Monmouthshire’s Commitment to Nature : The Biodiversity Duty
Section 6 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 places a duty on public authorities to seek to maintain and enhance biodiversity where it is within the proper exercise of their functions. In doing so, public authorities must seek to promote the resilience of ecosystems. This means that Monmouthshire County Council must take a pro-active approach to improve and not reduce biodiversity when carrying out functions.
The duty came into force on 21st May 2016 and replaces the earlier Biodiversity duty in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
Habitats and Species of Principle Importance for Wales in Monmouthshire
Section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 states that Welsh Ministers must prepare and publish a list of the living organisms and types of habitat (the Section 7 lists), which in their opinion, are of principal importance for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing biodiversity in relation to Wales. Public authorities, in complying with the Section 6 duty must have regard to the Section 7 lists, which provides a focus on species and habitats of principal importance. Monmouthshire County Council developed a Forward Plan to commit to complying with the new duties which is a requirement on all public authorities. There is a requirement to report on the plan in 2019 and every 3 years following this. The plan will be reviewed following the reporting. The objectives of the plan are to:
1. Embed biodiversity throughout decision making at all levels
2. Provide environmental education to raise awareness and encourage action
3. Undertake land management for biodiversity and promote ecosystem resilience
4. Influence land management to improve ecosystem resilience
5. Tackle key pressures on species and habitats
6. Support landscape scale projects and partnerships to maximise delivery
7. Monitor the effectiveness of the plan and review
As part of the development of the Monmouthshire Biodiversity Forward Plan a review of the Section 7 lists was undertaken to identify which species occur in Monmouthshire.
How wild is our County: Biodiversity in Monmouthshire
Monmouthshire is a rural county with agriculture and forestry shaping the rich biodiversity and the resilience of ecosystems in the landscape. The River Usk and River Wye are designated as Special Areas of Conservation and together with their tributaries provide important wildlife corridors and migratory routes for key species such as otters, shad and white clawed crayfish. These habitats are under threat from water abstraction, pollution and siltation.
The east of the County is heavily wooded and together with woodland on the English side of the border, forms the Wye Valley Woodlands SAC, part of a large swathe of high quality habitat for woodland species including lesser horseshoe bats and dormouse. The quality of the woodland is predominantly under threat from lack of management and the spread of ash dieback. In areas where agricultural intensification has not depleted quality there are networks of unimproved grassland. Much of it is included in the Local Wildlife Sites network but has no statutory protection. It is vulnerable to poor management and development pressures particularly in villages and on the edge of settlements.
The Wye Valley is also internationally important for bat species including Greater Horseshoe Bats and Lesser Horseshoe Bats with many of their roosts included in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Bat Sites SAC. Parts of the Wye Valley are known to be used by at least 15 different species of bats including the rare Barbastelle Bat and Bechstein’s Bat.
The unique man-made landscape in the south of the County along the Gwent Levels has created a network of reens and coastal and floodplain grazing marsh which are often under threat from unsympathetic development. The Living Levels is a landscape partnership, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which aims to reconnect people and communities to the Gwent Levels landscape and provide a sustainable future for this historic and unique area.
The marine area of Monmouthshire includes the internationally important Severn Estuary SPA, SAC and Ramsar site which is particularly important for wintering bird species. The estuary is one of the largest in Britain and has the second highest tidal range in the world. We are part of ASERA that works to ensure sustainable management of this natural resource
Areas of upland in the Brecon Beacons National Park such as the Black Mountains, the Blorenge and the Gilwern Hill SSSI’s include a mixture of upland habitats including wet heath, blanket bog and limestone grassland. These sites have important populations of rare plants such as endemic whitebeams, hawkweeds, mosses, liverworts and lichens. The National Park Authority have recently published a Nature Recovery Action Plan which sets out the action that they shall deliver to maintain and enhance biodiversity.
Across the County over 700 sites have been identified for their importance for nature conservation including woodlands, watercourses, orchards, grasslands and areas of previously developed land like quarries and other brownfield sites. These Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) and Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) have been identified by Gwent Wildlife Trust and Monmouthshire County Council to identify priorities for management and conservation. They are not statutory designations but are important in decision making processes such as planning and development management.
Data on the resilience of ecosystems is currently being developed by Natural Resources Wales as part of the development of Area Statements. NRW Core Management plans indicate that many of our protected sites are in an unfavourable condition, the extent and quality of habitats in the County is largely reducing, some species are increasing e.g. horseshoe bats and otters but most are decreasing e.g. butterflies and farmland birds with overall species diversity decreasing. Diversity is also varied across the County as demonstrated by vascular plant diversity in the Flora of Monmouthshire with the north of the County having lower diversity by comparison to areas such as the Wye Valley where diversity is high.
Natural Resources Wales have identified that the ecological connectivity of the County is high. However, when presented spatially, there are obvious exceptions to this where the landscape has become degraded as it has been improved for agriculture. The north of the County in the catchment of the River Trothy and farmland around the lower Usk catchment are examples of this.
The ecological connectivity of Monmouthshire settlements has previously been mapped as part of the Ecological Connectivity Assessment. This provides an objective assessment of semi-natural habitat connectivity in and around eight settlements/sub-areas in Monmouthshire and identifies and informs future habitat management and creation opportunities.
We have published a report to document the biodiversity action delivered by Monmouthshire County Council and its partners since the biodiversity duty was adopted:
Development Management – The Green Infrastructure team works closely with Development Management to ensure a GI approach to development. We ensure that biodiversity is considered through the planning process in line with policy and legislation.
Pollinators – We have been working with Grounds Maintenance and Rural Development Plan colleagues through the Nature Isn’t Neat project to identify opportunities to improve land management for pollinating insects focussing on changes to grassland mowing regimes in Caldicot, Chepstow and Monmouth.
Monlife sites – We have been developing Green Infrastructure Management Plans for some of our key sites to ensure that we get the best out of them for biodiversity. We will continue to develop and manage high quality sites for informal recreation with linkages across and beyond the site.
Training – Highways, Development Management and Grounds Maintenance teams have had biodiversity training to enable them to adequately consider biodiversity when they carry out their statutory functions.