Putting nature recovery into law

The only way to ensure nature recovery across Britain is to make binding targets with clear deadlines, says Guy Shrubsole

We Need Nature Twitter sea

We want to see rewilding flourishing across Britain, to give nature on this island a richer, brighter, more vibrant future. The UK sits as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. We’ve lost half our farmland birds in the past 50 years, 40% of all species have declined in number (see State of Nature report) and many of our rivers are in a shocking state.

During the pandemic, nature has provided consolation & support to millions of us. Whether it’s been birdwatching, walking in the woods or park, or listening to the ocean, nature has helped calm us in this crisis. But we also want to help protect our #StateofNature as it protects us. From plants, birds and butterflies, to whales, turtles and seals, nature is struggling on land and in sea.

The UK Government talks a good talk on the environment but how can we be sure it walks the walk? The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is known to be a fan of rewilding. In a speech earlier this year he spoke about the rewilding of our planet”, and it’s been reported that he hopes to reintroduce beavers to his father’s farm in Exmoor.

Number 10 has also announced it wants to protect 30% of the UK’s land and sea for nature, and is calling on world leaders to stop nature’s decline by 2030. When the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meet in Kummin later this year, they are expected to agree a global target to halt and reverse the destruction of the natural world.

So far so good, you might think. But while the UK Government is expecting the world to agree to reverse nature’s decline by 2030, it’s not prepared to set a target in domestic law to do the same here.

The UK Government’s flagship Environment Bill currently contains no legal commitment but rather a promise to set environmental targets. It gives no guarantees about what the targets might cover or how ambitious they’ll be. The process for agreeing them is set to be very slow, with not a single target destined to be set before late 2022, and no deadline coming sooner than 2038.

Promises to protect nature are meaningless if they’re not put into law. So when the Environment Bill returns to Parliament (likely in May), it’s vital that it’s amended so we can set this right.

That’s why Rewilding Britain is pleased to be part of a huge alliance of environmental charities and conservation groups calling on the Government to put a 2030 State of Nature’ target into the Environment Bill. This coalition – co-ordinated by Wildlife & Countryside Link and including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth and the Woodland Trust – has joined forces to set up a single shared petition with a simple call: put nature’s recovery into law.

Along with other wildlife groups, we’ve written to the Prime Minister asking for action on this. Now we’re asking you to add your voice.

Please sign our petition calling for a new legal guarantee for nature’s recovery by 2030.

To date, ministers have appeared very reluctant to amend the Environment Bill in any way. But a huge outpouring of support from the hundreds of thousands of members of the UK’s environmental groups might just sway them – particularly with the eyes of the world on the UK’s green credentials this year, as it prepares to host the G7 Summit this summer and the UN climate talks in November.

The Environment Bill applies mainly to England but contains aspects that apply UK-wide. If you live in Scotland or Wales, we still need your support to ensure strong nature targets in all nations of the UK.

So please sign the petition wherever you live in the UK.

Of course, a nature target can only be the start. We also need further commitments from the Government to put rewilding at the heart of its plans for nature’s recovery (see Our manifesto). This should include a clear ambition for wilder National Parks, more funding for rewilding (via reformed farm payments and other sources), and for rewilding principles to be central to the new nature recovery network’ that the Environment Bill will create.

Here at Rewilding Britain, we’re working to influence policymakers on all of these issues and more. As we go forward, we’ll need your help. But right now, please join with us – and the rest of the UK’s environmental movement – in signing this petition to the Government. Let’s put nature’s recovery into law.