In the run up to a crucial meeting of G7 Environment Ministers next week and the Leaders’ summit in June, using data from the Natural History Museum, the RSPB has today launched a new assessment about how much of the natural world is left in each of the G7 countries.  It shows the UK languishing at the bottom of that list and twelfth worst of 240 countries and territories.  It is a sobering reminder that when we report (as we do very regularly) about the state of nature using 1970 (or thereabouts) as a reference point, we start from an already very low level.  Our new assessment reinforces the case for a nature restoration revolution over this decade, in line with UN aspirations.  We need to do this for the 70,000 species with which we share these islands and we need to do it for ourselves because our own prosperity is dependent on a healthy natural environment.

Over the next month, as well as talking to other G7 nations, the UK Government will be revealing more about its plans for doing something about the nature crisis…

…as promised in this week’s Queen’s Speech, the Environment Bill will return to Westminster (for Report Stage in the Commons on 26 May before moving to the Lords the next day).  This will be a key test as to whether the UK Government has listened to our case (supported by >150,000 signatories to the WCL campaign) to introduce a legally binding target to restore nature and whether it will give teeth to the new Office for Environmental Protection

a draft nature strategy (pre-empting how the UK Government may respond to the new global deal for nature), complemented by bespoke tree and peat  strategies should emerge outlining fresh ambition and, we hope, detailed plans for how this will be achieved.  This will reveal whether verbal commitments (for example to protect and manage 30% of land and sea by 2030) are banked, whether advice received from the Committee on Climate Change for the scale of tree-planting and peat restoration has been heeded and whether proposals in one strategy don’t undermine ambition in another (for example not permitting trees to be planted on peatlands)

…we may see the launch of the £640 million nature for climate fund which was promised in the 2019 Conservative Party Election manifesto and should, with the right conditions in place, help deliver the above

…we may also see the UK Government responding to the Glover review of protected landscapes and indeed to the Dasgupta report into the economics of biodiversity which could shake up the way in which government and its institutions will take nature into account in all decisions especially in some of our largest areas of semi-natural habitat (in our National Parks and AONBs).

Much of this will relate to England (and sometimes Northern Ireland), yet particularly given what happened in the elections in Wales and Scotland last week, it will be interesting to see how the commitments made to the G7 will be backed up by statements from the devolved administrations.  It was therefore heartening to hear Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford say yesterday that:

“The environment will be at the heart of our decision-making. The climate change emergency has not gone away while we have been dealing with the pandemic. Wales is a beautiful country with immense natural assets, which will help power our recovery and create the jobs of the future. In my new government, the environment doesn’t just have a seat at the Cabinet table, it will be a consideration in all we do.”   

There is a lot to look out for over the next month or so.  But don’t get blinded by the blizzard of announcements, be prepared to scrutinise them to see whether they drive action on the ground and at sea. In the end, all conservation happens in real places rather than in the text of policy or laws.  We shall be making our judgement based on whether the proposals prevent further harm; whether they improve the protection of the best places and our most threatened species; and whether they will make it easy for people to drive the restoration revolution.  If they do, we shall offer praise that is due but if not, we shall continue to challenge politicians to go further.  Whatever the verdict on the UK Government, the RSPB will continue to roll up its sleeves to play our part to the full.

*Image is of of RSPB Wallasea Island by David Wootton (rspb-images.com).  This is the largest managed realignment project in Europe, converting 740 hectares of arable farmland into saltmarsh, mudflats, lagoons and grazing marsh

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