How can we best manage the Welsh environment?

Geraint Talfan Davies sets out the factual background to an IWA conference that will consider proposals to bring together the three biggest environmental bodies in Wales

The management of the environment in Wales has been very largely in the hands of three agencies – the Environment Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission Wales. But now the Welsh Government is planning to bring these bodies together and will embark on a public consultation later this autumn.

Next Monday (26 September) the IWA will be running a conference in Cardiff to look at the implications of this change. What kind of organisation will be created? How can the different functions of the three bodies – involving both advocacy and regulation as well as operational delivery – be welded together to create a more effective whole? What are the benefits and risks of institutional change? How does it affect the interests of different stakeholders including business? How might success be measured?

Re-thinking environmental management in Wales

An IWA Conference

Monday, 26 September, 2011

Park Plaza Hotel, Greyfriars Road, Cardiff

Keynote speakers: John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainability, Welsh Government; Terry A’Hearn, former Chief Executive, Victoria Environmental Protection Authority, Australia; Dr. Madeleine Havard, Board Member for Wales, Environment Agency; Jon Owen Jones, Chair, Forestry Commission Wales; and Morgan Parry, Chair Countryside Council for Wales

To book a place at the conference call 029 2066 0820 or visit our website –

The National Assembly for Wales has always prided itself on being the only legislature where sustainable development is built in to its constitution. This built-in commitment has been reflected throughout the Assembly’s first decade in such documents as the Sustainable Development Action PlanWales: A Better Country, and the Spatial Plan for Wales and, in May 2006, the first Environment Strategy for Wales.

This last document focused on five areas: addressing climate change, sustainable resource use, distinctive biodiversity, landscapes and seascapes, our local environment and environmental hazards.  This strategy was followed by two related Action Plans in 2006 and 2008. A year later, in May 2009, the Welsh Government published its sustainable development scheme, One Wales; One Planet.

There is, therefore, no shortage of statements of principled commitment. But during the National Assembly’s third term – 2007-2011 – there was increasing concern that this was not always translated into effective action. Particular reference was made to the fact that Wales did not meet national and international biodiversity targets set for 2010. This led to a commitment in January 2010 to develop a ‘new environmental framework’, that would address climate change and wider habitat management together.

In doing this the Welsh Government acknowledged that it would have ‘to be honest about the failures to date and the difficulties ahead, including recognising the reality of prospective financial constraints on government and other actors in the coming years’. In this situation the new framework would need ‘to ensure that we get the best possible sustainable value for the public from the money that we spend, by collaborating in smarter ways: re-directing and reassessing our priorities across all sectors so that the environment is at the heart of all decision-making’. It would also require that ‘key aspects of Wales’s green infrastructure are defined and that a more holistic, integrated approach to the stewardship of Wales natural capital is adopted’.

This resulted in the publication in September 2010 of A Living Wales. This document conceded that ‘we have sometimes failed to find the appropriate approach to regulatory actions, have placed objectives too often in competition to each other, have pursued too narrow management measures, and been unclear as to which things we should give priority in a particular location’.

To remedy this defect A Living Wales suggested that five key steps would have to be taken:

  1. Development of a stronger evidence base for our ecosystems so that we have a better basis for decisions that fully reflect risks, opportunities and limits.
  2. Ensuring that our dependence on the natural environment and the value of ecosystems, and their services, are fully reflected in the decisions that we make as government and society.
  3. Updating of regulatory and management approaches to deliver the new approach.
  4. Redesigning partnership mechanisms around the new approach.
  5. Refreshing institutional arrangements for regulating the environment and delivering improvements to ensure that they support an integrated, sustainable approach.

The principal focus of the last of these steps was the potential for bringing together the Environment Agency in Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission Wales, into a new environmental body.

The consultation that followed elicited significant but not unanimous support for this proposal. While many acknowledged that there were overlapping functions that could be streamlined in a ‘one stop shop’ others felt that the institutional arrangements should be tackled only after the New Environmental Framework had been defined – i.e. that form should follow function. The main objections to the merger of the three bodies came from forestry groups who did not believe that it would be beneficial to bring Forestry Commission Wales, which has some commercial functions, into the arrangement.

The principal concerns that emerged from the consultation were;

  • that any new body should be independent of the Welsh Government so that it could continue to give independent scientifically-based advice
  • that the new body should retain a strong scientific base, and the full range of specialist expertise
  • that the merger of three organizations should not lead to a lack of focus
  • that there should be wide stakeholder engagement
  • that there were differences of view about the balance of costs and benefits
  • trade union concerns about the impact on staff.

In the 2011 Assembly elections the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestoes made commitments to bring together the three agencies. The Plaid Cymru manifesto said it would ‘consider their future role’ as well as seeking the full devolution of the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.

Following the election, on 12 July the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, set out his government’s legislative programme which presaged at least two major bills on the environment: the first, a Sustainable Development Bill, seeking to embed sustainable development ‘as the central organizing principle in all of our actions’, and an Environment Bill to embody ‘a new natural environment framework’.

The three agencies

The three agencies have different functions and structures. Their various remits embrace scientific, advisory, business, regulatory and advocacy functions.  Only the Countryside Council for Wales is a body entirely confined to Wales. The Environment Agency is a body that covers England and Wales, while Forestry Commission Wales is part of a GB Body that has separate arms in England and Scotland. Both the EAW and FCW rely to some extent on capacities outside Wales and have lines of accountability to DEFRA and its ministers (and in the case of the Forestry Commission to the Scottish Government). The EA’s main headquarters is in Bristol, and FCGB is based at Edinburgh.

Environment Agency Wales

The EA is responsible for  protecting and improving the environment of England and Wales, protecting communities from the risk of flooding and managing water resources. It has three main roles:

  • as an environmental operator, building, maintaining and operating flood defences; minimising environmental damage from pollution incidents; creating and improving habitats for fish and other water-based wildlife; and providing angling and boating facilities which enable people to enjoy outdoor recreation.
  • as an environmental regulator, through advice, guidance, regulation and enforcement.
  • as an environmental adviser and partner, through sharing expertise and evidence, and working with partners to achieve shared environmental outcomes.

In Wales, out of its £80m budget in 2011-12, 33 per cent of its funding is committed to flood and coastal risk management, 36 per cent to environmental protection, 21 per cent to safeguarding water resources and 10 per cent on fisheries, recreation, conservation and navigation. Only 55 per cent of the EA’s budget comes from grant-in-aid, the bulk of the remainder coming from charges.

It relies on the EA’s centralized services for

  • Permitting Services
  • Customer Contact centres
  • HR transactional services
  • Flood Forecasting
  • Information Systems
  • Laboratory services
  • Specialised technical advice and policy

Countryside Council for Wales

The Countryside Council for Wales is the Welsh Government’s statutory advisor on sustaining natural beauty, wildlife and the opportunity for outdoor enjoyment in Wales and its inshore waters. It champions the environment and landscapes of Wales and its coastal waters as sources of natural and cultural riches, as a foundation for economic and social activity, and as a place for leisure and learning.

It undertakes research and surveys as the basis for much of its advisory function, protecting rare species and protected areas, including national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, national trails, national nature reserves, and sites of special scientific interest. Its current operational plan has three themes:

Action for Wildlife and Landscapes: To safeguard and enhance Wales’ natural environment and distinctive landscapes, both within and outside of protected areas.

Action for People, Economy and the Environment: To encourage more people to experience and learn about the natural environment, to understand and value the different benefits it provides for society and to become actively involved in helping to care for it.

Managing for the Future: To ensure that it has the right structure, people, systems, process and resources in place to be a high performing and respected organisation.

Forestry Commission Wales

Although forestry policy, funding and ownership of public woodlands in Wales are fully devolved policy areas, Forestry Commission Wales, like the EAW, relies on capacity that sits at a GB level which is funded by Westminster. This capacity includes forestry related research, forest inventory, forestry standard setting, technical advice etc. In addition there are a number of activities such as International Forestry and Plant health regulations on which FCGB takes the lead. Some of the Forestry Commission’s research staff are based in Wales, although not directly employed by FCW.

FCW delivers policy advice to Welsh ministers on ‘Woodlands for Wales’ – the Government’s 50 year strategy for woodlands – and manages the public woodland estate in Wales to deliver that strategy. It also manages forestry regulation and grants, a relatively small function regulating decisions on tree felling and woodland creation, as well as providing technical input to RDP funded woodland grant schemes.

Only about half of FCW’s £42.8m budget income comes from grant-in-aid, the other half coming from earned income from management of the woodland estate as well as some EU grants. This earned income gives it a strong interface with the private sector – a Welsh forestry industry whose gross output is estimated at £400m per annum. This also involves FCW in the marketing of c. 800,000 tonnes of timber per annum, in option agreements for wind energy development and in charges for some recreation facilities. It aims ‘to maximize its income within a framework of public benefit delivery, rather than simply to maximize return on investment’. For further information see and

Environment Agency Wales Countryside Council for Wales Forestry Commission Wales
Political accountability To SoS for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England and to Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development in Wales. To Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development in Wales. To Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development in Wales.
Governance EA Board (E+W): Chair, Chief Executive and 10 members (including Board Member for Wales appointed by WG) CCW Council: Chairman and 8 members National Committee for Wales: Chair and 6 members (inc. 3 Executive members)
Headquarters Cardiff (Wales)

Bristol (E+W)

Bangor, Gwynedd Aberystwyth (FCW)

Edinburgh (GB)

Area offices Neath, Bangor, Cardiff North: Bangor, Mold, Dolgellau

West: Pembroke Dock, Llandeilo, Swansea, Aberystwyth

South+East: Cardiff, Abergavenny, Newtown

Ruthin, Abergavenny
Staff 12,163 (E+W)

1008 (FTE) (Wales)

450 400

FCW partly relies on capacity at GB level, e.g. research, inventory, standard setting, technical advice.

Budget £1.3bn (E+W)

£89m (Wales)

EAW funding:

WG grant, 55%

Charges, 40%

EU funds 5%


CCW funding:

WG grant, £40m.

Also administers c. £25m of EU funds.


(£21.3m grant, £21.5m earned income)

Of this £2.8m is contribution to GB joint services, e.g. HR, IT, Finance, Website

Commercial functions None None Marketing 800,000 tonnes pa of timber, option agreements for wind energy, charges for recreation facilities

Geraint Talfan Davies is Chair of the IWA

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