The RSPB's England Director, Emma Marsh, responds to Julian Glover's Landscapes Review that has just been published by Government ...

“We are living in the beginning of a mass extinction and our climate is breaking down. But we can still fix this – you can still fix this. It’s simple. We need to protect, restore, and fund nature”.

These were the words of Greta Thunberg last week – the same week that thousands of people across England took to the streets. In cities, towns and villages, they joined millions from around the world calling for urgent action to avoid climate and ecological breakdown.

It’s clear that there is now huge public demand for our politicians to match their warm words on the environment with meaningful action.

In England, there is no more obvious place to start than in our protected landscapes. National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) cover a quarter of the nation – from windswept moors, to lush woodlands, from rolling grasslands to expansive wetlands.

Image: Dovestone, Peak District National Park

These landscapes offer incredible but so far untapped opportunities to restore nature and lock-up carbon on a grand scale. Untapped because too many of these habitats are in desperately poor condition, with species being pushed to extinction and carbon leaking into the atmosphere.

It is in this context that the report of the Landscapes Review, which was published at the weekend, must be judged. The Government announced this independent review last year as part of its 25 Year Environment Plan to find out how protected landscapes across England can deliver more for the nation.

Reflecting on the 2,500 responses the panel received to its call for evidence, the report states “In our call for evidence, the message was clear: more than any other single thing, people and organisations agreed that our landscapes should do more for nature”.

We are delighted to see that the panel’s headline findings have recognised that nature is in crisis inside as well as outside our protected landscapes and that these landscapes should be at the forefront of tackling the nature and climate crises. The report contains excellent recommendations that could (if implemented by the UK Government) help our National Parks and AONBs play this role, including much-needed changes to their purposes and governance. We’re also pleased to see the panel’s ideas for encouraging more young people and diverse communities to use and visit these special places.

However, the report fails to tackle a key reason why nature is in serious trouble in National Parks and AONBs in upland England. Many of these landscapes are intensively managed for driven grouse shooting. Vegetation is burned, tracks built, predators of grouse and carriers of grouse diseases are trapped, shot and poisoned, and the grouse medicated against disease – all to ensure exceptionally high densities of grouse, which are then ‘driven’ (flushed) over lines of shooters. The result is habitat degradation, wildlife loss and carbon leaking into the atmosphere. This is an unsustainable way to manage internationally important peatland habitats and completely untenable in the context of the nature and climate crises.

The report says that this is a controversial issue and that the review was not the place to deal with it. We disagree. With so many of England’s protected landscapes in the uplands and so many blighted by these harmful land management practices, this is not an issue that can be swept under the carpet. The UK Government must fill this gap in the report by carrying out a review of driven grouse moor management – more details here.

So now it’s over to the Government to implement the review’s recommendations. The message from the public is clear: time to save our planet is running out and this requires urgent and bold action. The Landscapes Review is a key test of whether the UK Government is acting on that message.

This isn't a luxury we can't afford. For our wildlife, our special places, our climate and ourselves, it’s something we can't afford not to do.

We’ll share our more detailed thoughts on the Landscapes Review report shortly in a separate blog on this page.

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