UK countryside, somewhere in the Midlands

Government not on track to protect 30 per cent of UK land and sea by 2030

Image credit: Magda V | Unsplash

The government is making minimal progress on plans to meet its commitment of protecting 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030, a report has found.

According to the Wildlife and Countryside Link, which is a coalition of nature and green groups, just 3.22 per cent of England’s land and 8 per cent of the sea was effectively protected by 2022.

This is an increase of just 0.22 per cent of the land and 4 per cent of the sea compared with 2021.

In 2020, the government made its 30x30 pledge to protect at least 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030. But two years on, nature campaigners are warning that little progress has been made.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Liz Truss has made deregulatory proposals to reform or repeal laws protecting nature and to liberalise planning which would “take England even further away from meeting nature targets”, the report found.

It singled out the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill for criticism. The bill will reform or repeal hundreds of EU-derived environmental laws by the end of 2023. In particular, plans for “fundamental reform” of the Habitats Regulations could weaken the UK’s most legally robust and most effective laws that defend natural habitats and wildlife.

Campaigners are also calling on the Prime Minister to confirm her intention to attend COP15 nature talks in person to push for global action to protect and restore nature.

The government has so far designated 2,831 hectares in three new Sites of Special Scientific Interest, contributing 0.22 per cent to the amount of protected land. While the progression of management measures in some Marine Protected Areas has increased the amount of ocean by 4 per cent at most.

Separate analysis has found that at least 90 per cent of UK marine areas with protections in place were damaged by bottom trawling or dredging during 2021.

On land, widespread burning on England’s protected peatlands in 2022 has been damaging our biggest carbon store, with 51 burns on land protected by multiple conservation designations and public reports of burning up 67 per cent from 2021.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “30x30 is a brilliant environmental promise and the government still has chance to set an international lead in restoring nature.

“Unfortunately, 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 per cent of the land and sea for nature by 2030 are vanishing.

“If deregulatory plans set out in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill go ahead unchanged, and if the current review of farming policy interrupts the transition to greener agriculture, then any hope of meeting the 2030 target could be dashed.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Nature will not recover without protecting at least 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030.

“The government has committed to that target, but this report shows an alarming lack of progress. 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.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to halting the decline of nature by 2030 and will not undermine our obligations to the environment in pursuit of growth.

“A strong environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand. We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations, marine protections and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision.”

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