The Environment Bill – The Wildlife Trusts say Nature Cannot Wait – Cross Party Support Needed

Ballynahone Bog, landscape view of bog at dawn, Northern Ireland, June - Ben Hall/2020VISION

The long-awaited publication of the Environment Bill is welcome but The Wildlife Trusts are concerned that the Bill must not be delayed further if we are to tackle the serious environmental challenges we face. Cross-party support is needed to trigger nature’s recovery.

The recent State of Nature Report revealed that one in seven species in the UK are at risk of extinction and 58% of species are in decline. The Wildlife Trusts have long-called for ambitious new laws to allow nature to recover and so are delighted to see that the new Environment Bill will include legally-binding targets for biodiversity.

Paul Hadaway, the Director of Conservation for Kent Wildlife Trust, says:

“We welcome the commitment to creating local nature recovery strategies across Kent and the rest of England and we are already developing our vision for Nature Recovery Networks across Kent and regionally with our partner Wildlife Trusts and other conservation bodies. These need to be coherent, ambitious and based on robust evidence to ensure we give nature the space and protection it needs to recover.

There remain a number of concerns for us, particularly given the development pressures Kent is subject to at the moment. We are deeply concerned that large national infrastructure projects will not be subject to net gain and that the legal requirements on developers to improve nature on and around developments will not apply to the biggest schemes.  This has the potential to be very damaging in Kent given the number of large infrastructure projects already in the planning stages.

We are further concerned that the new Office for Environmental Protection, independent watch dog mentioned in the act will need to have sufficient independence and enforcement powers to ensure it is fit for purpose. Currently this is not clear.

Kent Wildlife Trust alongside the other Wildlife Trusts, NGOs and conservation bodies are ready to engage with Government and their conservation agencies to lead the development of Nature Recovery Networks and of natural climate change solutions which can form a key component of these networks in addressing the twin challenges recognised by Parliament in their declaration of a Climate and Environment Emergency”.

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The Test Valley at dawn, near Longstock, Hampshire, England, UK - Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

In a short film for The Wildlife Trusts, calling for powerful new environmental laws and for a Nature Recovery Network, Sir David Attenborough, president emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“A wildlife-rich natural world is vital for our wellbeing and survival. We need wild places to thrive. Yet many of our systems and laws have failed the natural world. We now live in one of the most nature depleted places on the planet. Nature urgently needs our help to recover – and it can be done. By joining up wild places and creating more across the UK we would improve our lives and help nature to flourish - because everything works better when it’s connected.”

 

Why a Nature Recovery Network?

For many years we’ve known that nature reserves alone are not enough for wildlife’s recovery.  Too often we’ve seen wildlife forced into fewer and smaller pockets of wild space, surrounded by urban development or intensive agriculture.  This reduces nature’s resilience to climate change.  Sir John Lawton, who led a Government review of England’s wildlife sites in 2010, said: “There is compelling evidence that they are generally too small and too isolated. We need more space for nature.”

To allow nature to recover, we need to reconnect the fragmented sites that remain – stitching back together Britain’s tattered natural fabric of wild land and creating more space for wildlife.

A Nature Recovery Network would act as a strategic spatial planning framework to map, plan and deliver what nature needs to recover, allowing targeted delivery and investment in nature’s recovery and for translating national objectives into real change on the ground.  Aligning funds such as Environmental Land Management payments and “net gain” contributions will provide value for money and allow businesses to have confidence in where and how to invest for long term environmental gain.

 

Joan Edwards, Director of Public Affairs for The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“The need to reverse nature’s decline is more urgent than ever. Nature and the wild places it depends on are in crisis – on land and at sea – and people are crying out for decisive action. This Environment Bill is a critical opportunity to tackle the environment emergency and should be the highest priority for all political parties.

“We’re pleased the Government has recognised the scale of the challenge by including legally binding targets and measures to support a Nature Recovery Network in the Bill. This network will create a joined-up network of habitats everywhere, not just isolated spaces, to provide enough space for wildlife to recover and to bring nature back before it’s too late.

“We welcome the requirement to set up local nature recovery strategies throughout England – these will include a statement of biodiversity priorities and a spatial approach to mapping out nature’s recovery.

“The bill contains a major omission – there is no provision for ‘non-regression’ which means that existing environmental standards could be weakened.”