Our response to Governments announcements on nature and net zero

Seeds of hope planted but root and branch change on mammoth scale still needed, say The Wildlife Trusts.
urban wildflowers

Today (Tuesday 18 May 2021) the Environment Secretary set out plans to restore nature and “build back greener” after the pandemic. The Secretary of State, George Eustice, made the speech at an online event hosted by The Wildlife Trusts during which the public could ask questions. 

Much focus was given to plans for tree planting, species reintroduction and peatland restoration in England, including a ban on peat sales subject to a public consultation. While it is widely acknowledged that there is a big opportunity for a ‘green recovery’ from Covid19, The Wildlife Trusts fear that there is a real danger of ‘building back’ just as before – for example by investing in damaging new road building and destructive developments such as HS2 rail and Sizewell C nuclear power station, rather than investing in nature on land and at sea on the scale that is urgently needed.

Harry Barton, CEO Devon Wildlife Trust says:

“It’s great to hear the Secretary of State’s announcement today.  The promise of legally binding targets for halting species decline – something wildlife organisations have desperately sought for years – is particularly welcome.  But we need much more.  Protecting 5% of peatland and increasing our woodland cover by 2% is a good start, but nowhere near ambitious enough.  And the funding being promised is tiny compared to the huge resources being unveiled for new roads, house building and high speed rail links, all of which threaten our existing wildlife.  This is a steady step forward, and one I’m very pleased to see.  But it is a long way from the green revolution we need to tackle the ecological and climate emergencies we face.”

Tractor spraying pesticide over field

One action for insects the report recommends is a drastic reduction in pesticide use

The Wildlife Trusts are calling for urgent implementation of:

  • A Nature Recovery Network to be at the heart of the future planning system to enable new nature places to be carefully mapped out, joined up and put where they will work best for nature and people. A healthy and connected natural world will ensure that species have enough space to survive, thrive and move if they need to, in response to climate change.
  • A future planning system that does not jeopardise nature. Defra should hold the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to account so that faster planning does not mean poorer protection for nature. The planning system must help address the wildlife crisis with a new Wildbelt designation to protect land in recovery for nature. Furthermore, there is an enormous threat to marine life from the huge expansion of offshore wind development and we must not forget the role that our seas play in mitigating climate change, locking away carbon. Strategic planning at sea must ensure green energy does not increase the threat to nature.
  • Highly Protected Marine Areas across at least 30% of our seas’ protected network. It is disappointing that in a speech which highlights plans to protect and restore nature, and tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, that no mention is given to the marine environment. We need to restore seagrass and saltmarsh for wildlife and carbon storage as much as we do trees and peat.  
  • A ban on selling peat in compost before the UK hosts the global climate conference COP26 in Glasgow in November this year. The planned consultation must also set an early date for the phase-out of peat use altogether.
  • A tenfold increase in peatland restoration, an end to all upland peat burning and better controls to stop drainage of peat soils for farming. Peatlands are one of the UK’s most precious wildlife habitats, capable of storing huge amounts of carbon, but over 80% of them are in poor condition. It is disappointing that the Government’s initial target is only to restore 35,000 hectares of them; its own advisors have estimated that ten times that – 300,000 hectares – should be repaired in England.
  • A Tree Action Plan which firmly puts habitat creation and nature protection at its heart, creating natural, joined-up woods that are good for wildlife and accessible to people. Important wildflower meadows, peatlands and species-rich grasslands should not be damaged by tree planting. A move towards natural regeneration, where woods naturally grows from fallen seeds, should be a priority because they are better for wildlife.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“Today we face a twin nature and climate emergency – these crises are entirely interlinked and one cannot be tackled without addressing the other. The time for procrastination is over and greater urgency is needed on all fronts. The UK hosts the global climate conference COP26 in Glasgow in November this year and speed is vital: now is the time to accelerate nature’s recovery – for wildlife, for people and for the climate.”

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