Last month, in partnership with Compassion in World Farming and the United Nations Environment Programme, Chatham House launched an excellent new report called ‘Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss’.  Agriculture is acknowledged as the major driver of biodiversity decline globally, across Europe and within the UK and this report not only outlined the problem but also highlighted the three main interventions required to help us turn things around:

  1. Protect and restore land for nature
  2. Shift to more environmentally friendly farming
  3. Reduce demand by changing diet

I commend the authors for presenting the challenge in such an accessible way and it’s really worth a read.

The framing is similar to the one that we (in partnership with the major international NGOs) are promoting for the global deal for nature through our nature positive work.  In fact, it will be impossible to tackle the nature and climate crisis unless we protect more land and sea (as proposed by the High Ambition Coalition for nature and to which more than 50 nations are committed including the US, England and Scotland), scale up our restoration efforts (as is being proposed by the European Union) and drive sustainable production and consumption of all natural resources.

While this is a global challenge, the action needs to happen in every nation. 

And there are some major opportunities in the four countries of the UK for our politicians to reinforce their leadership credentials. 

In this blog, I want to put a spotlight on two live, critical areas where the UK needs to step up.

First, the four nations of the UK need to set legally binding targets to drive nature’s recovery: essentially to do for nature what climate change legislation has been doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   The Westminster Government is the most advanced in its thinking with a commitment through the delayed Environment Bill to introduce targets (which have been subject to consultation).  Yet, these targets will not appear on the face of the Bill which is why more than 50 organisations are calling on the Prime Minister to strengthen the legislation (see attached letter below) and jointly launching a new petition (which you can sign here) to put in law the so-called state of nature target to halt the decline of our natural world by 2030.  There is an amendment tabled on this subject by a cross-party group of MPs and we are urging the UK Government to use the time they have to improve the Bill and include this target. 

Second, the four nations of the UK need to really grasp the opportunity presented by our exit from the European Union and the accompanying Common Agriculture Policy, to radically reform the land management policy and subsidies to restore wildlife to our farmed landscapes, to produce safe, healthy food and to protect the natural resources of soil, air and water that farming itself depends on.  We currently invest £3.1 billion in agriculture policies each year across the UK.  Brexit has provided the opportunity to repurpose this funding but as agriculture (like pretty much everything else to do with the environment) is a devolved competency, each of the four UK countries are responsible for developing their own approach.   The RSPB is working with each administration to ensure future farming policies are fit for purpose and we believe we need to do five things:

  1. Establish a principle of public money being given in return for public goods (ie those things that benefit not just private individuals but all members of society such as a countryside rich in wildlife)
  2. Secure adequate funding to meet these objectives
  3. Provide an effective legislative basis for payments
  4. Put in place a clearly defined transition to help farmers adjust to the new system
  5. Ensure that all policy (including for example design of new farm subsidy schemes) are based on good evidence

We will fail to tackle the climate and nature emergency unless we set the right legal ambition and tackle the biggest drive of biodiversity decline by reforming agriculture policy.

Over the coming weeks, I shall report on progress in each of the four countries of the UK starting tomorrow with a focus on farm reform in Scotland.

2548.Prime Minister State of Nature target Feb 2021.docx

* Image of skylark courtesy of Ben Andrew (