Government has no evidence to back up nature recovery claims, say campaigners

The Government has no evidence to back up a recent claim it made saying the UK is on track to meet its internationally-agreed targets on improving nature, campaigners have said.

After the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL) found there to be just over 3% of land and up to 8% of sea protected for nature – when the target is 30% – the campaign group accused the Government of failing to make headway.

In response, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it is on track to meet this target, but, when asked through a Freedom of Information request to provide assessments of progress, it said it does not hold that information.

WCL chief executive Dr Richard Benwell said: “The Government is making big claims on its achievements for nature’s recovery that simply don’t hold up to scrutiny.

“Given that the 30×30 target is a critical milestone for improving nature, it is disappointing, to say the least, that Government is not tracking its progress and can provide no policy route for how the target will be met by the deadline.”

The UK was one of 188 countries to sign an agreement last year to build up protected areas for nature – up to 30% of the Earth’s land and sea by 2030.

Few other countries have destroyed their wildlife as thoroughly as Britain over the centuries – with top predators such as eagles, lynx and wolves hunted to extinction and sheep now grazing on barren moors where ancient forests once grew.

Red squirrel
The native red squirrel has been pushed almost to extinction by the non-native grey squirrel (Liam McBurney/PA)

This year’s analysis of the state of the UK’s nature found it remains in decline, with one in six species at risk of extinction.

Climate change and habitat destruction were identified as being the main causes, though persecution of birds of prey by grouse moor gamekeepers continues.

Only 7% of the country’s woodland is in good condition, as are 14% of its rivers and 25% of its peatland, which, apart from being an important habitat itself, is also a significant natural carbon sink, helping to slow the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Elliot Chapman-Jones, head of public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The Government is not only not on track to its 30×30 target, it seems to have got lost in the woods with no compass or map to guide its way.

“Yet our Government is overclaiming progress on its nature promises and backtracking on related commitments like net zero.

“We need political leaders who will shoot for the moon in tackling the existential challenges we face, not bury their heads in the sand. That’s why we want to see ambitious moves for nature in every party’s election commitments.”

A Defra spokesman said: “This claim is completely false. We published a plan to deliver our environmental goals in January through the Environmental Improvement Plan, totalling 262 pages of action, and will set out our progress on 30×30 as promised by the end of the year.

“The UK was one of the first countries in the world to commit to the 30×30 campaign, which was later adopted internationally at the UN Nature Summit in Montreal.

“This Government has created or restored habitat the size of Dorset and created over 100 Marine Protected Areas since 2010.

“We have introduced a swathe of measures to identify and invest in spaces for nature, including Biodiversity Net Gain, Local Nature Recovery Strategies, our three environmental land management schemes which have had record uptake across the country and more.”

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