Government plans for nature and net zero announced
The Environment Secretary has set out plans to restore nature and “build back greener” after the pandemic. The Secretary of State, George Eustice, made the speech yesterday (18 May 2021) at an online event hosted by The Wildlife Trusts during which the public could put questions. The event can be viewed here.
Much focus was given to plans for tree planting, species reintroduction and peatland restoration in England, including a ban on peat sales subject to a public consultation. While it is widely acknowledged that there is a big opportunity for a ‘green recovery’ from Covid19, The Wildlife Trusts fear that there is a real danger of ‘building back’ just as before – for example by investing in damaging new road building and destructive developments such as HS2 rail and Sizewell C nuclear power station, rather than investing in nature on land and at sea on the scale that is urgently needed.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“This is an important step today on a long journey for nature’s recovery. It’s exciting to hear talk of reintroducing wildlife such as wildcat and golden eagle but the success of such projects entirely depends on making a huge amount more space available for nature. What we need is all nature to be abundant once more – humming and buzzing all around us – and we hope that a new legally-binding target to achieve this will step up action across Government. So, while seeds of hope were sown today, root and branch change is still needed on a mammoth scale.
“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and we got into this mess because natural places have shrunk to tiny, fragmented pockets of land, often too far from communities for people to benefit from contact with nature. Much of our land and sea is degraded and unable to store carbon in the quantities needed to help tackle climate change.
“Vast restoration projects need funding by Government to help it reach their declared ambition of 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. Doing so will help wildlife fight back and enable repaired habitats to store carbon once more. At the moment, only 10% of our land is protected for nature and only half of this is in a good state.”
The Wildlife Trusts are calling for urgent implementation of:
- A Nature Recovery Network to be at the heart of the future planning system to enable new nature places to be carefully mapped out, joined up and put where they will work best for nature and people. A healthy and connected natural world will ensure that species have enough space to survive, thrive and move if they need to, in response to climate change.
- A future planning system that does not jeopardise nature. Defra should hold the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to account so that faster planning does not mean poorer protection for nature. The planning system must help address the wildlife crisis with a new Wildbelt designation to protect land in recovery for nature. Furthermore, there is an enormous threat to marine life from the huge expansion of offshore wind development and we must not forget the role that our seas play in mitigating climate change, locking away carbon. Strategic planning at sea must ensure green energy does not increase the threat to nature.
- Highly Protected Marine Areas across at least 30% of our seas’ protected network. It is disappointing that in a speech which highlights plans to protect and restore nature, and tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, that no mention is given to the marine environment. We need to restore seagrass and saltmarsh for wildlife and carbon storage as much as we do trees and peat.
- A ban on selling peat in compost before the UK hosts the global climate conference COP26 in Glasgow in November this year. The planned consultation must also set an early date for the phase-out of peat use altogether.
- A tenfold increase in peatland restoration, an end to all upland peat burning and better controls to stop drainage of peat soils for farming. Peatlands are one of the UK’s most precious wildlife habitats, capable of storing huge amounts of carbon, but over 80% of them are in poor condition. It is disappointing that the Government’s initial target is only to restore 35,000 hectares of them; its own advisors have estimated that ten times that – 300,000 hectares – should be repaired in England.
- A Tree Action Plan which firmly puts habitat creation and nature protection at its heart, creating natural, joined-up woods that are good for wildlife and accessible to people. Important wildflower meadows, peatlands and species-rich grasslands should not be damaged by tree planting. A move towards natural regeneration, where woods naturally grows from fallen seeds, should be a priority because they are better for wildlife.
Craig Bennett continues:
“Today we face a twin nature and climate emergency – these crises are entirely interlinked and one cannot be tackled without addressing the other. The time for procrastination is over and greater urgency is needed on all fronts. The UK hosts the global climate conference COP26 in Glasgow in November this year and speed is vital: now is the time to accelerate nature’s recovery – for wildlife, for people and for the climate.”