How resilient is Wales? Findings from the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Wales report.

Published 25/10/2017   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

What is the Well-being of Wales Report 2016-2017?

The Welsh Government recently published the first annual Well-being of Wales, 2016-2017 report (25 September 2017) as a requirement of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The report details the current position and recent progress towards achieving the 7 well-being goals of the Act. Building upon the Act, Prosperity for All – the National Strategy sets out the aims of the Welsh Government and the steps needed to achieve them. The Well-being statement 2017 explains this and lays out the revised 12 well-being objectives for this government term. The key findings of the Well-being of Wales report are provided on the Welsh Government’s website.

This blog article concentrates on the report’s findings relating to well-being goal 2, ‘a resilient Wales’, which focusses on natural resources, wildlife and ecosystem health.

To determine the current position and recent progress made towards goal 2, the report compiles evidence on a range of indicators such as those on air, water and soil quality as well as biodiversity and the extent and condition of habitats. A key finding for this goal was that:

Overall biological diversity is declining, and no ecosystems in Wales can be said to have all the features needed for resilience.

The Welsh Government’s Future Trends Report 2017 (5 May 2017) is in agreement with this, as summarised in a previous In Brief blog article. Natural Resources Wales’s statutory State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR) (2016), which sets out the state of natural resources in relation to Wales, made similar conclusions. Furthermore, an assessment of Welsh ecosystems by a coalition of NGOs in November 2016, entitled State of Nature report, revealed similar findings.

What is a resilient ecosystem?

Well-being goal 2: a resilient Wales, of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, is defined as:

A nation which maintains and enhances a bio-diverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change (for example climate change).

SoNaRR defines a resilient ecosystem as one that can resist, recover from, or adapt to a ‘disturbance’, whilst still being able to deliver services and benefits now and in the future. A ‘disturbance’ can be a ‘one-off shock event or a long-term continuous pressure’. Resilience at a national level can be described by the diversity, connectivity, condition and extent of ecosystems. This can be quantified by analysing indicators for the four broad classes of natural resources; air; soil; water; and animals, plants and other organisms.

How resilient is Wales?

The Well-being of Wales report details data on a range of environmental indicators. The picture is mixed, with some aspects of ecosystems showing improvement whilst other aspects have stagnated.

For example, water quality in rivers has generally improved over the last 25 years. The report attributes this to improvement in sewage discharges. However, only 37% of all freshwater bodies (groundwater and surface water) defined by the EU Water Framework Directive achieved ‘good’ or better overall status in 2015.

The report tells a similar story on the state of soils. Soil quality in peatlands and woodlands are showing signs of improvement, but for the most part, soil quality has changed little, for example, there has been ‘little or no decline in elevated levels of soil contamination from industry and transport’.

SoNaRR links the lack and the degraded condition of habitats, which includes the quality of freshwater and soils, to the decline in the biodiversity of species. The Well-being of Wales report highlights that 43% of respondents to the most recent National Survey for Wales 2016-17 were ‘fairly’ or ‘very concerned’ about past or future changes to the variety of species in Wales.

According to the Well-being of Wales report, none of Wales’s ecosystems are fully resilient. SoNaRR highlights that this could limit the ability of ecosystems to provide services and benefits which society relies upon. Examples of ecosystem services include pollination, natural flood management and carbon absorption. The question could therefore be asked as to whether a lack of resilience in Welsh ecosystems could hamper progress towards economic and social resilience which are also aims of goal 2, a resilient Wales.

Positive trends are also identified in the report, such as; increases in renewable energy generation; increases in household recycling rates; and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, showing that Wales is making some positive steps towards becoming more resilient. Some of this progress is UK-leading, for example around 90% of Welsh households have access to separate food waste collection, compared to just over 25% for the UK as a whole. Further, aspects of this progress can be seen as contributing towards the 15 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, for example, affordable and clean energy.

What next for biodiversity and ecosystem resilience in Wales?

The Natural Resources Policy (NRP) was recently published by the Welsh Government (21 August 2017), as required by the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Based on the evidence laid out in SoNaRR, the NRP identified three ‘national priorities for the sustainable management of Wales’s natural resources’ to achieve the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. In addition, it set out three key challenges, two of which directly relate to the findings from the Well-being of Wales report; improving ecosystem resilience, and; climate change and the decline in biological diversity.

Using the NRP to inform their approach, Natural Resources Wales will be producing Area Statements to target the sustainable management of natural resources towards the priorities of local areas to help address the key challenges identified in the NRP. The Area Statements are expected to be published between 2017 and 2019.

The Research Service acknowledges the parliamentary fellowship provided to Moya Macdonald by the Natural Environment Research Council, which enabled this blog to be completed.

Article by Moya Macdonald, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image from Flickr by grassrootsgroundswell. Licensed under Creative Commons.