Today’s blog is written by Pip Goodwin, Senior Policy Officer in the External Affairs team, on how the government has failed to come up with a bold enough set of legally binding targets for nature.

The government has published its draft long term targets under the Environment Act and started the clock ticking on an 8 week consultation. Targets for biodiversity are unambitious and don’t go far enough to drive nature’s recovery. We urge readers to respond to the consultation and call for greater boldness to restore nature.


Targets for nature that are lacking in ambition

This morning saw the announcement of the government’s proposals for legally binding targets under the Environment Act 2021. As our policy team take the time to analyse this further in the coming days, our initial response is that it is woefully lacking in ambition.

In 2019, the State of Nature Report revealed the perilous condition of England’s wildlife, around half of our species are in decline and 15 per cent are at threat of extinction. We are also emerging from a Lost Decade for nature where targets to restore wildlife and wild spaces were missed due to Government inaction. 

We now have an Environment Act that includes a welcome legally binding commitment to halting wildlife decline by 2030 but the longer term targets published today don’t provide the ambitious vision for nature’s recovery that government has promised.

Our wildlife has been in decline for decades so we need a truly stretching long term target for species abundance that delivers a nature positive vision. Instead the government proposes a 10% increase from 2030 levels by 2042 which means on current trajectories, species abundance could actually be below today’s already depleted levels in two decades time.

To set ourselves up for successfully restoring species we must look after our wild places. A network of protected spaces in good condition is fundamental to helping wildlife to recover. These are the places to which many of our most vulnerable and threatened species have retreated and from which they must be recovered.

Committing to protecting 30% of our land and sea for nature was a welcome step, but ensuring these protected sites are maintained to a high standard is the real challenge. So it was especially worrying when the Government missed the opportunity to make good on its global commitment by failing to include a binding target to protect the best places for nature in today’s targets proposals.

Nature remains in serious trouble

The RSPB is working hard to reverse the declines of species and protect our best nature sites. And we are having successes. Cranes have now returned to our wetlands, red kites are an increasingly common sight across the Midlands and East Anglia, and seabirds such as Manx shearwater are now recovering on the Isles of Scilly and Lundy. Alongside this our nature reserves are leading the way in protecting and enhancing wildlife, from Dungeness to Geltsdale, north to south, the RSPB is working hard to do its bit.  

But nature across England remains in serious trouble, as the State of Nature Reports show. Despite successes, we remain in a nature emergency, and we still live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Now is the time for the government to step up and to enable the huge ambition we have here in England.  

The targets package is the subject of an 8 week consultation – running until 11 May - and we encourage everyone to submit a response. We shall be combing through the targets consultation and a Nature Recovery Green Paper also published today, and will provide more detailed reflections on their contents and our recommendations for feeding back to government. Watch this space!