Product has been added to the basket

Welsh Government: Sustaining a Living Wales

The Welsh Government have launched a National Environment Framework focussing on a holistic approach to management. Further details can be found here:

Submitted 31 may 2012

1. The Geological Society is the UK’s learned and professional body for Geoscience, with more than 10,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies and other non-specialist audiences. This response has been developed with input from the Geoconservation Commission of the Geological Society, which brings together representatives from across the Geoconservation community within the UK.

2. The Society supports the ecosystem services approach as set out in the National Environment Framework Ecosystems Services (NEF-ES) document produced as part of the Welsh Government Living Wales workstream. The holistic approach outlined towards ecosystem management in the Green Paper itself is commendable, and we are pleased that it too recognises the geosphere as a fundamental part of ecosystem services. However, significant differences in geoscientific content between the two are apparent. Environmental policy-making in Wales would be enhanced by a more thorough integration of geoscience in practice, within an ecosystem services framework, along the lines set out in the NEF-ES document. Focusing on geoscience, this submission offers responses to relevant questions in the consultation document, and some general comments.

3. The main topics addressed below are:

  • The fundamental role of the geosphere in sustainable ecosystem development and management;
  • How a clear understanding of the geosphere and appropriate data collection can strengthen ecosystem management as a vital part of a holistic environment policy;
  • Significant opportunities for the economy, and for research and development, provided by the geology of Wales;
  • Existing excellent examples of geological and environmental public outreach, and both informal and formal education; and scope for additional opportunities;
  • Sustainable management of Wales’ geodiversity as a crucial step towards supporting and developing the ‘Green Economy’ for Wales.

Do you agree with development of the Ecosystems Services approach to environmental management?

4. The Geological Society supports the Ecosystems Services approach outlined in the consultation document. However, as noted previously, the geosphere is a vital component of any holistic approach to environmental policy. Environmental policy and the public in Wales would benefit from more thoroughgoing incorporation of geoscience within this framework. A fully informed approach to ecosystem management depends on the interconnectedness of biotic and abiotic aspects. The Green Paper would benefit from similar recognition of the geosphere and its significance in environmental management, at an operational level comparable to that indicated in the earlier NES-EF document.

Do you agree with the outline for developing a national resource management plan?

5. The example of the relationships between ecosystem services in the box on page 3 of the NEF-ES document provides an example of how geoscience integrates into national resource management. In such instances, geological processes are the principal drivers of systemic processes, and should be recognised as such in policy and management decisions. Not only is coastal geomorphology coupled to local biodiversity, but also it mediates coastal tourism through accessibility and hazard management. The inclusion of examples of such processes would enhance the Green Paper.

6. Any national resource management plan for Wales should be sufficiently flexible to allow competing demands on ecosystems to be balanced on a case-by-case basis. For example, conservation of geologically significant sites can be combined with suitably managed public access while addressing issues such as anthropogenic erosion.

Do you agree with proposals to streamline regulatory regimes to achieve better outcomes for the environment and simpler systems for people?

7. The proposal to streamline regulations is sensible, providing that the purpose is to remove unnecessary complexity and burdens in decision-making and implementation, rather than to reduce the level of environmental protection for its own sake. It is vital that regulatory frameworks be developed on the basis of clearly identified scientific models and reasoning to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency, and to engender public confidence.

What are the main success criteria for natural resource management?

8. It is outside the competence of the Geological Society to propose a comprehensive list of success criteria. A list including geological criteria should include:

  • increasing the economic and other value of ecosystem services to Wales and its inhabitants;
  • increasing public confidence in the management of natural resources in Wales;
  • developing more sustainable approaches to use of resources and management of the environment as a whole.

Meeting these criteria will depend on developing and implementing a genuinely holistic approach to ecosystems services, informed by appropriate high-quality data and a correspondingly wide range of expert scientific advice and judgement across a range of academic disciplines. An understanding of geology is essential for success. However, in the national resource management planning section of the Green Paper (pp 17-19) there is no mention of the geosphere. As a major source of natural resources, recognition of the value of the geosphere is indispensable. The focus on biodiversity is apparent, but geodiversity plays an essential part in sculpting patterns of biodiversity, and has its own intrinsic value. Data on geological ecosystem factors (such as erosion rates, river channel relocation rates, and the permeability of rock and superficial deposits) inform our understanding of the distribution of resources (whether economic or otherwise) and their use, and land planning.

What are the main success factors for the new Welsh Single Body in delivering the new approach?

9. The proposal for a new single body has some merit, but there is a risk of loss of capability. Again, proposing a comprehensive list of success criteria is outside the competence of the Geological Society. A list reflecting geological interests should include:

  • developing an appropriate balance between aspects of environmental regulation, including between the abiotic and biotic;
  • ensuring that overall geoscience capability and capacity in the new regulatory body is maintained or enhanced compared with current levels in the existing individual bodies - it is important to ensure that the geoscience expertise resident in these bodies at present (represented by a small number of individuals) is not diluted in any reorganisation.

Have the opportunities for social and well-being benefits for the people of Wales been reflected with respect to the natural environment?

10. The Society supports the education and outreach proposals. There is scope to do even more in terms of citizen science, and both formal and informal education, to the benefit of Wales. For geoscientists, the outdoors is a ‘natural laboratory’ - one that is open to professionals, students of all ages and the public. Geoscience also brings together the other major sciences in a context which is relevant to everyone. Geoscience underpins many social and economically important issues, at a local, regional and global scale, including ecosystem sustainability, climate and environmental change, energy and mineral resource availability and management, and the management of wastes - from CO2 and radioactive waste to landfill. This is consistent with the Welsh Government’s Climate Change Strategy, and recognition of the role of the geosphere with respect to these issues is vital for building societal awareness and ensuring environmental protection. The British Geological Survey (BGS) plays a leading role in citizen science, through a project in which amateur geologists are invited to record information on temporary exposures in a public database. The initiative, known as GeoExposures[1], captures scientifically important data that would otherwise be lost, due to the ephemeral nature of many geological exposures revealed by road works and other temporary excavations. Citizen science has a dual purpose: firstly it enhances public outreach and engagement, and secondly valuable data are collected. Advances in technology, such as GPS and cameras in mobile phones, have enhanced what can be done by members of the public working without immediate professional support. Data gathered by the public may also support the use of geographical information systems (GIS), although the quality and value of data collected by non-professionals needs to be carefully considered for some types of application.

11. There already exists an enthusiastic and expert geoscience community with invaluable local knowledge relevant to ecosystem services. This group can provide valuable help with geo-environmental education and outreach, so that citizens are better equipped to engage in debates about fundamental national and global challenges. Organisations involved in this community include the Southern Wales Regional Group of the Geological Society, the National Museum of Wales, local branches of the Geologists’ Association, RIGS (Regionally Important Geological Sites[2]) groups and commercial organisations. All these groups do valuable work in improving public understanding of geo-environmental processes through activities including lectures, field excursions, and social events. Higher education institutions with established geoscience research centres (e.g. the Geoenvironmental Research Centre (GRC) at Cardiff University) represent another valuable asset, capable of contributing to a firm scientific basis for geo-environmental policy-making in Wales. The value of the geology of Wales in higher education is evident from its popularity as a location for field work undertaken by students from across the UK. More effective marketing of Wales’ exceptional geodiversity could enhance these opportunities for formal education and public outreach. Initiatives such as the Local Geodiversity Action Plan should be included in Table 3 at Annex A of the Green Paper as environmental strategies.

Have the opportunities for business, enterprise and economic development been reflected with respect to the natural environment?

12. The effect of ecosystem services on businesses, enterprise and innovation, and economic development is well described in general terms. Geoscience has played a major role in the Welsh economy, and will continue to do so, predominantly through sourcing energy and industrial raw materials. Furthermore, geodiversity within ecosystems is a valuable asset to the tourism and leisure industries, and can impact public health. Developing systems that integrate knowledge of the geosphere with pioneering projects such as the Wales Coastal Path could be essential in promoting public health and social well-being.

13. The Seren Project, a joint initiative of the GRC and BGS, exemplifies the bringing together of environmental best practice and development of geoscience technologies for industry, in four areas of geo-energy. The project attracts funding from the European Regional Development Fund, and supports small and medium enterprises in bringing new technologies to market while reducing their costs and carbon emissions resulting from utilities, transport and waste. Its activities deliver both economic and environmental benefit. Such initiatives should be recognised and developed.

General comments

14. Geoscience pervades the four categories of ecosystem services set out on page 5 of the consultation document, and this should be made explicit (as it was in the NEF-ES document). For example:

a. Geodiversity is crucial as a supporting service, as it underpins and drives biological processes and physical processes through geosystem heterogeneity. Wales’ ‘valley and range’ geomorphology leads to habitat fragmentation and potential between-community biological disparity, and is therefore especially important in regulating habitats and biodiversity.
b. Essential provisioning services dependent on the geosphere include energy and raw materials such as slate and aggregates.
c. Monitoring of coastal, fluvial and lake processes important for detecting and mitigating geohazards (regulating services), as well as for land planning and usage (cultural and provisioning services). The geology of Wales also provides a record of past changes that can be used to predict future hazards such as landslides, coastal erosion and environmental change. Many of these aspects of geodiversity that underpin ecosystems are explicitly recognised in the NEF-ES document, but are absent from the subsequent consultation document.

We would be pleased to advise in greater detail how geodiversity and geoscience might be recognised across the range of ecosystem services identified in the Green Paper, building on the excellent basis set out in the NEF-ES document.

15. Twelve per cent of Wales’ land area is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with over 1000 sites recognised[3]. Of these, 30% are wholly or partially defined based on their geology or geomorphology, ranging from quarries, presence of economic minerals and fossils to natural exposures and structural landforms. They are of economic importance, for both tourism and (in some cases) material content, as well as having cultural value and underpinning biodiversity. Furthermore, Wales’ National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are largely based on their underlying geology. Future assessments of SSSIs and other designated areas may fail to recognise the extent to which their status and value are based on geology, if geodiversity is under-represented in the Green Paper.

16. National Character Areas (NCAs) have been recognised in other parts of the UK, and may provide a useful reference infrastructure for conservation strategies when implementing environmental policy in Wales. Adoption of a similar approach could be developed in conjunction with the numerous existing RIGS and the two UNESCO-associated Geoparks[4] in Wales. RIGS are managed by many knowledgeable volunteers, providing a further base to develop public engagement and citizen science. Such engagement enhances local and national pride in the environment, and raises awareness of the benefits of geoconservation. Accessibility, tourism and public health have been boosted by the launch of the Wales Coastal Path. Integration of this groundbreaking project with NCAs recognising biodiversity and geodiversity would add further value in all these respects.

17. Water regulation and resources are influenced by hydrogeology and geomorphology. Aquifers are regulated by the internal structure and distribution of rocks and superficial sediments that mediate fluid volumes and flow patterns. It is important that water is subject to holistic and sustainable management, informed by geoscientific and other evidence. This is especially significant given the potential impacts of climate change on water resources. Analysis of soils, bedrock structure and geomorphology can be used to develop risk models of flooding and of water-storage capabilities (i.e., potential drought mitigation), as well as potential contamination sources. We note that it is intended to carry out a separate Water Policy consultation, and we would welcome the opportunity to take part in this.

18. The recent Geodiversity Charter for Scotland[5] may provide a useful template for integrating geodiversity into an ecosystems framework in Wales. This Charter has established a national framework for geodiversity in Scotland, and has been prepared by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum with the support of a wide range of stakeholders. It explores the role of geodiversity in ecosystems services and sustainable environmental management. It recognises that the ‘ecosystem approach’ is a powerful framework, if coupled with the full integration of geodiversity and biodiversity. The Charter will shortly be launched by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson MSP). There is discussion of developing a similar policy standard in England. Integration of such an approach with that outlined in the consultation document would provide a strong holistic basis for a national framework strategy in Wales.

19. The Society would be pleased to discuss further any of the points raised in this submission, and to suggest contacts who might provide specialist advice.


[1] Information regarding the GeoExposures project by The British Geological Survey
[2] GeoConservationUK: The association of UK RIGS groups
[3] Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Wales
[4] European Geoparks 
[5] Scotland’s geodiversity national framework report