Nature’s in real crisis and the government must walk the walk not just talk the talk

The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries on the planet – and, in fact, at the very bottom of the class in the G7, a group of the world’s wealthiest nations, in terms of how much nature still survives here.

We have also been ranked second from bottom among the G7 countries in terms of spending on green recovery plans. What’s more, government spending on nature in the UK has shrunk by a third over five years. 

The scale of the crisis nature is facing is clear, as the UK’s biodiversity had been massively depleted by centuries of habitat loss, intensive management, development and persecution, but the scale of action by Government to reverse nature’s decline is so far falling short. 

As highlighted in our A Wilder Recovery report, for too long efforts to restore nature have been siloed under the remit of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), whilst the rest of government has been forging ahead with projects that harm nature, such as HS2 and a £27bn investment in new road infrastructure. 

That’s why we praised the Environment Secretary’s announcement on our recent WildLIVE of a “legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature” as a critically important step forward. 

A target to halt the decline of nature by 2030 could be transformative for our natural environment, ensuring that action across government to solve the ecological crisis has the same statutory force as our net zero target on climate change. 

To our disappointment, however, it seems like this has been followed by two steps backwards. The amendment introduced in Parliament to put the Environment Secretary’s hopeful words into action does not deliver on its promise. It certainly is not a ‘net zero for nature’. The weakly worded target avoids committing to halting the decline of wildlife, merely requiring the decline to slow down by 2030. 

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust CEO, Debbie Tann, says: 

“Nature is in real crisis and the government must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Warm words that ‘aim’ to reduce the decline in nature are not enough, and they are not the same as the firm ‘net-zero for nature’ target that 180,000 signatories across the country were promised.  

In this UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, we must take every opportunity to show real leadership on the global stage. This watered-down target risks making a mockery of the government’s commitment to lead the world in tackling the biodiversity crisis. There must be no more debate, no more delay – nature’s recovery is imperative if we want a secure, healthy and prosperous future.  

It’s not too late for our government to commit to a legally binding target that makes nature’s recovery more than just a vague ambition. We don’t just want to imagine a Wilder future, we need to grasp every opportunity to make it a reality.” 

Worryingly, the Government has also given themselves the power to unpick the Habitats Regulations - the most important legal defence we currently have for nature which protects our most precious places from being bulldozed and built upon. 

This could allow large areas to be earmarked for development in line with the Government’s planning changes, including important wildlife sites, without the safeguards that are currently in place to protect them. 

We know the Government understands the crisis nature is facing. Speaking at the WildLIVE event, the Environment Secretary recognised that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Unless the Government gets on with the job of reversing this, we risk losing some of our wildlife forever and staying at the bottom of the pile. 

As the Prime Minister prepares to welcome other world leaders to the sunny beaches of Cornwall this weekend, he has a major opportunity to show the world that the UK is going further and faster than any other nation to address this crisis.   

Strong and clear action through a firm 2030 target to end nature’s decline would be a truly world-leading response.  There’s no more time to waste.