In today’s blog Jess Chappell, Senior Policy Officer for RSPB England, reflects on why the UK Government’s latest proposals look set to achieve very little when it comes to nature’s recovery in England ... 

“The task before us is significant, and clearly the current approach is not delivering the pace of change we need to see… we want to grasp the opportunity to look afresh at how to best protect and restore nature at home”.

These are the encouraging words of the Rt Hon George Eustice MP - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in his foreword to Defra’s recently published Nature Recovery Green Paper. And we completely agree. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, yet the approach currently taken to achieve our existing nature targets – including a lack of basic monitoring, a reliance on voluntary approaches, and dwindling public resources for action – has comprehensively failed. So as the Secretary of State says, an unprecedented step change in action is required if we are to save our nature.

Such a change needs to build on and reinforce our existing mechanisms for protecting and recovering nature AND ensure adequate funding to deliver.  It is proposals such as this that we had hoped to see the UK Government bring forward in their long-awaited Green Paper for Nature’s Recovery in England, which promised to support their ambitions to restore nature and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.

Change for change’s sake

Sadly, however, upon seeing the Green Paper it became clear that many of the proposals within it fail to address what’s needed to drive nature’s recovery in England. Instead, Government appears to be proposing changes focused on process rather than outcome – in short, a lot of change for change’s sake - without explanations as to why or how this will benefit nature.

Many of the major reforms proposed in the Green Paper would be costly in both money and time. Given that we are currently experiencing a nature and climate emergency, to divert focus and resources away from delivery at such a crucial moment would be a grave mistake. The Office for Environmental Protection – responsible for holding government and other public authorities to account - includes a similar warning in their own response to the Green Paper, stating that “reform should be approached cautiously so as not to undermine existing high levels of environmental protection”.

It is our view that much of the change needed to recover nature in England can be achieved without needing new legislation, but simply through different, more effective approaches to using our existing laws. For example, the Environment Act which came into force just last year. For the small number of urgent changes that would require legislative change, the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – confirmed in this month’s Queens Speech and published  the following day - could be a useful vehicle.

‘Levelling Up’ for nature

Built development is currently responsible for significant environmental harm, and this Bill presents a once in a generation opportunity to ensure the planning system is fit for people, nature and the climate. Yet as currently drafted it is disappointing to note that nature’s presence is limited in the Bill. We want to see this new legislation drive nature’s recovery through:

  • the introduction of a new planning designation to protect areas with potential for nature’s recovery;
  • strengthened protections for nature through improved environmental assessments and developer contribution to funding for nature;
  • changes to equip our Protected Landscapes (National Parks and AONBs) to drive nature’s recovery; and
  • a requirement on Local Planning Authorities to improve people’s connection with and access to nature.

Time will tell whether the Government takes this opportunity to step up to the challenge of a planning system fit for the nature and climate emergency.

Time is of the essence

So while we welcome the renewed focus on restoring nature, we urge the Government to be cautious about taking forward any of the major changes proposed in the Green Paper unless they are clear on how each and every one will benefit nature.  While we agree that crucial changes need to be made to the current approach, let’s focus on those which can be enacted rapidly, without diverting attention away from taking action to recover our natural world.

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Parents
  • Well said - Government continues to pay lip service having recently dropped its pledge to allocate one third of the agriculture budget to nature recovery. Still no ban on peat extraction - after months/ years of talking and consultation . Still no agreement to re introduction of Beavers to engineer landscapes and mitigate flooding . No regulation - also promised onwiser use of pesticides. As Caroline Lucas MP has said - Government ( as usual ) promising the earth whist continuing to destroy it .

Comment
  • Well said - Government continues to pay lip service having recently dropped its pledge to allocate one third of the agriculture budget to nature recovery. Still no ban on peat extraction - after months/ years of talking and consultation . Still no agreement to re introduction of Beavers to engineer landscapes and mitigate flooding . No regulation - also promised onwiser use of pesticides. As Caroline Lucas MP has said - Government ( as usual ) promising the earth whist continuing to destroy it .

Children