Red alert on Global Targets for Nature as Defra ‘in hibernation’

A step-change is needed in the UK Government’s approach to wildlife commitments, with current efforts failing to make progress on any and all fronts. 

gray rodent on brown rock during daytime

In a scathing new report by Wildlife & Countryside Link, Downing Street and specifically the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been criticised for stalling or moving backwards on nature. 

A progress tracker has been following the impact of efforts in rewilding, biodiversity net gain, habitat restoration, climate change action, invasive species management and marine conservation. Rapid investment is now needed in all these areas, particularly with regard to coastal waters and industries such as fishing and oil and gas, and using nature based solutions to tackle pollution problems. 

The assessment has been published a year after a global pledge began to protect 30% of marine and land habitats by 2030. Based on the evidence, Great Britain is now at serious risk of missing the targets stipulated in that agreement unless much more is done. Of 23 targets set, 18 have now been assessed in terms of national progress and none are on track. Seven are marked as ‘yellow’, meaning progress is being made but not fast enough, while 11 are classed as ‘red’ or ‘dark red’, denoting zero movement, or a decline in nature. 

‘The UK was influential in securing the Global Biodiversity Framework, a triumph of environmental diplomacy. Now the Government and all political parties must wake up to enormous challenge and opportunity of halting nature’s decline by 2030,’ said Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link.

‘This tracker shows that, since the Environment Act was agreed in 2021, Government environmental ambition has been in hibernation,’ he continued. ‘The policies aren’t in place to meet any of the key pledges made in Montreal last year. A spring revival in investment and action for nature-friendly farming, habitat restoration, and marine protection is needed to meet the targets and bring life to a greener economy.’

Areas in which the country is considered to be performing worst include protection and restoration of land for nature. A lack of retail ban on sales of horticultural peat, and non-existent strategies to restore degraded landscapes are big factors into that judgement. Freshwater goals of bringing most rivers and streams to ‘Good Ecological Status’ by 2027 were also unlikely to be met. 

Elsewhere, pesticides, harmful chemicals and nutrients pollution was another cause for concern, with air quality and biodiversity under threat from high concentrations of nitrogen, ammonia and phosphorus, which are so far not sufficiently regulated to limit use. Chemical pollution, sustainable agriculture, and climate change were areas that  ranked as dark red, partly because of recent u-turns on net zero pledges, the issuing of more oil and gas licenses for the North Sea, and inadequate utilisation of nature-based solutions. 

‘Nature is under pressure as never before and the lack of progress towards its recovery is extremely disappointing,’ said Lissa Batey, Head of Marine Conservation at The Wildlife Trusts. ‘Marine habitats, in particular, are suffering – so we urgently need policies that recognise the competing demands to meet net zero through building offshore wind and grid infrastructure whilst also protecting and restoring the fragile habitats of the seabed. 

‘We’ve been promised both marine spatial prioritisation and now a new spatial plan for energy, but what we really need is a joined-up approach with money behind it for both land and sea – a plan that places nature recovery at its heart,’ she continued. ‘There are just over six years to meet the 2030 targets so urgent action is required right now.’

More on rewilding:

Image: Andy Holmes

Graphic:  Global Biodiversity Framework Policy Tracker by Wildlife and Countryside Link,  RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and The National Trust



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