, plans and projects;
4. Partnership - working with other stakeholders; and
5. Communication - raising awareness, building capacity and working with communities.

This study reviewed all 56 biodiversity duty reports identified against the five areas listed above. The category for which most organisations provided information was section 2 (actions), with 79% (44) of the reports including information on specific biodiversity actions. This was closely followed by the mainstreaming section, with 71% (40) identifying steps the organisation has taken to incorporate biodiversity measures into other areas of policy, strategy or initiatives.

Within the governance section, many reports referred to their environmental or sustainability policies, with local authorities also providing information on local development plans and other initiatives where biodiversity had specifically been taken into account. Local authorities also tended to mention committees set up to cover biodiversity issues, as well as particular individuals who had led on certain areas. Within other types of organisation, there was less information on leadership; perhaps because such organisations did not include biodiversity amongst their core/everyday functions, thus there was less time (or knowledge base) for the development of the biodiversity specific initiatives by staff members. However, there were exceptions, for example, Skills Development Scotland highlighted that it has a network of Green Champions that works across the organisation [24] .

Specific biodiversity actions were mentioned by the majority of the reports, with some providing many examples, and others providing considerable levels of detail for a few selected case study examples. Examples include reviewing the Local Nature Conservation Sites (Aberdeenshire Council [25] ), partnership work with the Forestry Commission to develop natural and diverse woodlands at Loch Katrine (Scottish Water [26] ), and providing support to a Bee Health & Pollination Awareness project (Scottish Enterprise [27] ). A few organisations provided general statements to the effect that they were considering the impacts of their activities on biodiversity. It may be that in future reporting years, these organisations will be more aware of the types of actions they can take (potentially through learning from the existing reports and actions of other organisations). Therefore, it is expected that they will be able to report on specific actions in the future.

Most reports reviewed provided some information on mainstreaming, with examples including the Scottish Road Works Commissioner noting that biodiversity is to be taken into account in the review of the Corporate Plan and Communication Plan [28] . The review did however identify some overlap in the information reported under the mainstreaming and governance sections, thus suggesting that public bodies found it difficult to differentiate between the two.

Many reports included details of partnership working. Whilst a considerable number of public bodies mentioned their local biodiversity partnership, a number of other networks and organisations were also highlighted such as the Ayrshire Green Network, the Southern Uplands Partnership and the Linlithgow Loch Catchment Management Group. There were also various informal arrangements and other agreements between two or more public bodies. For example, the National Museums of Scotland noted that they established a Coronation Meadow that is maintained in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland [29] , whilst the Forestry Commission Scotland worked with SNH to finalise and publish a national rhododendron control strategy [30] . Local authorities in particular reported working with 'Friends of...' groups on local green spaces. Partnerships with commercial arms of organisations were also reported, for example, South Ayrshire noted that they had been working with golf courses to deal with environmental issues such as burn maintenance and future planting [31] .

Biodiversity communications tools reported included (but were not limited to) websites, blogs, research papers, exhibitions, interpretation panels, the development of phone apps to record non-native species ( SEPA [32] ), articles in newsletters, and guided walks. The Care Inspectorate reported that they held an annual photographic competition for staff, with subjects featuring Scottish wildlife and the countryside [33] . Most local authorities provided details on their ranger services, and the various activities these groups ran for schoolchildren (both in schools and on site) as well as for others at different educational levels. Thus, this first round of reports is thought to provide a range of biodiversity communications activities which all public bodies can refer to and build upon for the next report.

Objective 1c) Evaluating whether these topics (governance, action, mainstreaming, partnership, communication) are appropriate to guide future biodiversity reporting and actions, stimulate activity and promote delivery by public bodies to meet biodiversity targets.

The review of the 56 identified biodiversity duty reports has suggested that the existing template generally meets the needs of the public bodies in that it provides them with a structure against which they can report all aspects of their biodiversity duty. It enables them to provide information on how they are taking biodiversity into account in their wider organisation planning, the specific activities they are carrying out, any monitoring work, and also any communications and partnership activities. The review of available published reports has identified a wide range of activities, thus public bodies are clearly not restricted in terms of what they are able to report upon when using the existing template.

The template also encourages public bodies to highlight their achievements and record the challenges they expect to face in the next three years. Both of these aspects are considered to be important since they will provide the Scottish Government with details on the areas where progress is being made, and also those areas where there might be difficulties. The sections are also important to the general public reading the report, since they will want to know what the organisation thinks are its greatest achievements, and also what might affect the organisation's ability to continue to promote biodiversity in the future. Encouraging the organisation to report challenges is also thought to help the reader make a judgement as to whether the organisation is doing enough for biodiversity given its situation. Whilst all public bodies in Scotland have a duty to further the conservation of biodiversity when carrying out their functions, it has to be recognised that there will be constraints affecting what each organisation can realistically do (with these constraints varying by type of organisation). For example, many local authority reports have specified funding concerns going forwards, with several noting that they have already lost their biodiversity officer due to resource constraints. Acknowledging any constraints/challenges along with reporting highlights will help provide a balanced report.

It is acknowledged that few organisations provided information on monitoring. Indeed, 13% (7) of reviewed reports detailed findings of monitoring in terms of trends or areas for concern, whilst 21% (12) indicated whether data had been added to the National Biodiversity Network Gateway ( NBN) or Biodiversity Action Reporting System ( BARS). However, this was the first round of reports, so it is not unexpected that there was little information on trends given that many actions will only have been implemented relatively recently. This section is likely to become increasingly important over time, and should be retained to stimulate activity and ensure that public bodies are not just implementing actions but are also considering the outcomes of those actions.

Retaining the existing headings within the template will ensure that public bodies do not have to start at the beginning again with a new template for the next reporting round. Indeed, in relation to climate change duty reporting, a considerable proportion of public bodies noted that being more familiar with the template would make next year's reporting process better (Sustainable Scotland Network, 2016a). It is assumed that the same logic could be applied to biodiversity duty reporting. The internet survey also suggested that there was little appetite for change, with only 24% (8) of the 33 respondents who had produced a report and were aware of the template thinking that it needed to be modified. Retaining the existing basic template structure for the next round will also be beneficial in that it will facilitate comparisons between rounds 1 and 2, as well as between public bodies, and it will also help with the monitoring of progress. Furthermore, public bodies that did not publish a report in the first round for whatever reason will be able to refer to the existing reports as examples. This would not be the case if the template were completely changed. The focus of this study has therefore been on the production of appropriate guidance to support the use of the template, rather than making major revisions to the existing template.

There has been some criticism from a few consultees that the biodiversity reporting duty is a box ticking exercise (in particular, the need to provide introductory information and details on mainstreaming). However, it is concluded that from the point of view of the reader, who may know little about the organisation concerned, this information is useful to set the context. It also indicates the types of activity the organisation is likely to be able to carry out. Given that several reports provided similar information in Section 1 (introductory information/governance) and Section 3 (mainstreaming), it is suggested that the mainstreaming section follows on from Section 1 to minimise the need for repetition. Furthermore, encouraging the public to review the biodiversity duty reports is likely to help ensure that organisations do not see the reports as a box ticking exercise, but as a way of showcasing their biodiversity activities. For this reason, it will be important to ensure that all the reports are easily accessible from one location.

The addition of a further section (Section 7) on targets to the template is considered appropriate given that several public bodies have suggested reporting on how public body activities have contributed/are contributing to Scotland's biodiversity targets. Including this extra section aligns biodiversity duty reporting with the climate change duty reporting process, where Section 7 (Wider influence) covers reporting of relevant targets by public bodies (Sustainable Scotland Network, 2016b). In addition to providing the Scottish Government with valuable information that can be used to assess overall progress towards Scotland's biodiversity targets, such alignment will also benefit those public bodies that noted that they had to meet many reporting requirements, and that it would be easier if these could be made more consistent.

Objective 1d) Providing an overview of the type of activities reported by public bodies to meet the duty identifying good practice and those activities which could be replicated by similar types of public bodies to enable them to fulfil their biodiversity duty.

The review of biodiversity duty reports identified a range of activities that public bodies have carried out and reported upon including (but not limited to):

  • Practical activities such as sowing a wildflower meadow, putting up bird boxes, carrying out litter picks on beaches and in public green spaces;
  • Face-to-face communications work with schools, 'Friends of...' groups, local residents and those using nature reserves/countryside centres, as well as wider awareness raising through the internet;
  • Producing guides on land use and habitat management, for example, on the management of native woodlands; and
  • Encouraging their staff to take part in biodiversity related volunteering, for example, planting of trees.

Good practice examples have been identified through categorising the reports by type of public body, and then selecting activities from the different public body types according to whether each activity was considered to have direct links to biodiversity, and importantly, to be replicable by other organisations. Table 4.1 provides some of these good practice examples. The table additionally indicates the main type of resources needed to carry out the activity. This helps show that there are activities that all types of organisation can contribute to, from those with land and biodiversity knowledge, to those who have neither of these but are willing to form partnerships or encourage their staff to volunteer.

Table 4.1: Examples of good practice biodiversity activities


Activity reported

Main resources/actions needed

Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB)

Members of staff with a genuine interest in the environment have voluntarily formed a "green team"/environmental steering group; this team works to actively seek ways to help protect the environment and implement the biodiversity action plan

Staff involvement

Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB)

Staff members also participate in voluntary activities such as the annual "Kilwinning Spring Clean" which aims to clean up the local area and support the local community. The AiB has also purchased litter picking equipment to help clear litter from the nearby cycle path and enhance the local area

Staff involvement

Care Inspectorate

The Care Inspectorate has an annual photographic competition for staff. This features Scottish wildlife and countryside

Staff involvement

Midlothian Council

Native wildflower grasslands have been created on over 30 hectares of public open space throughout Midlothian. The local community, including groups such as the Scouts and Rotary Club, was invited to suggest sites and participate in the creation of the wildflower grasslands. The areas were sown with seeds native to Scotland and managed to control weeds such as docks. The areas are only cut twice a year and have not only increased biodiversity within the area but also provided substantial financial savings for the council. Wildflower meadows have also been introduced to five local schools as part of the Eco-Schools programme

Land and/or buildings

Midlothian Council

The Midlothian Ranger Service covers three areas including recreation access, education, and biodiversity conservation. A key part of the ranger service is raising awareness of biodiversity through working with volunteers, including the Criminal Justice Team. Volunteers undertake practical conservation activities and training (for example, a herbicide spraying course to remove invasive species) to improve areas throughout Midlothian.

The Ranger Service also organises and leads free biodiversity focused activities for local schools and community groups to increase local awareness of biodiversity. Rangers also promote further biodiversity workshops delivered by experts in the field

Staff involvement; biodiversity knowledge

Renfrewshire Council

Renfrewshire Council has held several events to link biodiversity with the cultural and built heritage. Exhibitions have been held at Paisley Museum in addition to other interpretative activities such as Walking in Tannahill's Footsteps, and Paisley's Gaelic Chapel Graveyard. These events were coordinated with the first ever Gaelic Mod in Paisley in 2013 and included bilingual Gaelic/English interpretative signs. All of these were multi-partner and multi-sector initiatives with funding from Historic Scotland, and participation from local history groups, the Tannahill-McDonald Club and Gaelic speaking groups

Partnership working; biodiversity knowledge

Renfrewshire Council

Renfrewshire Council received funding from the CSGN Development Fund to undertake the Network for Newts which saw the creation of 27 shallow scrapes adjacent to the National Cycle Network. The scrapes provide a habitat and spawning habitat created for palmate newts and common frogs. The Sustrans charity is now engaged in a collaborative project to further expand habitats along the NCN and survey newt populations

Land and/or buildings; partnership working

Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA)

SEPA has undertaken a variety of practical actions in approximately 19 of their office grounds to improve local biodiversity. Actions have been planned and undertaken by Green Network members and staff volunteers, and include: putting up bird feeders, bird boxes and bat boxes; pollinator friendly native planting; creation of grassland meadows through selective mowing, creation of ponds and having hedgehog hibernation boxes. The activities have improved biodiversity around the offices with several species being spotted including a small blue butterfly, red deer and newts. The activities have also helped to build up the capacity of staff across the offices to undertake biodiversity action

Land and/or buildings

Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA)

iRecord is an online site for recording, managing and sharing wildlife sightings. Staff members use a bespoke form on iRecord for uploading wildlife sightings at SEPA offices. This allows SEPA to monitor biodiversity improvements around the office grounds and engage staff in the activities undertaken

Staff involvement

Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA)

Between 2011 and 2014, SEPA was a partner in the organisation and running of several SNH Sharing Good Practice Events, including topics such as: Invasive Non-Native Species, Biosecurity, Ecosystem Services for Land Managers, and Citizen Science and Environmental Monitoring

Partnership working; biodiversity knowledge

Scottish Water

Scottish Water launched a volunteer programme in 2011 which entitles staff to two days paid leave to participate in volunteering activities focused on education, environment and the local community. By 2014 2,000 employees had taken part in the programme. Volunteer projects include: working with countryside rangers at Dean Castle Country Park, beach cleans to remove litter from the coastline and beach litter survey to inform the Marine Conservation Society of possible litter sources, and participation at the Friends of Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park 'Make a Difference Day' to help with national park repairs. Scottish Water has also produced a map to disseminate the range of volunteer work they have undertaken

Staff involvement

Scottish Water

Scottish Water has developed a range of information packs and visited schools to give talks on the water industry, including how it can impact upon the environment and wildlife

Biodiversity knowledge

Scottish Water

Scottish Water has developed a strong liaison framework with SNH, as well as participation in "sharing good practice" events to help build capacity and knowledge on biodiversity issues and ensure that the core functions of Scottish Water are undertaken in a manner that allows them to further the conservation of biodiversity

Partnership working

Skills Development Scotland

Skills Development Scotland ( SDS) has a network of voluntary Green Champions with approximately 60 champions in SDS offices across Scotland. This network helps decrease the environmental impacts of SDS offices, for example by encouraging staff members to print fewer documents

Biodiversity knowledge

Skills Development Scotland

SDS also encourages staff members to undertake volunteering opportunities such as native tree planting. In 2012 the property and facilities team spent a day in Teaghlach Wood in Perthshire and planted over 50 native trees

Staff involvement

Note: information has been obtained from published biodiversity duty reports

The above examples, along with a few additional ones, are also included within the guidance document.

4.2.2 Objective 2

To provide an assessment of the contribution that the Biodiversity Duty is making to the delivery of the "2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity". This assessment could include the Biodiversity Duty activities in the context of/contribution to a) the Six Big Steps for Nature, b) Aichi Targets

Activities reported by public bodies in the 56 reviewed biodiversity duty reports were found to contribute to all 20 of the key steps from the Biodiversity Strategy that were deemed relevant to some or a majority of public bodies. The steps that most public bodies provided evidence of contributing to 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;
  • 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; 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.

For each of the above steps, at least 60% of the 56 reports included activities that might contribute.

Many public bodies are contributing to these steps perhaps because the activities required are relatively simple, and can be undertaken by the majority of (if not most) organisations. For example, a considerable number of public bodies reported that they had produced plans and strategies that took account of biodiversity. Many provided examples where partnership working had taken place to promote the conservation of biodiversity, whilst a similar number also reported on activities where they had helped to improve local environments and green spaces, whether this was by running an event to raise awareness, or encouraging their staff to volunteer to improve a local green area.

Key steps where there appeared to be less of a contribution from public bodies included those which required specific habitats or land uses, or necessitated public bodies to be in a position where they owned/managed land. These steps 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;
  • Achieve good environmental status for Scottish seas;
  • Integrate protected areas policy with action for wider habitats to combat fragmentation and restore key habitats; 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.

For each of these four steps, less than 15% of reviewed reports included activities thought to be relevant. This is perhaps because these steps require specific habitat types/land uses or are only available to public bodies that have the opportunity to carry out practical activities relating to habitat management.

The full results of the assessment are provided in Annex 7. Note that no attempt was made to determine the strength of the contribution towards the targets.

The study also linked the key steps from the biodiversity strategy to the Six Big Steps for nature (from the route map) and the Aichi targets (see Annex 8). Given that the assessment of the 56 reports has indicated that public bodies are contributing to all 20 of the relevant key steps from the biodiversity strategy, this means that they are also contributing to all six of the big steps for nature from the route map.

In addition, the biodiversity duty reports provide evidence that public bodies in Scotland are contributing to 11 of the 20 Aichi targets. It should be noted that the existence of the biodiversity duty and any awareness raising around it is likely to contribute towards a further Aichi target, namely Target 1: by 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably [13] . The eight Aichi targets to which the reviewed reports did not appear to contribute cover targets relating to policy and decision making by national governments, and targets requiring specialist knowledge or specific ecosystems that may not be relevant to Scottish public bodies. It is possible that a few public bodies (for example, the Scottish Government) have carried out and reported upon activities that contribute towards some of these additional targets, but it has not been possible to assess every reported activity against every target.

4.2.3 Objective 3

To assess why some public bodies failed to submit a report and identify any actions that the Scottish Government can take to assist them in the future.

This study has identified various reasons why some public bodies failed to submit a biodiversity duty report. A list of these reasons is provided in Box 4-1.

Box 4.1: Reasons why some public bodies failed to submit a biodiversity duty report

  • Lack of awareness of the legislation and the need to report (with several public bodies not being aware of having been in receipt of any information on the reporting duty)
  • Belief that the requirement was not relevant to them (for example, because they felt their business did not directly relate to biodiversity, or they did not have any outside space in which to implement biodiversity actions). One public body also thought that the duty was focused on land usage which was not applicable to their organisation
  • General fatigue relating to reporting with the need to report being seen as a box ticking exercise
  • The individual responsible for reporting leaving the organisation with no-one taking their place
  • Prioritisation of work against the organisation‟s core functions, with meeting the biodiversity duty not being seen as one of these (having the capacity to do everything was an issue raised by another public body)
  • Fear/uncertainty relating to the reporting requirement, and a lack of clarity/understanding in terms of what is required

The internet survey and telephone interviews identified a number of actions that the Scottish Government could take to assist public bodies with biodiversity duty reporting. The following bullets provide a summary of the suggested actions, drawn from both the survey and the interviews. The actions are organised according to the reporting barrier/issue that they are addressing:

Issue to address: awareness

  • Inform public bodies that they have a duty to produce the report in a timely manner. This also includes contacting the correct person and making it clear that this is a statutory requirement, by using more forceful language than has been used previously (note that in relation to this point, it was recognised by many of the public bodies themselves that it is not necessarily easy to find the right person to contact, and that a database of individual contacts for the biodiversity duty might be needed);
  • Publish progress reports on the overall condition of biodiversity, highlighting areas of improvement and good work being carried out. This report could be in the form of a yearly newsletter;
  • Help raise the profile of biodiversity within other departments within public bodies (this will help biodiversity and facilities managers/officers to implement biodiversity actions); and
  • Promote partnership working and joined up thinking (it is better for budgets and biodiversity if things are done together rather than biodiversity being added on afterwards).

Issue to address: advice and guidance (report writing)

  • Provide a basic structure for the report and areas where it can be modified dependent on the needs of the different types of public body (but note that it is good to retain a similar overall structure to the existing template to allow for comparison); and
  • Provide training and/or a name of a support individual from the Scottish Government to help public bodies with the reporting.

Issue to address: advice and guidance (practical/activities)

  • Provide an opportunity for shared learning, including annual events and an online forum where people can talk about their activities and ask questions;
  • Publish and keep up to date details on resources and other information;
  • Possibly suggest consultants that could help smaller organisations;
  • Provide guidance as to what each type of public body should be doing; and
  • The Scottish Government could set targets in relation to the "2020 Challenge" for each type of public body.

Issue to address: feedback following post report production

  • Acknowledge receipt of reports;
  • Publish reports in one location. Include the actual reports rather than the links because these can go out of date;
  • Provide a traffic light system to encourage completion, and show which organisations have met the requirement;
  • Review each round of reporting to evaluate the overall biodiversity picture, how actions have contributed towards the strategy and the next steps. This will give public bodies something to aim for; and
  • Provide individual feedback such as that provided for the climate change/carbon reporting.

4.2.4 Objective 4

To draw conclusions and recommendations on requirements for future reporting, through provision of improved guidance and instructions and development of the next reporting template. These should take into account 'Scotland's Biodiversity - a Route Map to 2020'

This study has developed guidance and a revised template (currently in draft format). The guidance and template take into account the various comments made by public bodies during this study, in particular:

  • The provision of example biodiversity actions carried out by public bodies;
  • The inclusion of a flow chart to direct public bodies to parts of the guidance that are likely to be of most relevance to them, according to their level of opportunity to undertake biodiversity actions;
  • The inclusion of links to existing reports produced by public bodies with a range of opportunities to carry out biodiversity related activities [34] . This ensures that the guidance is appropriate for both those public bodies with land/assets and some knowledge of biodiversity, and for those who may not own any land and do not consider biodiversity to be part of their core functions;
  • The addition of a section for each public body to record their contribution to the 20 key steps from the Biodiversity Strategy that have been deemed most relevant to public bodies. Public bodies are also encouraged to link their activities to the Six Big Steps for Nature as outlined in the route map; and
  • The inclusion of a section on additional resources providing further links to help public bodies to better understand biodiversity and what they can do.

The guidance and revised template is provided as a separate document.

4.3 Policy recommendations

This study has developed several policy recommendations including:

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

Evidence for the recommendation: consultees are keen to look at other organisation's reports to gain inspiration for their own biodiversity activities. Having them in one place would facilitate this. It would also ensure that all the reports are easily accessible to the general public. This would help raise awareness of the requirement, and encourage comparisons between public bodies, which in turn could stimulate them to carry out more biodiversity activities.

Furthermore, where links to other organisations' websites are used, these links may become broken if information is moved. It is acknowledged that a list of the published reports that the Scottish Government was informed about was published on the Biodiversity Scotland website ( However, the study team has not been able to find one of the biodiversity duty reports, since the link no longer works. Hosting the reports on its own website would enable the Scottish Government to ensure that the reports are published as per the requirement of the WANE Act. The guidance document could then link to the biodiversity duty reports on the Scottish Government website, thus ensuring that the links remained functional.

Recommendation 2: acknowledge receipt of all report links/reports from public bodies

Evidence for the recommendation: the internet survey and telephone interviews with public bodies that had produced a report raised the issue of feedback. Several respondents mentioned that they had not received any response from the Scottish Government when they sent in their report/a link to the report. It is recognised that there is insufficient time and resources for the Scottish Government to go through all the reports and provide each public body with detailed feedback. However, sending an acknowledgement to public bodies when they send in their reports would help ensure that they felt their efforts were being recognised.

Recommendation 3: add biodiversity duty reports 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.

Evidence for the recommendation: this point was made by an interviewee who thought that it would help to raise awareness of the need to report. Many of those public bodies that did not publish a report cited lack of awareness as the main reason. Therefore, the use of a pre-existing scheme to help inform public bodies of the need to report is assumed to be a relatively simple way of raising the profile of biodiversity duty reporting.

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

Evidence for the recommendation: some interviewees felt that the reporting process was just a box ticking exercise. Raising awareness amongst the public would help create an audience for the reports, thus encouraging public bodies to carry out activities and report upon them instead of just viewing the process as a reporting exercise with no other function. This would help ensure that the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act and the WANE Act were delivered in tandem as originally intended.

Recommendation 5: 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.

Evidence for the recommendation: several organisations reported that they were not aware of having received any communication from the Scottish Government on biodiversity duty reporting. There are likely to be several reasons for this, including: the individual sent the communication had left the organisation; no one particular person was responsible for communications about biodiversity, so any message was ignored; and biodiversity was not seen as a priority or was deemed irrelevant to the organisation, so again any communications were ignored. It is recognised that obtaining the contact details for the most relevant person is difficult for some organisations, in particular, those that do not have a specific biodiversity officer, or indeed any named individual responsible for environmental management. However, by providing annual updates and reminder emails, (even if some of these go to a general email) it is thought that the profile of biodiversity duty reporting will be raised. This will ensure that more people are aware, and subsequently meet, the requirement.

Indeed, the contact process used to invite people to complete the survey for this study (one initial invite followed by two reminder emails if required) has already raised awareness of the requirement amongst several organisations who are now putting in place procedures to ensure they report in future.

Recommendation 6: publish guidance on the reporting process that includes examples of reports and activities from different types of public body. Ensure this guidance is updated for future reporting rounds as good practice develops.

Evidence for the recommendation: many survey respondents and also interviewees requested examples of what reports should look like, and what activities they should carry out. Any guidance or similar support provided to public bodies should therefore include examples so that public bodies have a better idea of what the Scottish Government is expecting, and what they can actually do (especially if biodiversity is not included amongst their core functions).

4.4 Suggestions for the Scottish Government to consider

The study has also developed a number of suggestions that the Scottish Government may wish to consider. Some of these suggestions have come from consultation (both the survey responses and telephone interviews), whilst others have been developed by the project team during the course of the study. These suggestions are as follows:

  • Request that each public body nominates a biodiversity duty report contact. Maintain a database of the contacts for each public body, and ensure that regularly communications/updates are sent to the nominated individuals;
  • Setting up an internet page to list all public bodies along with their biodiversity duty reporting 'status'. This could use a traffic light based system, with green indicating the public body was up to date, amber showing the report was due, and red indicating that a report had not been produced. The use of a traffic light system was suggested by one of the survey respondents. Including the date by when the next biodiversity duty report was due would also be useful, especially as going forwards, not all public bodies will be expected to report at the same time (since the three yearly period applies from January 2012 or from the date the organisation came into being); and
  • Consider including biodiversity duty reporting within the best value toolkits (potentially the one related to sustainability). Several public bodies have made mention of these toolkits within their published biodiversity duty reports, with South Lanarkshire indicating that they are looking to produce a biodiversity assessment toolkit based on the Best Value Toolkit for Sustainability (South Lanarkshire Council, nd).