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Government seeks to restore and protect nature

Words: Laura Edgar
Biodiversity offsetting: kicked into the long grass?

Environment secretary George Eustice has outlined how the government plans to  tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis; take forward recommendations in the Dasgupta Review; and amendments to the environment bill.

The government said its ambition is to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The environment secretary set the plans out in a speech from Delamere Forest at an online event hosted by The Wildlife Trusts yesterday (18 May). It comes ahead of COP26 in November, which the UK will host in Glasgow.

Eustice committed the government to amending the environment bill so that it requires "an additional legally binding target for species for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature".

"This is a huge step forward, and a world leading measure in the year of COP15 and COP26 as we build back greener from the pandemic. We hope that this will be the net zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis."

Speaking at the event, Natural England chair, Tony Juniper, said: "A new target for nature recovery enshrined in law will be a powerful new driver for coordinated action, as was found on cutting greenhouse gas emissions following the passage of the Climate Change Act. Meeting a stretching nature target can be done, so long as we can join up different policy areas, such as farming, housing development and infrastructure, while also improving overall environmental quality in terms of air and water pollution."

A framework for the government's peat action plan was set out, which intends to improve management, protection and restoration of upland and lowland peatlands. The restoration of 35,000 hectares of degraded peatland in England will be supported by £50 million through a Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme between 2021 and 2025.

Eustice added that sales of peat products will be banned by the end of this Parliament, a consultation for which will be held this year.

The government plans to treble planting rates in England during this Parliament, funded through £500 million from the Nature for Climate Fund. Additionally, a new multi-million pound tree planting grant, the England Woodland Creation Offer, is set to provide greater financial incentives for landowners and farmers to plant and manage trees.

Trees for Climate will see the creation of three community forests and 6,000 hectares of new woodland by 2025.

The aim is to have "at least 12 per cent of woodland cover by the middle of the century," Eustice said, to increase carbon sequestration and supports "vital habitats".

A Species Reintroduction Taskforce, comprising experts, landowners and NGOs, will be established to take forward work around the reintroduction of species that have been lost to England, such as wildcat. It will also consider the introduction of declining species to areas to help populations recover. A consultation will be launched this summer on the approach to this.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: "Today we face a twin nature and climate emergency – these crises are entirely interlinked and one cannot be tackled without addressing the other. It’s essential that we stop nature’s decline and restore 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030 – doing so will help wildlife fight back and enable repaired habitats to store carbon once more. Vast, landscape-scale restoration projects need funding by government to help us reach this target because, at the moment, only 10 per cent of our land is protected for nature and only half of this is in a good state. Nature Recovery Networks need to be at the heart of our future planning system so that our new nature places are carefully mapped out, joined up and put where they will work best for nature and people."

This week, the Queen’s Green Canopy was launched, which is UK-wide tree planting initiative created to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, by inviting people to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee”.

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