You'll remember that Ros and I had visited our local nature reserve, following the proposal from Suffolk County Council to divest itself of its responsibilities for maintenance of country parks and nature reserves. It struck us as being odd that a local authority could simply walk away from its obligations like that, and so Ros decided to test the Government's stance on the issue...
19 January 2011
Asked by Baroness Scott of Needham Market
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether a local authority has the power to stop managing local nature reserves which are provided under section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.[HL5720]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): It is possible for a local authority to decide to cease managing land as a local nature reserve, but any decision to do so must be made reasonably. This would require the local authority to review why it had originally considered it was expedient to provide the local nature reserve under Section 21(1) of the 1949 Act; and whether, in the current circumstances, it is expedient to continue to do so. Under Section 21(6) of the 1949 Act, the local authority would also need to consult with Natural England and consider its views before ceasing to manage the land as a local nature reserve. The local authority's ability to cease managing the land will also be subject to the terms of any management agreement and byelaws in place for the land.
Ultimately it would be for the courts to determine the lawfulness of an authority's decision.
An interesting answer for all those campaigners seeking to protect valuable and unusual habitats and ecosystems, and I suspect that we won't have heard the last of this...