UK falling behind ambitions to protect 30% of land and sea

The UK is failing to keep up with targets to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 (30×30) and new deregulatory plans threaten this goal even further, say wildlife charities.

The government agreed to this commitment in 2020, but the first annual 30×30 progress report by Wildlife and Countryside Link shows little progress has been made.

Just 3.22% of England’s land and 8% of the sea has been effectively protected so far, an increase of only 0.22% and 4% since 2021.

Wildlife and Countryside Link and other charities are now calling for the Prime Minister to attend global nature talks at COP15 in person and clearly show the UK will be a leader in implementing 30×30.

The report also argues against deregulation, urging more protection for land and sea, rather than weakening environmental laws.

hedgehog on green moss during daytime

Hedgehogs were classified as vulnerable to extinction in 2020

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘Our figures show that in the race to halt nature’s decline by 2030, the Government is limping backwards. At this rate, the Government’s prospects of effectively protecting 30% of the land and sea for nature by 2030 are vanishing.’

The proposed Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill could reform or repeal hundreds of EU-derived environmental laws by the end of 2023, with ‘fundamental reform’ of Habitats Regulations in particular posing a threat to the most legally-robust laws defending nature and wildlife.

‘The Government’s own reviews have recommended strengthening the rules for restoring nature in National Parks and AONBs and proposed a network of Highly Protected Marine Areas at sea,’ continued Dr Benwell. ‘Instead of chasing after imaginary end-of-rainbow rewards of deregulation, the Government should implement these reviews to get back on track for 30×30.’

The RSPB has already highlighted how the government’s Investment Zones scheme could lead to housing and commercial developments encroaching on wildlife habitats and green spaces.

Analysis has also shown that even protected areas in the UK are suffering, with 90% of protected marine areas damaged by bottom trawling or dredging in 2021.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:Pursuing a dangerous agenda of deregulation and weakening support for nature-friendly farming will make the path to 30 by 30 even harder, threatening our soil health and pollinators, undermining our food security, and wiping out vulnerable species like hedgehogs and turtle doves.

‘We need policies that help to restore nature – as fast as possible – not make things worse. That means strong laws and investment in cleaner rivers, recreating wetlands and wildflower meadows, and boosting vanishing insect populations – before it’s too late.’

The report recommends bringing existing protected sites into good condition through investment, extending protected sites on land and boosting nature in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty by providing greater resources to support nature.

It suggested five initial Highly Protected Marine Area (HPMA) pilot sites be delivered too, to achieve at least 10% of England’s seas in HMPAs by 2030.

The management of marine protected areas should also be improved, by banning dredging and bottom trawling, and Habitats Regulations should be retained and strengthened.

Calls for greater environmental protection has been echoed by a leading Exeter academic, who said recent policies unveiled by the government don’t make environmental or economic sense.

Photo by Alexas_Fotos


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