Defra unveils bumper nature package including new National Park

The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has today (29 November) confirmed that it is set to launch a quest for a new National Park in England, inspired by the success of the existing National Forest in the Midlands.

This search, scheduled to commence early next year, will focus on identifying the most picturesque and ecologically valuable areas.

Moreover, the Government is introducing 34 new projects across England, covering over 200,000 hectares of land, as a follow-up to its previously announced Landscape Recovery scheme.

These projects will encompass woodlands, rainforests and sustainable food production, aligning with the Government’s farming schemes and aiming to maximise economic benefits while serving on the nation’s nature-related commitments.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently revealed that the total asset value of ecosystem services in the UK stands at £1.5trn, with nature contributing more than £45bn to the economy each year.

In addition to the quest for a new National Park, the government has allocated £15m to support existing National Parks and National Landscapes. This funding aims to preserve and enhance some of the country’s most iconic landscapes, building on the Government’s commitment to protect and nurture these precious sites for the future.

The announcements have been strategically timed ahead of COP28, as concerns have arisen over the potential of UK’s global climate leadership at the upcoming COP due to the Prime Minister’s recent policy rollbacks.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “As I head to COP28, we are reasserting the UK’s leading role in promoting our iconic landscapes and keeping nature at the centre of our action to tackle climate change.”

What else has been announced

The Government has pledged an additional £2.5m to provide more opportunities for children and disadvantaged youth to experience the benefits of the great outdoors.

Furthermore, the Government is unveiling a Woodland Access Implementation Plan to improve public access to the UK’s woodlands. This approach seeks to not only put people in closer contact with nature but also to contribute to the UK’s commitment to protect 30% of land by 2030.

The package also includes innovative measures such as a plan to recover England’s temperate rainforests, supported by £750,000 in R&D funding.

Additionally, two new Community Forests will be established in Derbyshire and the Tees Valley, with 175 hectares of new woodland planned by 2025.

Lastly, the Government has confirmed that it will introduce the much-anticipated legislation for Biodiversity Net Gain, reinforcing the commitment to ensure that developments leave nature in a better state.

From January 2024, housebuilders working on large sites will need to evidence biodiversity net-gain of at least 10%. This will be extended to smaller sites in April 2024. From 2025, similar requirements will enter force for infrastructure developers.

The newly appointed Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Through our Environmental Improvement Plan and today’s announcement, we are creating more opportunities for people to access nature, spend time outdoors and enjoy our beautiful countryside – as well as supporting wildlife.

“A healthy natural environment is critical for our wellbeing, our economy and combatting climate change.”

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