Following on from a series of Local Nature Recovery Strategy webinars for officers a set of most frequently asked questions have been prepared including answers provided by Defra and Natural England. We are looking to add to these in future and keen to get your views and comments on these questions and answers, so please get in touch with Krista Patrick to provide feedback: [email protected]
LNRS responsible authorities have now been appointed by Defra Secretary of State and were announced on 30 June 2023 alongside LNRS areas and a £14 million funding pot. Now that the national policy framework is in place, responsible authorities are beginning work on their strategies, with support from Defra Group.
Based on the experience of the LNRS pilots, LNRSs are expected to take 12-18 months to be prepared and published – so are expected to come online by early 2025. Time taken will vary between areas as some will be ready to start preparation more quickly than others.
The review period between LNRS can vary between 3-10 years after each iteration so this isn’t set. The Secretary of State will declare the review open and give four months’ notice to responsible authorities so that all LNRS will be reviewed at the same time. This decision when to carry out the review will be for the Defra Secretary of State of the time and will need to make sure there is appropriate funding to go along with that review and that it fits in with the overall policy cycle.
While the LNRS regulations and statutory guidance set out how an LNRS must be prepared and what it should contain, Government recognises that additional advice may support responsible authorities further. We are therefore preparing further written advice that is intended to help responsible authorities comply with requirements set out in regulations and statutory guidance, without creating additional things to do. Responsible authorities should not wait for the above pieces of advice to be made available before proceeding with LNRS preparation. The planned advice topics include:
- National environmental objectives – setting out relevant objectives that LNRSs should seek to contribute to, expanding on existing examples included in statutory guidance.
- Engaging with landowners and land managers advice – setting out best practice and things to consider when engaging members of these sectors.
- Data standards advice – setting out standards to apply when preparing and publishing an LNRS, and required formats for submission to Defra.
- Priorities and mapping measures advice – on how priorities and mapped measures should be developed and what they might look like.
- Species and habitats advice – setting out Natural England’s expert view on how to decide which species and habitats to include as priorities in your LNRS.
- Local Planning Authority guidance – on how Local Planning Authorities must have regard to LNRSs. This is closely related to passage of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.
The need for additional advice or guidance as LNRSs are being prepared will be kept under review and informed by feedback from responsible authorities.
Funding and resourcing
- Defra is providing a total funding pot of £14 million for responsible authorities to cover the costs of preparing the LNRSs over the next two financial years. This is in addition to around £50,000 seed funding that has already been provided to each responsible authority to help with readiness preparations.
- Based on the 2021 LNRS pilots, we know that local circumstances will affect how challenging it is to prepare an LNRS for different areas. That is why funding is based on a funding formula reflecting the main cost variables in engaging supporting authorities and farmers and land managers in the preparation process.
- The funding formula comprises a minimum base amount for all areas supplemented by uplifts based on council structures (number and type of supporting authorities) and the number of farm businesses in the LNRS area.
- Supporting authorities, including National Park authorities, have an important role to play in LNRS preparation and responsible authorities must engage supporting authorities when preparing their LNRS. Also, by engaging with LNRSs, supporting authorities will be better placed to deliver their own existing responsibilities, such as those on nature and biodiversity as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
- Local capacity and working arrangements differ across LNRS areas. The funding Government has made available aims to cover the cost of preparing LNRSs in a way that recognises key cost factors in different areas.
- Responsible authorities are best placed to determine and oversee how that funding is best spent given the specific needs of the area. Some responsible authorities may choose to fund supporting authorities within their LNRS area to undertake parts of LNRS preparation.
- LNRSs will be reviewed and published every 3-10 years (on a roughly 5 yearly cycle). As part of this review, responsible authorities will take stock of what nature recovery action has been taken in their area. Further advice will be provided to them on how they should approach doing this nearer the time.
- Future reviews and republications of LNRS, including any monitoring activity in between cycles, constitutes a new burden on responsible authorities. Government has committed to fund all new burdens on responsible authorities relating to LNRS. We do not expect funding provided to responsible authorities to prepare LNRS over the next two financial years to cover future monitoring and reporting activities.
- We will work with responsible authorities to identify the need for any additional burden funding linked to the monitoring and reporting of LNRSs between preparation cycles. This is dependent on outcomes from future spending reviews.
- Defra are aware of skills and recruitment challenges in some areas.
- Responsible authorities will have to be creative in overcoming these. This includes drawing on partners, using secondments, or bringing in contractors where appropriate.
- Alongside funding for preparing their LNRS, the government is also resourcing Defra Group Arm’s Length Bodies to work with responsible authorities, who are encouraged to draw on this support, particularly their dedicated Natural England senior advisor.
Mapping and data
The areas that LNRS will recognise as being of particular importance for biodiversity (nationally designated sites, local nature reserves, local wildlife sites and irreplaceable habitats) are those which the land use planning system in England recognises through the National Planning Policy Framework. This is the baseline on which LNRS will be built.
Priority habitat does not have this level of protection even though it is recognised as ‘habitat of principle importance’ through the NERC Act. LNRS do not confer new protections upon areas, instead they utilise the existing system of habitat protections.
That being said, much priority habitat will fall within areas of particular importance for biodiversity and that which doesn’t will form candidates for the areas which could become of particular importance for biodiversity. The Priority Habitats Inventory (PHI) is included in the LNRS data viewer for this purpose. Once areas of priority habitat are of sufficient quality to gain a national or local designation, they would move into being areas of particular importance for biodiversity.
- Engaging landowners, managers and farmers in the LNRS preparation process is an important part of preparing the strategies. Funding has been allocated to responsible authorities to take account of this and advice on best practice will be provided shortly.
- LNRS will enable farmers and land managers to better understand and determine if there are actions for nature recovery that they could undertake that would have particular benefit in their areas. The strategies will also enable land managers to work better together across areas and join-up actions to help improve connectivity. They will be a useful resource on which land managers can draw to inform applications for funding, particularly those looking to undertake more spatially targeted action, including Landscape Recovery projects.
- Once up and running, we expect LNRS to inform future funding opportunities from a range of public and private sources.
- Where the LNRS has not yet been published, guidance on the use of the metric allows other plans/strategies, or professional judgement (capped at a 10% uplift only) to identify areas of “strategic significance”. This is necessary as a transitional arrangement until all LNRSs are in place.
- The recent update of the BNG metric has spelled out that only LNRSs will determine “strategic significance” once they are available and will result in a 15% uplift.
- LNRSs have been designed from the outset with the planning system in mind. They will support development plans and provide closer alignment with the planning system, to enable not only better environmental outcomes, but also improve development planning in the long term. The Local Plans prepared by Local Planning Authorities must be consistent with national policy, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. Local nature recovery strategies should be used by plan-makers to inform the way they address the National Planning Policy Framework requirement for plans to protect and enhance biodiversity.
- The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) is making changes to the planning system which will lead to government updating the National Planning Policy Framework. These updates will include how LNRSs should be given weight in the plan-making process. In addition, the government has recently tabled an amendment to the LURB that would require all tiers of planning to ‘take account of’ LNRS, including specific elements of the strategies such as those areas identified as having potential to be of particular importance for biodiversity and other environmental benefits.
- Government has committed to publishing guidance for local planning authorities on how they should take account of LNRS and reflect them in local plans. This guidance is being produced with DLUHC and is due to be published later in 2023. Working jointly with the new requirement for Biodiversity Net Gain, this will help the planning system play a more proactive role for nature and the environment.
Natural England is a supporting authority in the LNRS process as mandated in the regulations and has advisory functions as outlined in the statutory guidance. The Natural England LNRS senior advisor for each area will act as the conduit/single point of contact for advice and support from ALBs (unless otherwise agreed) to each responsible authority and should pull in advice from their local teams, national experts and ALBs where relevant.