How much of Wales is really protected for nature?

Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

While the Governments of the UK claim to be leading the way, a new study suggests that official figures for protected areas of land in the UK may be over-inflated.

This is because many protected areas are failing to safeguard the wildlife they have been designated for due to a lack of funding, and also a failure to give National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONBs) the tools and resources they need to transform their landscapes and restore wildlife.

Falling short

With Governments around the world preparing to set a new plan to save biodiversity, support has been building for a global target to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.

The UK Government has thrown its weight behind this goal, making its own ‘30x30’ commitment. We believe that the Welsh Government also supports this but are yet to make an official announcement.

However, new research published this week has shone fresh light on how much land is really protected for nature across the UK. It shows that of the 28% that’s currently claimed by the UK Government, only 11.4% is protected for nature, and that as little as 4.9% of UK land area may be effectively protected for nature. Effective protection means that the land is being managed in the right way to support nature, and that the wildlife it holds is in good condition.

The situation in Wales

In Wales, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other areas designated to protect special wildlife and habitats cover 10.6% of the land area. Shockingly, only 20% of the wildlife and habitats these sites are designated for are currently shown to be in favourable condition.

In fact, we don’t know the condition of around 50%, as a lack of resources means that many of these important places for nature haven’t been monitored. And with little evidence that many SSSIs are being well managed for wildlife, it’s clear that effective protection for nature in Wales falls short of the 10.6% figure.

A top priority for Welsh Government must be investing enough to restore, manage and monitor these places so that they are truly protecting our rarest and threatened wildlife.

Potential to do more

The research also shows that the protected areas figure reported by UK Government includes the UK’s National Parks and AONBs. It finds that unlike protected areas for nature, these landscapes are not primarily designated to protect nature and therefore shouldn’t be counted towards 30x30 in their current form.

Because they contain towns, villages and areas of intensively managed land, they wouldn’t ever be able to count in full towards the 30% target, but they do contain a huge amount of land that is or could be valuable for nature and should be protected.

In Wales, our National Parks and AONBs cover a quarter of the country, giving them huge potential to act as hotspots for nature’s recovery. In 2018, the Welsh Government said that halting the loss of wildlife should be a priority for National Parks and AONBs. But it failed to set out changes to support them in this. The Authorities in charge have also expressed big ambitions to deliver more for nature.

The Welsh Government must now give them the tools and funding that is necessary to really make a difference for nature in these special places.

The Senedd recently declared a nature emergency , and the Welsh Government has committed to setting targets to help nature recover. The fact that Wales is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world makes ambitious targets vital, and we believe Welsh Government should start working on legislation for these targets as quickly as possible

We’ll be urging Welsh Government to commit to a strong ‘30x30’ nature recovery target for Wales, to deliver the effective protection our dwindling wildlife so urgently needs.

Images (top to bottom):

Nicholas Rodd (
Curlew by Ian Francis (