31 January 2024
Marking one year since the publication of the Environmental Improvement Plan Government today announced actions for nature that have been welcomed by environmental coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link.
Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “The sandeel is a keystone species, critical to marine and coastal wildlife. Closing the fisheries and restoring protected landscapes are exactly the kind of decisions Government must make to begin to turn round the chronic decline of British wildlife. Progress in turning the notional protection for Marine Protected Areas into real rules to regulate harmful industry is welcome too.
“Last week’s warning from the Government’s wildlife watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, shows that this kind of nature-positive delivery will need to become a new normal for Government to get back on track to meet its legally-binding target to halt nature losses by 2030.
Today’s announcements cover:
1. New protections for sandeels in UK waters, with permanent closure of sandeel fisheries from April. Sandeels are a vital food supply for seabirds, marine mammals and larger fish, so their declining population levels have repercussions throughout the marine ecosystem.
2. New Marine Management Organisation bye laws to prevent bottom trawling in certain Marine Protected Areas, covering an additional 13 marine sites.
3. Funding for lowland peat restoration projects. Improving the condition will help peatland absorb carbon and support nature. When peatland is in bad condition (as 80% currently is), it does not function as a natural solution to climate change and can actually release carbon into the atmosphere.
4. Publication of a new framework for National Parks and National Landscapes which create a shared ambition across all protected landscapes in England to contribute to meeting national environmental targets. 
Wildlife and Countryside Link welcomes this progress and looks forward to engaging with Government on further measures to protect and restore nature, including bans on horticultural peat and lead ammunition and regulations to link Protected Landscapes’ Management Plans to Environment Act targets.
Key targets for thriving plants and wildlife
Relevant Environment Act targets, binding in law:
1. To halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.
2. To ensure that species abundance in 2042 is greater than in 2022, and at least 10% greater than 2030.
3. Improve the Red List Index of endangered species by 2042.
4. To restore or create in excess of 500,000 hectares of a range of wildlife-rich habitat outside protected sites by 2042, compared to 2022 levels.
5. That 70% of the designated features in Marine Protected Areas to be in favourable condition by 2042, with the remainder in recovering condition.
Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling for the following improvements to be made to the Environment Improvement Plan (EIP):
1. The Government should set out cross-Departmental delivery framework, with clear timelines and accountability for implementation of key actions.
2. It should scale up and speed up the delivery of priority actions, including:
a. Scaling up investment in nature, with a £1bn annual Wild Isles Fund.
b. Scaling up nature-friendly farming, with higher standards and incentives
c. Speeding up private sector investment, with corporate “polluter pays” plans
d. Speeding up action for access to nature, focusing on nature-deprived areas.
3. The Government should publish evidence of how actions in the plan add up to delivery of the Environment Act targets.
Notes to Editors:
1. Alongside the Protected Landscapes Outcomes Framework published today, which sets out shared national ambitions across the Protected Landscapes, Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling on Government to bring forward the regulations promised in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act to embed nature targets, including 30x30, in Protected Landscape Management Plans and a checking mechanism to ensure the individual contributions from each protected landscape genuinely adds up to achieving national targets.
2. Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 82 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.
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