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The government has a mountain to climb to meet 2030 nature target


4 min read

Nature is in serious decline in the United Kingdom. Since 1970, over 40 per cent of species have decreased in abundance as a result of various agricultural and industrial practices and climate change.

To halt this decline, the government signed up to a laudable international commitment – 30 by 30 – to protect 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030 at the UN Convention on Biodiversity COP15 meetings in December 2022. But with under seven years left until 2030, there is a mountain to climb to meet this ambitious target.

The extent of protected areas on land that could meet the criteria for 30 by 30 is woefully short of where it will need to be in just seven years

Protected areas on land in England are inadequate on multiple fronts: they are insufficient in both quantity and extent, they are infrequently monitored, and they are often of poor quality.

The extent of protected areas on land that could meet the criteria for 30 by 30 is woefully short of where it will need to be in just seven years. Currently, a maximum of just 6.5 per cent of land in England is eligible to meet the criteria, leaving at least 23.5 per cent of England that remains to be protected in order to hit the target. This equates to an area one and a half times the size of Wales. 

The lack of sufficient monitoring and data on land, for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in particular, means effective site management plans can’t be developed. Evidence shows that only 22 per cent of SSSI sites have been monitored in the last six years, the recommended time interval for monitoring. 

We conclude that these failings must be corrected by sufficient government funding and harnessing alternative funding streams—including private finance—to incentivise better management for protected areas in England. We also call for a statutory duty for monitoring to be placed on Natural England to ensure that SSSI monitoring is a priority activity in future.

Protected areas included in the target must comply with international guidance and we’re clear that means protection should be for more than 30 years.

The issues found on land are only more acute at sea.  The evidence shows that marine protected areas are very infrequently monitored and that the condition of sites is difficult to understand. Furthermore, the evidence shows that damaging activities such as bottom trawling continue in protected areas at sea.  

We are calling on the government to fund the expansion of marine monitoring programmes to ensure more rigorous data collection at sea. We also call for better regulation of bottom trawling within marine protected areas.

Evidence shows that there are a number of untapped opportunities that could support the achievement of the 30 by 30 target. The government should set out their approach to establishing other effective areas-based conservation measures (OECMs), which are yet to be designated in England. They should also make clear which Environment Land Management schemes are best placed to offer up new protected area sites, which could make a significant contribution to 30 by 30 if they protect nature for the long-term.

Our inquiry also concluded that the government must raise public awareness and communicate how communities can play their role in protecting precious nature sites and harness citizen science to aid monitoring and data collection for protected areas.

We call on the government to rise to the challenge laid out by the target, to create more protected areas and to retain and monitor existing designations to ensure that they move into a favourable condition. Otherwise, 30 by 30 will be no more than a valuable galvanising slogan for international political agreements.

Read the committee’s report here: An Extraordinary Challenge: Restoring 30 per cent of our land and sea by 2030


Baroness Parminter, Liberal Democrat peer and chair of the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee


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