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

6 September 2023

  • 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:
    1. No progress in protecting more of the land and sea for nature
    2. No progress in improving the condition of existing protected sites
    3. No progress in policy changes needed to support future improvements

  • Almost three-quarters of Brits (73%) do not have confidence that the government will meet its commitment to meet 30x30 or its target to stop the decline of wildlife (73%)[4].
  • Environmentalists are urging a change in the law to address the fact that nature is often in poorer condition within protected sites compared to nature outside them, with a key Lords vote expected in the Levelling Up Bill.

In 2020, the Government committed to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 (its 30x30 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. [1]

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 30x30 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. [2]

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 30x30 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 practiced at home. 30x30 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.”

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trust, said: “The Government's lack of progress on reaching its target to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 is a disgrace. Nature is in crisis and charities, philanthropists and nature-friendly farmers are doing what they can to restore our natural world - but they can’t do it alone. We need politicians to get behind the 30x30 target at full throttle. Many areas that are already protected – including large areas in National Parks – are in such poor condition that they're no good for wildlife or climate. People are crying out for a healthy natural environment and political parties should be doing all they can to demonstrate they are the ones to help nature recover now, not decades down the line.”

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 30x30 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.”

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Oceana, said: “One year closer to 2030 and the government has barely dipped its toe in the water to delivering action for a healthy and thriving ocean. 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 30x30. 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.”

Additional Quotes from Sandy Luk, Darren Moorcroft, Beccy Speight and Ollie Newham can be found in our notes to editors. [3]

Wildlife and Countryside Link’s new 30x30 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%.

New research also shows that there is low public confidence in the government’s ability to meet its 30x30 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 [4].

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 30x30 target.

      Key figures from the report show:

  • A maximum of 8% of English seas are said to be protected for nature against the most damaging forms of fishing activity, the primary driver of marine biodiversity loss. With the new analysis suggests that just 16.4% of England’s MPAs have all their marine features in favourable and recovering condition.
  • Currently, 8.45% of land in England is covered by protected sites, but only 36.82% of these are in good condition for nature, meaning just 3.11% of England is effectively protected for nature.
  • The number of protected sites in favourable condition fell from 39% in 2022 to 36.82%, with the number of sites reported as unfavourable - no chance or declining also showing an increase. This figure is slightly decreased from 2022 (39%), primarily due to more up-to-date and accurate condition assessments being in place. (Source: NE Data)
  • There has been no progress this year in restoring existing protected sites to good condition and few new protected sites have been designated.
    The condition of 0.36% of SSSIs (by area) has not been recorded at all. (Source: NE Data)
  • Less than a fifth (19%) of SSSI rivers are in ‘favourable’ or in ‘mostly favourable’ (more than 50% favourable) conditions. (Source: Unchecked Data)

    The report concludes that Government can make significant progress in the next year towards achieving 30x30 by:

  • Consulting on and publishing robust criteria for 30x30 in line with international standards, alongside an assessment process to evaluate and report on progress towards 30x30 and an action plan for delivery.
  • Improve the protected sites network by introducing a legally-binding target for the condition of protected sites and significantly expand the protected sites network.
  • Strengthen protected landscapes with updated purposes and Management Plans for nature’s recovery, duties on public bodies to further those purposes, and sufficient resources, to support these landscapes to make significant contributions to 30x30.
  • Set byelaws through the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) programme to halt damaging fishing activity across the Marine Protected Area (MPA) network by 2024. MPAs must be protected across the whole site rather than simply the designated features.
  • Designate at least 10% of English seas in Highly Protected Marine Areas, where all damaging activities are restricted.

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:

Notes to editors:

1. Full Report: Read the full report Achieving 30x30 in England on land and at sea (including policy recommendations on protecting more of our land and sea for nature) here.

2. Nature 2030 Campaign: The campaign is urging political parties to commit to ambitious action for nature ahead of the next election. With the support of 100 charities, big and small, including, the National Trust, WWF, The Wildlife Trust, RSPB and Friends of the Earth, we’re asking for decision-makers to include five key measures in their party manifestos:

More space for nature -
Right now only 3% of our land and 8% of our seas are protected. To meet the Government’s promise to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 we need to reform how our protected areas are managed and make it easier to designate new areas for nature.
Making Polluters Pay -
Big business, from finance to retail, transport to energy, all contribute to nature’s decline. We need to see the Government make sure that big businesses pay not just for the damage they do to nature, but actively fund nature’s recovery, with legal obligations for habitat creation and restoration based on their own environmental footprint.
A National Nature Service -
There’s a green jobs crisis. We need an estimated 10,000 new jobs for nature to meet the Government’s targets, but the funding and skills aren’t there to support it. With a national nature service, thousands of people, including marginalised groups, would receive a fair wage and training to help nature.
A pay rise for nature -
The UK’s farmers are responsible for almost 70% of our land but don’t get the support they need to do farming in a way which supports nature. We need to see decision makers commit to a £6 billion payment each year for farmers to get the support they need to farm in harmony with nature, in return for a big boost in ambition for wildlife-friendly farming.
A right to a healthy environment -
Pollution and poor access to nature are damaging our health and are cutting lives short, especially for the most disadvantaged communities. An Environmental Rights Bill would drive better decisions for nature and improve public health, setting a legal right to a healthy environment for everyone.

More information on the Nature 2030 policy asks can be found here. 

3. Additional Quotes:

Darren Moorcroft, Chief Executive of The Woodland Trust said:
“If the government is serious about tackling the climate and nature crisis and levelling up communities across the country, rethinking how protected sites, National Parks and AONBs work should be a top priority. It’s clear from this year’s report that progress towards 30x30 hasn’t just stalled, but is going backwards in many places and if we want to see nature in the UK saved, that cannot continue.”

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of RSPB UK said:
“The Westminster Government successfully championed a global 30x30 target during COP15 negotiations last year, so it is hugely disappointing to see the lack of progress in delivering on this commitment at home. England’s protected areas are home to some of our most threatened and vulnerable species, including Bitterns, Nightingales and Puffins, and investing in these areas is vital to achieving not only our international obligations but also the Government’s own targets for wildlife recovery and improved SSSI condition. Instead, we are seeing a rowing back on existing legal protections on areas like water pollution through proposed Government amendments to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

This report shows that three years into this crucial decade for nature, protected areas are still in a neglected state and many continue to decline. Protecting our wildlife and wild spaces remains a priority for the public, and we need to see urgent action to protect, monitor and improve the management of protected areas if we are to achieve 30 per cent of our land and seas protected and well-managed for nature by 2030”

Sandy Luk, Chief Executive of Marine Conservation Society UK said:
“We must recover the health of our ocean for the sake of our planet. We have solutions, and we have time – but only if our government follows through with plans to halt and reverse nature decline and listens to scientific advice. To reach the 30 by 30 target, we must see another 22% of our seas protected. We need sustainable ocean investment, protection of our seas, sustainable plans for our fisheries, and an ambitious reduction in pollution. This isn’t a box ticking exercise, this is a matter of survival."

Ollie Newham, Policy & Advocacy Lead for Rewilding Britain, said:
"Nature in England is in a perilous state. Protected landscapes not prioritising nature, designated sites in unfavourable conditions, the lack of a land use framework; the list of urgent challenges to address goes on. This report demonstrates key opportunities that must be seized by the government without delay. We need to restore nature, habitats and natural processes, not just for us, but future generations. The government must not dither, but act on the opportunities this 30 x 30 progress report contains."

Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 76 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature. Our members campaign to conserve, enhance and access our landscapes, animals, plants, habitats, rivers and seas. Together we have the support of over eight million people in the UK and directly protect over 750,000 hectares of land and 800 miles of coastline.

4. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,039 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 24th August 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Full polling data can be found here.

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