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It’s time for the new Government to take action to tackle the nature crisis before it’s too late, says the RSPB

It’s time for the new Government to take action to tackle the nature crisis before it’s too late, says the RSPB

Experts at the RSPB, the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, have revealed what they believe are five of the most important long-term challenges the new UK Government will have to grapple with if it is to tackle the nature crisis and restore biodiversity.  

 The UK has a legally binding target to halt the decline of nature in England by 2030, as part of a global biodiversity agreement, yet remains one of the most nature-depleted places on earth. The government’s statutory advisor, the Office for Environmental Protection, warned that nature action is largely off-track. Despite this, the previous government had not taken steps to strengthen its plan to save nature (the Environmental Improvement Plan). 

 According to the Green Finance Institute, more than half of our economy is dependent on nature1 – it pollinates crops, provides us with raw materials, and gives us clean air and water. With just over five years until we reach the deadline, the RSPB believes that decisive action, including an urgent review of the current inadequate Environmental Improvement Plan, is required from the start of the new Parliamentary term if the 2030 target is to be hit.   

 Beccy Speight, RSPB Chief Executive, said: “We still have a crucial window of opportunity to rewrite the current story of UK nature decline: we know the solutions that work and where they’re in place, they’re already making a difference. The new UK Government talked the talk on nature restoration during the election campaign period, but now it’s time to walk the walk before it’s too late. The new Prime Minister and his team will be responsible for ensuring we meet our vital legally binding commitment to halt species loss within the next Parliamentary term. They will need to hit the ground running and set the vision, budget and direction of travel, and spur on action on a much bigger scale and at a faster pace than we’ve seen before. Decisive action to restore nature is critical to meeting our climate commitments, improving our health and wellbeing and the long-term health of our economy.  Nature cannot afford to wait any longer.” 

 As the new UK Government establishes its priorities for the first one hundred days of the new administration, the charity has outlined five major challenges it believes urgently need to be addressed if we are to restore nature: 

1. Empower farmers to help restore nature: Farmers look after approximately 70% of our land – our “critical natural infrastructure” – providing food, flood relief, carbon sequestration. Keeping those critical natural assets in good condition is a bargain at the price. The UK Government must support farmers to make a transition to nature-friendly farming by urgently committing to doubling the current agricultural budget. As well as helping nature to return –this will bring benefits for air and water quality, increase people’s access to nature, and ensure our long-term food security.  

2. Protect landscapes to meet the 30×30 target: The UK Government is committed to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, as part of a global agreement to restore nature, but we’re a long way off that goal.  Too few places are protected for nature, and many are in poor condition. Others are fragmented or cut off. Just 7% of land in England is protected for nature and only just over a third of that is in good condition, and we’re similarly off target at sea. 

National Parks were first created at the end of WW2: we need a new visionary approach to renew this national legacy for future generations. The new UK Government should designate England’s remaining unprotected Ancient Woodlands as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI); make our protected landscapes real havens for wildlife; complete the protected sites network at sea; and ensure all public bodies play an active role in helping to restore nature.  

3. Hardwire nature into plans for economic growth and development: Nature underpins our economy: by embedding nature in any reformed approaches to planning we can ensure nature’s recovery and reach Net Zero alongside building homes and renewable energy.  In part, this means an approach that directs investment and infrastructure to locations away from our most important places for wildlife. It means investing in our natural infrastructure and building wildlife into project design, whether that’s Swift bricks and Hedgehog highways in new homes or wildlife-rich hedgerows around solar farms. And it means making sure that Local Authorities and key regulators like Natural England and the Environment agency have the staff they need to process applications expertly and quickly.  

4. Save our seabirds: Our globally important seabirds are suffering from the impacts of a changing climate, stresses that fishing places on their food supply and the impacts of development in the marine environment. We need the new UK Government to urgently fill the gaps in our marine protected area network and bolster management of all marine protected areas to build resilience into marine ecosystems. We also need the new Government to defend the sandeel fishery closure from EU protests to protect this vital food supply for seabirds. 

5. Restore the UK’s position on the global stage: We need to see the new UK Government stepping up once again as an environmental leader on the global stage at global biodiversity and climate talks in October and November this year and participating more widely in efforts to protect global biodiversity. The Government should also continue to protect the natural environments of the British Overseas Territories which are of outstanding global value – to date, 32,216 native species have been recorded across the overseas territories, however the true figure is likely to exceed 100,000 species. We’re calling for the UK to commit to the continuation of the successful Overseas Territories Darwin Plus fund, with a cost-of-living uplift from £10m to £12m per year.