Charities warn of triple failure on nature protection ahead of key vote

NEW analysis suggests that without major change the government will miss its landmark pledge to protect 30% of the land and sea for nature.

Three years after the pledge was made (28 September 2020), the charities say Government has made – no progress in protecting more of the land and sea for nature – no progress in improving the condition of existing protected sites – and no progress in policy changes needed to support future improvements.

In 2020, the Government committed to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 (its 30×30 target). Three years on and with just six years to 2030, nature campaigners have assessed the progress made to date and are revealing that action is falling far short of ambition, with the amount of land and sea protected for nature in 2023 plateauing. Just 3.11% of land (a small fall of 0.11% from 2022) and 8% of English seas are well protected for nature, leaving a huge gap to close to reach 30% by 2030.

Green groups say ramping up action for nature in National Parks and AONBs requires legal changes before the end of this parliament. Proposals for new duties on public bodies to restore nature in these landscapes will be debated in Parliament in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

The Government has so far rejected calls for reform, but a cross-party group of Lords is expected to press for a vote in mid-September. This change is vital to put English nature on a path to recovery and address the shocking fact that our invaluable protected nature sites are too often in worse condition within protected landscapes than outside of them.

Over 90 environmental organisations are backing the calls for radical 30×30 action as one of five key policies to restore nature that UK political parties are being urged to adopt through a major new campaign launched this summer – the Nature 2030 campaign.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said, “We are one year closer to 2030 and nature’s prognosis continues to look bleak. Progress toward 30×30 has stalled and the prospect of losing nature becomes increasingly likely in the face of a government which has taken a ‘hands off’ approach to environmental recovery. We need to see the leadership and action the UK Government preached internationally in Montreal last year practised at home. 30×30 can still be achieved, but government needs to start listening to its own advice and provide National Parks, AONBs and protected sites with the tools they need to actually allows them to actually deliver for nature.”

The progress report comes less than a year after the UK Government joined with countries around the globe to commit to taking urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss at the Kunming-Montreal Convention on Biological Diversity in December 2022. Despite warm words from the UK in Montreal, the report highlights how with just over six years until the 2030 deadline, the UK remains on course to miss its target by a wide margin unless a major shift in policy and funding for nature is achieved.

The analysis highlights the government’s failure to make meaningful progress on improving the condition of England’s protected sites and to provide government agencies with the resources needed to monitor the condition of some of England’s most important landscapes with only 36.82% of those assessed found to be in good condition. The report also highlighted data from the Campaign from National Parks which showed that nature within protected landscapes is often in worse condition than nature outside protected landscapes, with only 25.3% of SSSIs within protected landscapes reported as in good condition as compared with the national average of 38.5%.

Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive of the Campaign for National Parks, said: “There is no escaping that English nature is on life support. With just over 3% of the UK’s land well protected, it is no wonder that many iconic British habitats and wildlife are in decline. As our flagship protected landscapes, National Parks should be leading the charge on restoring nature but instead they’re being held back by out of date legislation and a government that seems to be u-turning on its environmental promises.

“Achieving 30×30 isn’t possible without all our protected landscapes playing a central role. The government need to take urgent action and use the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to give National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty the powers and purposes they need to bring themselves back to full health.”

Research also shows that there is low public confidence in the government’s ability to meet its 30×30 and environmental targets. Almost three-quarters (73%) of Brits are not confident that the government will meet its commitment to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 or its target to stop the decline of wildlife and only one in six (17%) is confident that the government will deliver on its Environmental Plan.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Oceana, said: “We know what is wrong with our seas – overfishing, industrialisation, and pollution are driving the destruction of marine ecosystems and biodiversity. We also know what needs to be done to turn the tide – we have the solutions at hand from rewilding blue carbon habitats and stopping sewage discharges at our beaches, to banning bottom trawling in Marine Protected Areas. Treading water with the current inaction won’t deliver healthy seas or 30×30. It’s time for meaningful and rapid action to stop our seas become a barren, blue, lifeless wasteland and to show that the UK is a global ocean leader once again.”

In order to put England’s valuable protected landscapes on a path to rapid recovery, Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling for the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to be amended to give National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty a new purpose and stronger duties to actively recover nature, tackle climate change and connect more people to the natural world and ensure that they contribute to meeting the 30×30 target.

Read the 30×30 progress report

Nature groups are encouraging the public to sign an open letter calling on political parties to protect 30% of UK land and sea for nature and commit to other ambitious measures to put UK nature on the road to recovery

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