Committee Minutes

JNCC 04 M01
March 2004
 

CONFIRMED MINUTES OF THE SIXTY-SECOND MEETING OF THE JOINT NATURE CONSERVATION COMMITTEE, HELD ON 18 MARCH 2004 AT MONKSTONE HOUSE, PETERBOROUGH, PE1 1JY

 

Present:

Dr Blakiston-Houston
Professor Dodgshon
Professor Doyle
Dr Faulkner
Professor Ingram (Acting Chairman)
Mr Lloyd-Jones
Dr Markland
Dr Moser
Professor Pentreath
Mr Scott

In attendance:

Miss Bigger (secretariat)
Dr Brown
Dr Connor (item 9)
Professor Hill (item 11)
Dr Jardine
Dr Johnston (item 7)
Dr McLean (items 11 and 14)
Mrs McQueen (item 6)
Dr Reid (item 7)
Mr Steer
Mr Thomas
Dr Vincent
Dr Williams (item 10)
Mr Yeo
 
 
 
 

Content

1 Chairman's opening remarks
2 Amendments to the minutes of the sixty-first meeting (JNCC 04 P02)
3 Matters arising (JNCC 04 P03a) (part of this paper was considered in confidence)
4 Declaration of interests
 

Decision papers

5 JNCC Business Plan for 2004/05 (JNCC 04 P04)
6 FMPR update (JNCC 04 P01)
7 Marine Natura 2000 (JNCC 04 P05) (part of this paper was considered in confidence)

Discussion papers

8 Irish Sea Pilot (JNCC 04 D02)
9 Development of a framework for Mapping European Seabed Habitats – an update on the Interreg MESH project (JNCC 04 D03)
10 Common Standards Monitoring for designated sites in the UK – progress since 1999 (JNCC 04 D05)
11 The work of the Biological Records Centre (JNCC 04 D01) presentation and discussion
 

Information papers

12 Management changes within the Support Unit (JNCC 04 N01)
13 Any other business

 

In confidence session

14 Matters arising (JNCC 04 P03b)
15 Marine Natura:  Special Areas of Conservation – Harbour Porpoise (JNCC 04 P05a)
 

1      Chairman's Opening Remarks

                             
1.1     Chairman congratulated the Support Unit on the production of a leaflet explaining the work of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the country agencies.  This was intended for an international audience.
                             
1.2     Apologies were received from Sir Ewen Cameron, Sir Martin Doughty and Professor Galbraith.
                             
1.3     Chairman noted that Professor Mark Hill, Head of the Biological Records Centre would be joining the meeting at item 11 to give a presentation.
                             
1.4     Mr Steer updated Committee on arrangements for the June 2004 field visit advising that two options were under consideration, both relating to the marine environment and in particular marine protected species.  It was likely that the Moray Firth option would be chosen but this was still to be confirmed.  The Thistle Hotel in Inverness had been provisionally booked.  Mr Steer thanked Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for their assistance in organising the field visit.
                             

2      Amendments to the minutes (JNCC 04 P02)

                             
2.1     Some minor amendments to the minutes had been received, which were approved by Committee.
                             

3      Matters arising (JNCC 04 P03a)

                             
3.1     This paper updated Committee on a number of items relating to their meeting in December 2003 (JNCC strategy and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)).  In addition a note on non-native species was also included.  Other items under matters arising were considered in a confidential session.
                             
3.2     Under the CBD item, Dr Moser noted that Committee had previously discussed the importance of being involved at an early stage in preparation for Conferences of Parties (CoPs) and follow up work.  There were a number of significant items coming out of the recent CBD CoP in Kuala Lumpur which should be built into the forward programme for Committee and communicated to the country agencies.  Mr Steer advised that meetings with Government officials in the next couple of weeks would pin down specific actions from the CoP and a full report would subsequently be sent to the country agencies.  More resources are being directed within JNCC to support preparation for CoPs.  Professor Ingram noted the superb work carried out by Dr Gibson and Dr Rose from the Support Unit in supporting Government both before and during the CoP.
                             
3.3     Mr Steer advised Committee that the JNCC's formal response to the non-native species consultation was now available and a meeting was scheduled the following week to discuss the resource position with Defra.  Committee recognised the importance of considering non-native species in the wider context of bio-security issues and that it would be important to emphasise this point with Defra.
                             

4      Declaration of interests

                             
4.1     In respect of the relevant items, Dr Moser noted that he is a member of the British Trust for Ornithology and a previous member of the Council of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
                             

5      JNCC Business Plan for 2004/05 (JNCC 04 P04)

                             
5.1     Mr Yeo introduced this paper, advising that since the last discussion in December 2003, the issue of grant in aid (GIA) had been resolved and the JNCC now expected to receive £5.8m.  GIA to cover Accruing Superannuation Liability Charges (ASLCs) of around £358k was also expected, making the total GIA for 2004/05 £6.16m.  A breakdown of this was included in Annex A of the paper.  This represented an increase of just under 5% compared to 2003/04 in recognition of the additional work required in the marine environment on areas such as Natura 2000 and OSPAR.  However, despite the increase, budgets would still be tight because of salary increases associated with guaranteed pay progression and cost of living increases.  It was important to consider running costs and make efficiency savings where possible.  Annex B highlighted that £30k of efficiency savings were expected in 2004/05 but noted that the organisation was already lean and it would prove more difficult to increase this figure year on year.  Annex C of the paper presented the revised business plan which took into account priorities expressed by Committee and Government.
                             
5.2     In discussion, Committee noted their disappointment that a formal letter confirming the GIA final settlement had not been received from Defra and indicative budgets for 2005/06 had not been advised.
                             
5.3     Committee agreed that it would be useful to draw out some top level targets from the plan on which Committee could concentrate over the coming year in order to gauge performance e.g. marine Natura and common standards monitoring guidance.  
                             
5.4     With reference to the drivers of JNCC's work mentioned in the plan it was noted that Defra's role with respect to its UK and England responsibilities should be clarified and that attention should be paid to indicating how the drivers relate to JNCC's work programme.
                             
5.5     With respect to particular areas of work, it was noted that the JNCC should work closely with the country agencies on the SPA and SAC agendas to ensure the agencies had appropriate resources to complement the work.  In addition, it was also important to engage the country agencies on the ecosystem management approach.  JNCC's work on the Water Framework Directive was likely to become more limited from now on, with the main responsibilities resting with the country agencies.
                             
5.6     Total funding for the Interreg project was not yet included in the business plan as the income for 2004/05 still needed to be defined.  However, once this had been ascertained it would appear in the plan.
                             
5.7     Committee noted that top level targets from the plan would be circulated.  The ASLC contributions would need to be agreed with the country agencies before the plan was finalised.
                             

6      FMPR update (JNCC 04 P01)

                             
6.1     Mrs McQueen introduced this paper which provided an update on various areas of the FMPR implementation process.  The Regulatory Reform Order (RRO) consultation period had now finished and 18 responses had been received from various organisations including the Support Unit and Trade Unions, all of the country agencies, 3 non-governmental organisations, Government departments and individuals.  Wide support for the proposals had been expressed but Defra would need to draft responses to any concerns raised – these would be discussed at the FMPR steering group meeting on 02 April 2004.  Defra would also be gathering information for the parliamentary scrutiny process which was likely to begin in May.  With regard to the pay elements of the FMPR, the main objective of securing a single set of terms and conditions for staff was progressing well.  Discussions on this had involved the country agency Resource Directors and HR managers, Trade Unions, Defra and the Treasury.  It was likely that Defra would sign off the pay remit on behalf of the devolved administrations with the Treasury having some involvement because of the nature of the changes.  For purposes of expendiency it would be useful to delegate the endorsement of the pay remit to the FMPR sub-group.  The model for the governance arrangements was progressing well and further discussions with the country agencies on the management statement and financial memorandum were planned for later in the month. 
                             
6.2     Dr Brown noted that the Modernising Rural Delivery Programme was gathering pace and this would place immense pressure on the corporate service teams at English Nature therefore possibly having an effect on the resources available for the FMPR process.
                             
6.3     There was some discussion about the pay remit but it was agreed that any detail should be considered in a closed session.
                             
6.4     Committee noted that further information relating to the governance arrangements would be brought back to the Committee at their June 2004 meeting.  Committee agreed that the FMPR sub-group should endorse the pay remit, with the appropriate involvement from country agency Resource Directors.  It was noted that this was a critical stage in the FMPR process and although the decision making process for some matters seemed complicated at this stage, the objective of securing simpler administrative arrangements should facilitate matters in the future.
                             

7      Marine Natura (JNCC 04 P05)

                             
7.1     Dr Vincent introduced the paper, summarising its context within JNCC's overall Marine Natura 2000 work programme.  The Committee was being invited to endorse the selection of five offshore sites for recommendation to Government as candidate SACs, which had been identified using the methods previously considered by Committee, and to endorse a methodology for selecting SPAs for inshore, non-breeding aggregations of seabirds.
                             
7.2     The issue of the selection and management of Marine Natura sites is currently being considered by an expert marine group of the EC Habitats and Ornis Committees.  The current view is that a minimum essential level of biological information will be required to justify sites, and the possible resource implications of this are given in the paper.  A further element of the programme, relating to possible harbour porpoise SACs was considered during the Confidential Session.
                             
7.3     With respect to the 5 offshore sites suggested as candidate SACs, Committee agreed that full consultation needed to be carried out with the country agencies in the work to identify sites under the Marine Natura 2000 programme, both to achieve continuity between inshore and offshore sites and because of the potential resource and management implications for the country agencies.
         
7.4     The site documentation currently presented in relation to the 5 sites was insufficient for the Committee to endorse their selection.  It was suggested that a site package should be prepared for each site in support of the recommendation.
                             
7.5     The Committee needed to be satisfied that the sites were the most appropriate in the context of the potential resource of the individual habitats, and that the available data were sufficient to justify selection.
                             
7.6     The Committee recognised that, while imminent threat might require urgent action to be taken with regard to site selection from time-to-time, it was generally preferable to undertake the identification and conservation of Natura 2000 sites in a systematic manner.
                             
7.7     While there is a scientific argument for selecting habitat SACs on the basis of geophysical information, this would be open to challenge.  Further discussion needs to be had with Defra on what survey information is the minimum necessary to complete the marine site series, and how it is to be resourced.
                             
7.8     In relation to the guidance on inshore aggregations of non-breeding seabirds, the Committee considered the method proposed was appropriate for SPA selection, but that advice on the subsequent management requirement of the sites would be needed.
                             
7.9     Committee approved the method proposed for the selection of inshore aggregations of non-breeding seabirds, but asked that advice also be developed in relation to the subsequent management of sites.  In relation to offshore habitat SACs, the Committee requested that the proposals be returned for consideration at a future meeting supported by the rationale, method and process for site selection and an appropriate information package justifying the site proposals and the procedure by which Committee will decide on SACs.

8      Irish Sea Pilot (JNCC 04 D02)

                             
8.1     Dr Vincent introduced this paper advising that the Irish Sea Pilot project report formed part of Defra's Review of Marine Nature Conservation (RMNC) which is due to report in full in June 2004.  The RMNC was a significant review and the first related to marine nature conservation conducted by Government.  It is likely to set the strategy for this area of work for the next 20 years.  Although forming part of the overall RMNC, the Irish Sea Pilot report would be disseminated separately as it related to issues relevant not just to the UK but also to the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland.  The report would be circulated to Committee members as soon as it was available.
                             
8.2     The paper included a summary of the main conclusions and recommendations of the Irish Sea Pilot.  Committee was invited to identify recommendations which it considered were particularly important for inclusion in the RMNC report to Government.
                             
8.3     Committee welcomed the report and congratulated the staff involved.  It was important to maintain momentum and promote the messages in the report, driving the necessary changes in government policy.  Important links to other initiatives such as regional seas, the developing European marine strategy and the Strategic Framework for the Scottish Marine Environment should be recognised.
                             
8.4     In discussion, Committee identified a number of issues which it would wish to see included in the RMNC main report, including;
                             
i         the adoption of the marine nature conservation framework as the overall strategy for marine nature conservation;
                             
ii        the use of Regional Seas as an important basis for the application of the ecosystem approach in the UK marine environment;
                             
iii       the importance of addressing the substantial governance issues raised by the need to achieve much better integration of marine management;
                             
iv       the need to work closely with the Governments of neighbouring countries.
                             
8.5     The fishing community had been involved in the process through representatives on the Irish Sea Pilot steering group but the dispersed nature of the industry had meant it was difficult to ensure all views were represented.
                             
8.6     Committee welcomed the report and agreed that it would be useful to develop an action plan to ensure momentum was maintained and recommendations taken forward.
                             

9      Development of a framework for Mapping European Seabed Habitats – an update on the Interreg MESH project (JNCC 04 D03)

                             
9.1     Dr Connor introduced this item with a short presentation to Committee advising that the MESH project would build on the growing area of JNCC work in seabed mapping.  The project involved 12 partners, from Ireland, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and France and would last three years, starting in Spring 2004.  At the OSPAR[1] Biodiversity Commmittee meeting in January 2003, it was proposed that countries collaborate in mapping the seabed off north-west Europe to support work being undertaken in relation to Annex V on the protection of threatened habitats and species, and the establishment of an ecologically-coherent network of marine protected areas.  Conditional approval for Interreg funding had been received to enable this project to go ahead and a formal Grant Offer was awaited before the project commenced in Spring.
                             
9.2     Mr Thomas noted that CCW would like to be engaged in the project, although it would be difficult to commit much resource.  CCW had also made a bid for Interreg funding and it would be important to ensure that the two projects meshed together.  SNH may be able to realign some of their planned survey work to assist the project.  The reference to confidence ratings against data were welcomed and it was recognised that they might not be as high as one would expect in the terrestrial environment.
                             
9.3     Dr Vincent noted that the resources assigned to the MESH project would not distort the business plan as other areas of work would only be affected at the margins and the overall benefit of conducting the project was considered greater.  The project would also provide support to survey already planned (e.g. for marine Natura) as this had been included in the project and attracted Interreg funding.
                             
9.4     Committee acknowledged the link between this paper and the two previous discussions and it was agreed that it would be important to make connections.
                             

10    Common Standards Monitoring (CSM) for designated sites in the UK – progress since 1999 (JNCC 04 D05)

                             
10.1   Dr Vincent introduced this paper advising that, after 11 years, one of the core areas of the country agencies' work through the JNCC was about to come to fruition.  CSM is a collaboration between the agencies and the JNCC to ensure the monitoring of all designated sites is carried out to a common standard with reporting running on a six year cycle.  By the time the first report is produced in late 2005 it is anticipated that two thirds of all sites will have been surveyed.  Site monitoring in Wales and Northern Ireland has started rather later than in the other countries, but it was hoped they would be able to catch up.  It was hoped that fairly complete UK coverage could be achieved for at least some feature types.
                             
10.2   Mr Thomas noted that there had been a different focus in Wales as a result of priorities identified by the Welsh Assembly and this is why concentration had been placed on assessments for cSAC features, which, nonetheless made up a large proportion of the total area of sites.
                             
10.3   Dr Brown noted that, with regard to quality and consistency, sharing experience of assessment work with other countries was essential.  Carrying out exercises in other countries and comparing work might offer an opportunity for learning.
                             
10.4   Dr Faulkner noted that the paper only included work completed up to March 2003 - more progress had been made since then.
                             
10.5   Committee welcomed the progress made and noted that the Support Unit would speak with country agency staff to identify those features for which full coverage might be achieved by the end of the six year cycle.
                             

11    The work of the Biological Records Centre (JNCC 04 D01)

                             
11.1   Dr McLean introduced this item, advising that the current six year contract between the JNCC and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology with respect to work carried out by the BRC would end on 31 January 2005.  Discussions on a new contract had begun and the paper was brought to Committee to summarise the achievements of the BRC, outline the work undertaken to identify the future direction of the project and to seek the Committee's views on this.  Dr McLean advised that the BRC captured data on a huge range of plants and animals (although not birds or lichens) and delivered this through the National Biodiversity Network (NBN).
                             
11.2   Professor Hill, Head of the BRC gave a presentation to Committee outlining the background of the BRC and achievements since it was established in 1962.  The BRC was noted as a centre of excellence in data capture, using environmental data to predict species trends and promoting web access to data for all.  It maintains a national archive and provides an essential source of information for the NBN.  New types of data are being gathered by the BRC and links are being made with Europe. 
                             
11.3   Committee noted that it would be useful to clarify the unique role of the BRC and its joint functions with respect to the NBN.  In addition, it would be important to ensure that the country agencies were consulted regarding data, information and advice requirements for conservation purposes on the distribution and status of groups of plants and animals covered by BRC schemes.
                             
11.4   Committee acknowledged that there was a need to raise the profile of the BRC and biological recording in general, since much of the data was gathered by volunteers.  In this respect it was essential that those contributing data had confidence and trust in the organisation.  The BRC was additionally working with the NBN to train and equip volunteers to ensure quality assurance and consistency in recording.  Dr Faulkner noted that the Dragonfly Ireland project had achieved considerable success raising the profile of the project and the accuracy of the data received.
                             
11.5   Committee endorsed the next steps outlined in the paper and noted that a consultation process with the country agencies would be developed to consider the opportunities available.  It was noted that the relationship between the National Environment Research Council  and the JNCC was improving.  Although the BRC did not currently hold data on lichens it was hopeful that new links with the appropriate organisations would remedy this.
                             

12    Management changes within the Support Unit (JNCC 04 N01)

                             
12.1   This paper updated Committee on changes to the management structure of the Support Unit, following the appointment of a new Director with responsibility for resources and external affairs.  The new management structure and supporting groups will take effect from April 2004.
                             
12.2   Committee noted the paper.
                             

13    Any other business

                             
13.1   No other business was raised.
 


[1] Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the north-east Atlantic