A key government pledge to protect 30 per cent of the land and sea for nature by 2030 and help stave off the “planetary emergency” is at risk of sliding backwards, wildlife organisations have warned.
The government is accused of an “alarming lack of progress”, on its pledge, which originally aimed to reverse biodiversity loss within the next 10 years and tackle the climate crisis.
When the “30×30” policy was launched, then prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We must act now – right now.
“We cannot afford to dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and it is happening at a frightening rate. Left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all.”
But “dither and delay” is precisely what has happened since then, according to the analysis by England’s largest environment and wildlife coalition – Wildlife and Countryside Link, which represents 66 organisations including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, RSPCA and WWF.
Just 3.2 per cent of England’s land and 8 per cent of the sea was effectively protected by 2022, representing an increase of just 0.2 per cent of the land and 4 per cent of the sea compared with 2021, the report found.
Furthermore, deregulatory proposals under consideration by Liz Truss’s administration to reform or repeal the strongest laws for nature and to liberalise planning laws would take England even further away from meeting nature targets.
In its first annual 30×30 progress report, Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling on the prime minister “to send a clear international message that the UK will be a global leader in implementing 30×30”.
The target is expected to be a key commitment in global nature talks at Cop15 in Montreal in December.
Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “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.
Nonetheless, he said that despite the poor record so far, the government “still has a chance to set an international lead in restoring nature”.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, accused the government of “pursuing a dangerous agenda of deregulation”, which he said threatened species and put the UK’s food security at risk.
He said: “Nature will not recover without protecting at least 30% of land and sea by 2030. The Government has committed to that target, but this report shows an alarming lack of progress.
The current approach under Ms Truss is resulting in less support for nature-friendly farming, he said, which “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.”
Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB warned that any new plan under Ms Truss to scrap the Environmental Land Management (Elms) scheme, which is designed to replace the EU’s payments system to landowners, would seriously undermine efforts to protect the natural world.
She said: “England is one of most nature-depleted countries on earth, but in a welcomed and bold move, the UK government committed to protecting 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030.
“However, two years on from this commitment, and with just eight to go, there has been next to no progress on the condition or extent of our protected areas, the places our wildlife needs and people value most.
“In fact, recent events would indicate that the UK government may be actually dismantling the fundamental building blocks needed to achieve this target by proposing plans to scrap the laws that protect nature, and funding for nature-friendly farmers.”