Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act received Royal Assent on 30 March 2006.

The act was designed to help achieve a rich and diverse natural environment and thriving rural communities through modernised and simplified arrangements for delivering Government policy. The Act implements key elements of the Government's Rural Strategy that was published in July 2004.

The NERC Act established a new independent body - Natural England - responsible for conserving, enhancing, and managing England's natural environment for the benefit of current and future generations. Natural England brought together the functions of English Nature and certain functions performed previously by the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service - uniting in a single organisation the responsibility for enhancing biodiversity and landscape with promoting access and recreation. 

The Act made amendments to the both the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000.  For example, it extended the CROW biodiversity duty to public bodies and statutory undertakers, and altering enforcement powers in connection with wildlife prosecution.

The Act also formally established the Commission for Rural Communities, an independent advocate, watchdog and expert advisor for rural England, charged with ensuring that Government policies make a real difference on the ground in tackling rural disadvantage.

In addition to this, the NERC Act contains a number of additional measures designed to help streamline delivery and simplify the legislative framework, such as changes to the remit and constitution of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), reconstitution of the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, and improving the governance arrangements for the National Parks.