Report shows increase in regulatory performance but there’s still work to do

A report published by Natural Resources Wales today (15 November 2022) reveals that strong environmental regulation is helping businesses in Wales to play their part in protecting the natural environment and tackle the climate crisis, but more work needs to be done to prevent pollution incidents happening in the future.

NRW’s Annual Regulation Report 2021 sets out the regulatory performance of businesses holding environmental permits in Wales and the effectiveness of NRW’s regulatory approach. It looks at compliance, pollution incidents, crime and enforcement activity and how NRW has delivered on its regulatory and enforcements duties over the last year.

Despite the continuing impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on working practices, NRW adapted its regulatory approaches to ensure it was able to work effectively and safely to respond to environmental incidents. By taking a risk-based approach to prioritise and target the most harmful incidents and activities during 2021, officers attended just over 2,400 ncidents over the course of the year.

The report highlights an increase in the number of reported incidents and enforcement cases over the reporting period, with NRW receiving 8,960 reports of environmental incidents in 2021 - an increase of 13 per cent on 2020 and 33 per cent more than in 2019.

Figures included in the report also show that tackling those organisations and individuals who seek to profit from illegal activity continues to be a priority. In 2021, the number of enforcement cases created by NRW totalled 1,002, an increase of 343 on the previous year.

These cases included1,373 legal charges taken against 956 potential offenders, made up of 355 companies and 601 individuals.

The report also highlights a significant increase in the number of applications for permits and licences, reflecting a growing understanding and commitment from businesses to comply with environmental regulation. 

While the report demonstrates that progress is being made, NRW is underlining the important role compliance and good regulation will have in protecting communities and nature against growing climate risks in the future.

Martyn Evans, Regulatory Futures Team Leader for NRW said:

“Strong regulation underpins our purpose to protect, maintain and enhance Wales’ natural resources so that people can live better and healthier lives and our wildlife can thrive.
“While this report shows some improving trends, we know that there is so much more to do. The quality of the Welsh environment is not where we, our partners and the people of Wales want it to be, and we will need a collaborative approach to address the issues Wales faces.
“We continue to see pressures on our natural environment, and regulatory non-compliance, waste crime and pollution incidents inflict needless, yet significant damage. This, in turn, impacts communities and undermines legitimate businesses.”

Helping businesses protect the environment and tackle the climate emergency are an important part of NRW’s regulatory duties.

During 2021 there were nearly 11,000 Environmental Permitting Regulation permits and more than 41,000 waste exemptions in force across Wales. In addition, there were over 12,188 active waste carriers, broker and dealers registered with NRW. The increase in the number of permits and licences being applied for reflects the commitment of businesses in Wales to be compliant.

NRW targeted more than 500 compliance assessments for over 300 permitted waste sites, and nearly 600 assessments for 172 installation permits, helping to ensure activities remain compliant with the sites’ permits.

Martyn Evans added:

“We all want to live in a world where the environment, people and the economy exist in harmony and natural resources are used sustainably. To achieve this good compliance and effective regulation are essential.
“NRW wants to support businesses and the Welsh economy while ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources. As such we have adopted a wide range of approaches that we take with regulated business, including formal regulation and other approaches such as voluntary initiatives, economic and market-based mechanisms, through to information and communications.
“NRW continues to reinvest resources in more compliance activity and in preventing pollution happening in the first place. To support this, we are currently consulting on a review of the charges we set for our regulatory services, to ensure they are more closely linked to the actual cost of delivering these activities and to ensure charge-payers, not the public, bear the expense.
“The outcome should be a fairer and more transparent charging system which will result in more effective protection and improvement of our natural environment.”

You can respond to the consultation here:

You can read the full Natural Resources Wales Regulation Report 2021 here: