Government pledges to boost Britain’s access to nature

HELPING more people get access to our natural heritage and putting nature at the forefront of government efforts to tackle climate change are at the heart of a new package announced by the Environment Secretary.

The new package of measures includes launching a search for a new National Park, 34 new landscape recovery projects, new forests and funding to help more children get outdoors and into the great British countryside, in what is the latest step by the government in its drive to improve public access to the natural world and recover nature.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said, “Nature is at the foundation of food production, water security, and is critical to our economy, and our mental and physical health. It is why it is so important to deliver on our commitment to halt the decline of nature and safeguard at least 30 percent of our extraordinary landscapes.

“Through our Environmental Improvement Plan and today’s announcement, we are creating more opportunities for people to access nature, spend time outdoors and enjoy our beautiful countryside – as well as supporting wildlife. A healthy natural environment is critical for our wellbeing, our economy and combatting climate change.”

The series of nature pledges comes ahead of COP28 later this week. The search for a new National Park will begin in the new year, focused on looking for England’s most beautiful nature spots, alongside the area’s ability to connect people with nature.

This comes alongside new funding for England’s most special places, with a further £15 million pledged to support our existing National Parks and National Landscapes, helping to support our most iconic landscapes. The government has also published the final response to the Glover Landscapes Review, which sets out how we will make these precious sites fit for the future.

Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust said, “As world leaders head to Dubai for the Climate Change Conference, I am pleased to see that restoring nature is high on the Prime Minister’s climate action agenda.

“A healthier environment here in the UK will protect all of us from climate shocks, help reduce carbon emissions, and bring back wildlife and landscapes that are such a strong part of our national identity. I also support efforts to increase access to nature – which can do so much to improve people’s health and wellbeing – and I look forward to working with Ministers as they develop their plans.”

Government will also announce 34 new Landscape Recovery projects across England. These projects will cover over 200,000 hectares of land, including woodlands, rainforests and sustainable food production, building on the 22 Landscape Recovery projects already underway which aim to restore over 600km of rivers and protect and provide habitats for at least 263 species. These projects are part of the government’s new farming schemes, replacing the bureaucratic common agricultural policy from the EU, helping farmers produce food alongside environmental benefits whilst accessing green finance opportunities.

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said, “It’s great to see more support for farmers who want to help heal nature through Landscape Recovery. There’s been a huge demand for this new scheme and rural groups have come together to create visionary projects that strengthen farm businesses, reverse species decline and restore habitats at scale. These have huge benefits for wildlife, store carbon, prevent pollution from reaching rivers and hold back water, thus alleviating flooding and the effects of drought.”

More children and disadvantaged young people will also be able to access green spaces with a further £2.5m committed to helping children experience the benefits of the great outdoors. This will build on the success of the Generation Green project which created over 115,000 opportunities for children in the last four years. Research has shown that 18% of children living in the most deprived areas never spend time in any kind of natural space. Today’s announcement will help change that by opening up more green spaces for the next generation and we’re also improving access to our woodlands with a new Woodland Access Implementation Plan.

New powers will also come into force that will strengthen requirements for local authorities to consult with communities before cutting down street trees. Under plans first announced in the Environment Act, this will empower people to have a greater say in preserving much loved trees on their streets.

As well as putting people more in touch with nature, the new package of measures which will touch every part of England, will help tackle climate change and drive forward the UK’s pledge to protect 30% of land and halt the decline of species by 2030.

These further measures include:

  • A new plan to recover England’s temperate rainforests – backed by £750,000 of Research & Development funding to improve resilience, management and protection of our unique temperate rainforests in England found in Cornwall, Devon and Cumbria.
  • A competition to create a new National Forest – this forest for the nation is inspired by the success of the existing National Forest in the Midlands, which spans 200 square miles across parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire.
  • Two additional Community Forests – these will be created in Derbyshire and the Tees Valley and will see 175 hectares of new woodland planted by 2025 alongside new pipeline forests.
  • A more nature friendly built environment – legislation for Biodiversity Net Gain will be laid in parliament this week with guidance published as the government takes its next step to ensure developments leave nature in a better state.

Commenting on the Environment Secretary’s nature package, Lydia Collas, Senior Policy Analyst at Green Alliance, said, “The new Environment Secretary has made a welcome move by placing an area about the size of West Yorkshire under landscape recovery agreements. These will give more farmers more of the support they’re asking for to look after nature and capture carbon. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in Europe, so more boldness will be needed from the government to reverse this while providing secure livelihoods to farmers. If they stop here, today’s announcements will deliver only 38% of the UK’s annual tree planting target by the end of this parliament.”

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