Report: UK only has slim chances of meeting 2030 nature conservation promise

That is according to members of the House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee, who have this week published a new analysis revealing that only 6.5% of the land in England is currently protected in ways that can count towards the 30% target, which has a 2030 deadline.

This target forms part of the UN’s international treaty aimed at halting and reversing biodiversity loss. The UK and more than 190 other countries are signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified late last year.

Off of land, Lords heard evidence that it is currently challenging to baseline the proportion of marine habitat allocated for conservation in ways that count towards the 2030 goal. Without this information – and without better monitoring of the condition of protected areas – it will be impossible to meaningfully track progress.

The Lords concluded that the Government is treating the 2030 target as a long-term, non-urgent priority, despite having less than seven years to achieve it.

They also expressed concerns that, unless major changes are made, degradation will continue at many designated protected areas, making the delivery of the target more challenging.

Reacting to the report, Wildlife and Countryside Link’s chief executive Richard Benwell said: “Today’s report confirms that the goal of protecting 30% of England for nature remains a distant dot on the horizon. An extraordinary challenge like this requires extraordinary leadership, but the Government has no credible plan for delivering its promise.

“With just 6 years until the 2030 deadline, achieving the target remains possible – just about – but the Government can ill afford to pass up opportunities like the Levelling Up Bill if it has any intention of fulfilling its pledges.”

To Benwell’s last point, the Levelling Up Bill was in the report stage last week ahead of Parliament’s summer break. Ministers did not take up cross-party proposals intended to beef up local nature plans or set more concrete protections in place for ancient woodland.

Calls to action

edie reached out to the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) for a comment on the Lords’ findings. A spokesperson insisted that the UK is on track to meet the 2030 goal using the Government’s own calculation methodology.

But protected landscapes like national parks and Areas of Natural Beauty should not automatically be counted towards the 2030 goal unless they are better managed and either conservation or restoration can be proved, the Lords’ report concludes.

It calls on the Government to retain all existing protected areas and plot a pathway to improve their management, in addition to allocating protected status to additional sites. All sites should have a guarantee of protection for a minimum of 30 years, the Lords are recommending.

Monitoring and reporting is key in all of this, especially for water-based habitats where data is currently lacking. For all habitat types, full assessments should be published every six years at a minimum, the report recommends. It calls for Ministers to use the next opportunity possible in policymaking to give Natural England a statutory duty to monitor sites of special scientific interest and publish its findings.

The report also acknowledges that, at present, much reporting comes from local communities and NGOs. The Government could support these pioneers by setting up a more streamlined platform for citizen scientists to log data. It should also launch a new public awareness campaign on actions that can help to protect local sites with protected status.

Committee Chair Baroness Parminter said: “Our report makes it clear that the Government faces a huge challenge to meet the ‘30 by 30’ target it signed up to last year.

“Time is running out to halt species decline and recover nature for the public good. We are therefore calling on the Government to act urgently as it has just seven crucial years to fulfil its nature crisis pledge.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are already going further and faster for nature than any other government before, with our Environmental Improvement Plan and the inclusion of legally binding targets in the Environment Act.”

The UK is in the bottom 10% of nations globally in terms of how well-preserved biodiversity is. Post-Brexit environmental watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) stated earlier this year that progress is not on track for any key environmental target, with progress in some fields, including species abundance, going backwards.

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