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New environment watchdog calls for nature to be top priority 

Words: Huw Morris

The government must give the same priority to restoring and protecting nature as the drive to net-zero, according to England’s post-Brexit watchdog for the environment.

In its first report monitoring progress towards the government’s 25-year environment plan, the Office for Environmental Protection says action to help nature has not been “purposeful and coherent”.

Progress towards the plan’s goals has been slow, with nature continuing to face “worrying and persistent environmental decline”, highlighting poor air quality in urban areas, the decline in river water quality and mismanagement of sea floor.

Nature must have “the same urgency, gravitas and awareness as the vision of net-zero”, it adds.

“Regrettably, environmental laws and government strategy and policy have not yet proved successful in significantly slowing down, halting or reversing biodiversity decline or the unsustainable use of resources or the pollution of the environment,” the OEP says.

The watchdog calls on the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) to review the state of the environment across the nation as a priority, as well as its criteria for assessing progress against the plan using targets based on evidence and science.

The OEP notes that there is no accountability for delivering the plan beyond Defra and calls for more cross-departmental support. Statutory targets covering water use, waste, pollution, habitat protection and biodiversity under the Environment Act 2021, which became law last November, should also be more ambitious, it adds.

Taking Stock: Protecting, Restoring and Improving the Environment in England is available here.

Image credit | Steven W Wild Media, Shutterstock