Conservation and restoration projects secure share of £80m green recovery fund

Late last year, the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a second £40m round of its Green Recovery Challenge Fund, designed to promote nature restoration and conservation, after the initial round proved to be massively oversubscribed.

The first £40m round was launched at the Summer Economic Update with expressions of interest totalling more than £270.6m, with completed applications totalling more than £169m.

This week, the Government has confirmed that 90 projects across the UK have been awarded a share of the challenge fund, with more than 600 sites set to benefit from restoration and conservation measures.

Some of the projects to receive funding include Urban Green Newcastle and Northumberland Wildlife Trust creating a network of 45 nectar-rich public sites, aiming to plant 2,500 trees, 25,000 bulbs and creating 18 hectares of grassland. The initiative has been awarded almost £700,000.

The Trees for Cities initiative has been awarded £1.2m to plant up to 55,000 trees across coastal locations to increase tree cover in urban areas, while the Somerset Wildlife Trust, in partnership with RSPB, has been awarded more than £900,000 to support the ‘Avalon Marshes Wetland Wonderland’ project to improve wetland habitats, water quality and hydrological connectivity in nature reserves.

Another notable project is Chester Zoo’s bid to create a 6.5-mile nature recovery corridor at local wildlife sites. The project has been awarded almost £1m to restore wetlands, traditional orchards, hedgerows, grasslands and wildflower meadows.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:The diverse and ambitious projects being awarded funding today will help environmental organisations employ more people to work on tree-planting, nature restoration and crucially, help more of the public to access and enjoy the outdoors.

“Through our £80m Fund, we are on track to support over 2,500 jobs, plant almost a million trees and increase nature recovery at a huge scale across the country, which will help us deliver against our 25 Year Environment Plan.

Nature charities have voiced concern over a lack of funding, urging Defra to provide more funding to a sector that is clearly keen to play its part in the UK’s economic recovery from Covid-19 and its transition to net-zero.

Environment Bill

The Environment Bill returned to Parliament in May. The Bill was first introduced in 2019 and sets out the UK’s plans for delivering against the long-term targets of the 25-Year Environment Bill after Brexit. To the Brexit point, the UK will not be able to formally launch its independent watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), until the Bill receives Royal Assent. Ministers expect the body to be running in an interim, non-statutory form from this July.

Amendments to have been made to the Bill since it was last in Parliament to provide more clarity on the Defra commitment to legally binding targets on topics including nature, water and waste.

Now, the Bill includes a legally binding target on species abundance for 2030. The overall aim is to halt species decline for all declining populations, including hedgehogs, red squirrels, water voles and certain kinds of bats. The landmark 2019 State of Nature report revealed that 41% of the UK’s native plant and animal species have declined since 1970, with the trend set to accelerate without intervention.

Despite progress finally being made on the Bill, research has warned that the UK is not treating biodiversity loss with the same urgency as the climate crisis. That is according to a group of MPs that have warned that current Government policies are inadequate to address a sharp decline in nature-based losses.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has published a report on the state of UK biodiversity in relation to existing policies. The report found that of the G7 countries, the UK has the lowest level of biodiversity remaining. 

Regarding the Environment Bill, some of the UK’s biggest nature charities have argued that amendments made to the Bill since its last reading could leave loopholes permitting further decline for the rest of this decade.

The UK’s Natural Capital Committee has also warned that the quality of the UK’s soil, freshwater and marine habitats has declined in recent years, meaning that the Government is likely to fail to meet its long-term environmental promises without a step-change in action.

Matt Mace

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