Originally published at Wildlife and Countryside Link
- The Government is not on course to protect 30% of the land and sea for nature by 2030.
- Just 3.22% of England’s land and 8% of the sea was effectively protected by 2022. This is an increase of just 0.22% of the land and 4% of the sea compared with 2021.
- Deregulatory proposals to liberalise planning laws would take England even further away from meeting nature targets.
- The report comes just weeks ahead of global nature talks where the UK is expected to sign an international treaty to implement 30×30.
In 2020, the Government committed to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 (its 30×30 target). Two years on, nature campaigners are warning that little progress has been made.
In its first annual 30×30 progress report, Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling on the Prime Minister to send a clear international message that the UK will be a global leader in implementing 30×30. The 30×30 target is expected to be a key commitment in global nature talks at COP15 in Montreal in December.
The report argues that this means “designation, not deregulation” – protecting more land and sea for nature, rather than weakening planning rules. The report singles out the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill for criticism. The bill will reform or repeal hundreds of EU-derived environmental laws by the end of 2023. In particular, plans for “fundamental reform” of the Habitats Regulations could weaken the UK’s most legally-robust laws that defend natural habitats.
Campaigners are also calling on the Prime Minister to confirm her intention to attend COP15 nature talks in person to push for global action to protect and restore nature.
Key figures detailed in the report:
- Only 3.22% of England’s land is effectively protected for nature.
- The Government has designated 2831 hectares in three new Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), contributing 0.22% to the amount of protected land.
- A maximum of 8% of England’s seas could be said to be effectively protected for nature.
- The progression of management measures in some Marine Protected Areas has increased the amount of ocean by 4% at most.
The report will be launched at an event in Parliament this morning (19.10.22) with speakers including:
- Daniel Zeichner MP and Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
- Beccy Speight, CEO, RSPB
- Craig Bennett, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts
- Richard Benwell, CEO, Wildlife and Countryside Link
Separate analysis has found that at least 90% of UK marine areas with protections in place were damaged by bottom trawling or dredging during 2021. On land, widespread burning on England’s protected peatlands in 2022 has been damaging our biggest carbon store, with 51 burns on land protected by multiple conservation designations and public reports of burning up 67% from 2021.
This lack of progress, coupled with a Government deregulatory agenda is putting the UK at risk of moving even further away from where it needs to be to protect and restore nature.
Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
“30×30 is a brilliant environmental promise and the Government still has a chance to set an international lead in restoring nature. Unfortunately, our figures show that in the race to halt nature’s decline by 2030, the Government is limping backwards. At this rate, the Government’s prospects of effectively protecting 30% of the land and sea for nature by 2030 are vanishing.
“If deregulatory plans set out in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill go ahead unchanged, and if the current review of farming policy interrupts the transition to greener agriculture, then any hope of meeting the 2030 target could be dashed.
“Fortunately, there is still time to succeed and the actions needed are set out in our report. The Government’s own reviews have recommended strengthening the rules for restoring nature in National Parks and AONBs and proposed a network of Highly Protected Marine Areas at sea. Instead of chasing after imaginary end-of-rainbow rewards of deregulation, the Government should implement these reviews to get back on track for 30×30.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“Nature will not recover without protecting at least 30% of land and sea by 2030. The Government has committed to that target, but this report shows an alarming lack of progress. Pursuing a dangerous agenda of deregulation and weakening support for nature-friendly farming will make the path to 30 by 30 even harder, threatening our soil health and pollinators, undermining our food security, and wiping out vulnerable species like hedgehogs and turtle doves.
“We need policies that help to restore nature – as fast as possible – not make things worse. That means strong laws and investment in cleaner rivers, recreating wetlands and wildflower meadows, and boosting vanishing insect populations – before it’s too late.”
Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB said
“England is one of most nature-depleted countries on earth, but in a welcomed and bold move, the UK Government committed to protecting 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. However, two years on from this commitment, and with just eight to go, there has been next to no progress on the condition or extent of our protected areas, the places our wildlife needs and people value most. In fact, recent events would indicate that the UK Government may be actually dismantling the fundamental building blocks needed to achieve this target by proposing plans to scrap the laws that protect nature, and funding for nature friendly farmers.”
The 30×30 progress report sets out the specific progress that has been made by Government in protecting land and sea for nature in England as well as setting the areas of most concern. Commitments for ocean protection including designation of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) are welcome. However, just 0.53% of English waters have been designated as HPMAs, against a target of 10%. Progress has been made when it comes to protection in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) but this remains slow, with just four offshore MPAs protected fully or partially against damage caused by bottom trawling and dredging against a commitment to protect 40 sites by 2024.
Turning to protection of land, the report praises the designation of new Sites of Special Scientific Interest but notes that these have only added 0.22% to the amount of land protected for nature. Campaigners also highlight the lack of sufficient statutory funding and action to improve the condition of all protected nature sites and lack of progress in coming forward with specific proposals on how other site protection and conservation tools such as Local Wildlife Sites, and Wildbelt can be strengthened to meet the grade to count towards 30×30.
The report concludes that Government can make significant progress in the next year towards achieving 30×30 by:
- Bringing existing terrestrial protected sites into good condition by implementing and investing in management measures and regular monitoring, with a target to have at least 75% of SSSIs in favourable condition by 2042. The current figure is 40%.
- Extending the protected sites network on land with an action plan for completing the protected sites network.
- Boosting nature in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty by strengthening provisions for nature and providing greater resources to support nature’s recovery in these protected landscapes.
- Delivering the initial five Highly Protected Marine Area pilot sites and designating further HPMA sites to contribute to achieving at least 10% of England’s seas in HMPAs by 2030.
- Implementing improved management of marine protected areas by implementing bans on damaging practices including bottom trawling within them.
- Retaining and strengthening the Habitats Regulations, which provide the strongest protections for our most significant and vulnerable sites and species.