Scientists and experts are clear – Protected Landscapes should be doing more for nature

  • Contributor information: CNP

Image credit: Stewart Prince

Prominent environmental scientists, peers and experts have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on the government to give Protected Landscapes new powers and duties to help meet international commitments on nature recovery.

Organised by a coalition including Campaign for National Parks, Wildlife and Countryside Link, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the letter has been covered in The Times.

The letter also urges the government to set a new target under the Environment Act for improving the condition of special sites of scientific interest (SSSIs) across the UK. Our recent analysis, again covered in The Times, shows that only a quarter of SSSIs in National Parks in England are in ‘favourable condition’, compared to a national average of 38%. This is a worrying trend over the longer-term, and that’s why we need to take urgent action.

Is Government giving up on nature in protected landscapes?

The letter has been accompanied by an article from Campaign for National Parks, Wildlife Trust, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, warning that the Government has one last chance in this Parliament to act to recover nature in Protected Landscapes. They need to step up and grab this opportunity.

We’re calling on Peers in the House of Lords to back our campaign

The letter coincides with the next stage of the levelling-up and regeneration bill in the House of Lords. Thanks to the efforts of Campaign for National Parks and the coalition, Lord Randall has tabled an ammendment to the bill with cross-party support taking forward key recommendations from the Glover Review of Protected Landscapes, which would see National Parks and other Protected Landscapes being given vital new power and duties so they can do more for nature recovery and people’s access. Signatories on the letter include the author of the review, Julian Glover, as well as members of the review panel.

As the letter makes clear below, although the government have accepted proposals from the review, they have so far failed the seize the opportunity to legislate these commitments. With the amendment now tabled in the House of Lords there is a perfect opportunity to turn words into action. 

We’re delighted with the broad alliance of supporters that have come together on this campaign and we’re now calling on Government and Parliament to take forward this legislation so Protected Landscapes can do more for nature, climate and people.

How you can help

The next few weeks and months will be crucial as we look to win over even more support and everyone’s voice counts – including yours. You can pledge your support, and sign up for receiving more information about joining our campaign for legislative action.

Full letter to the Prime Minister – Delivering on COP15 promises by making space for nature

Dear Prime Minister,

The UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December concluded with agreement, signed by 195 countries, to protect 30% of our land and ocean by 2030. Your Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rightly hailed the agreement as ‘‘a historic milestone in protecting our natural environment for future generations’’.

We are writing, as scientists and experts working to protect the natural environment, to urge you to uphold these welcome global commitments by implementing them at home.

The blueprint for restoring natural systems in England is now over a decade old. In September 2010, a group of scientists, including some of the authors of this letter, submitted a Government-commissioned review of England’s ecological network, Making Space for Nature.

The review found that England’s wildlife sites were largely inadequately protected and in poor condition, even in our most special habitats. Overall, the review concluded that the existing network of places for nature was not sufficient to either halt the loss of biodiversity or to meet our natural capital needs. In response to this conclusion, the review’s core recommendation was that England needed more, bigger, better and joined up spaces for nature.

Sadly, this vision has still not been delivered in full. The past decade has seen deterioration in the condition of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) still lack the purposes, powers and resources needed to fulfil their potential to protect and restore nature within their boundaries. If not urgently addressed, this lack of progress in delivering bigger, better and joined up spaces for nature will mean the end of any chance of meeting nature recovery targets in England by 2030, undermining UK promises made at COP15.

Every year counts, and to uphold COP15 commitments at home, 2023 needs to see early, ambitious action to deliver better spaces for nature. There are two steps that can be taken straight away by your Government to implement key Making Space for Nature recommendations:

  • Amending the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill to deliver legislative reforms to purposes, duties and management for Protected Landscapes.

    The Glover Review of Protected Landscapes, building on Making Space for Nature conclusions, highlighted how National Parks and AONB were held back from delivering for nature and put forward a package of recommendations to address this. A number of these recommendations were accepted by the Government in their response to the review, including recognition of need for legislative reform. Ahead of the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill’s report stage in December, Sir Gary Streeter MP tabled amendments to the Bill which would have put these key recommendations and related reforms into law for National Parks. It was very disappointing that at Report Stage on 13.12.22 the Bill Minister failed to take this opportunity to legislate to deliver agreed commitments, merely stating that the Government was ‘‘continuing to consider how best to implement’’ the Glover review. Now that the Bill is in the Lords a further amendment to deliver Glover recommendations, both for National Parks and AONBs, has been tabled by Lord Randall, with cross-party support. This amendment must be accepted. There have been years of consideration of recommendations to improve protected landscapes for nature. It is now high time for delivery.

  • Adding a terrestrial protected sites condition target to the Environment Act targets.

    There is no target for the condition of designated nature sites in the package of Environment Act targets, despite the fact that the UK’s SSSI network (the last fragments of habitat that are most important for nature) are languishing in sub-standard condition, with just 38% in favourable status. This should be addressed by a direct target for at least 75% of SSSIs to be in favourable condition by 2042, with the remaining 25% showing evidence, based on monitoring, that SSSI features are making progress towards ecological recovery. Although the interim SSSI condition targets in the new Environmental Improvement Plan are a step forward, they are not legally binding and are no substitute for a headline target set under the Environment Act. The Environment Act gives Ministers the power to set new environmental targets at any time; a new terrestrial protected sites condition target should be set as soon as is practicable. The new Environmental Land Management (ELM) system of farming support, if properly structured and adequately funded (at least £2.4 billion per annum for the next five years), has the potential to help improve the condition of SSSIs in farmed landscapes. Improvements to SSSI condition assessments will also help to drive progress.

Your Government has made welcome COP15 commitments to net zero, to halt and reverse the decline in the abundance of species and to protect 30% of our land and sea by 2030. It must now complement these global promises with meaningful domestic delivery – starting with implementation of the above recommendations.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, Chair of Making Space for Nature

Julian Glover OBE, Chair of the Review of Protected Landscapes

Lord Cameron of Dillington, member of the Review of Protected Landscapes panel

Jim Dixon, CEO Peak District National Park 2003-2014, member of the Review of Protected Landscapes panel

Jake Fiennes, Director of Conservation at the Holkham Estate, member of the Review of Protected Landscapes panel

Professor Lord Krebs FRS, Department of Biology, University of Oxford Professor Julia Aglionby PhD, Professor in Practice, University of Cumbria

Dr Gail Austen, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent

Maxwell A. Ayamba BEM, Founder & Managing Director, Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM) and academic at University of Nottingham

Dr Cristina Banks-Leite, Reader in Conservation Ecology, Imperial College

Dr Joseph J. Bailey, Lecturer in Ecology, Conservation and Sustainability, Anglia Ruskin University Professor Tim Benton, Professor of Ecology, University of Leeds

Dr Stuart Connop, Associate Professor in Sustainability, Sustainability Research Institute, University of East London

Dr Charles Cunningham, Department of Biology, University of York

Prof Zoe Davies, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent

Prof Alastair Driver FCIEEM, Honorary Professor of Applied Environmental Management, University of Exeter

Dr Charlie Gardner, Associate Senior Lecturer, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent

Professor Kevin J. Gaston, Professor of Biodiversity & Conservation, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter

Dr Pippa Gillingham, Deputy Head of Department, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, Bournemouth University

Dr Mark Goddard, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University

Professor Dave Goulson, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex

Professor Richard D. Gregory, Head of Monitoring Conservation Science, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

Professor Rosie Hails MBE FRSB FRES, Science & Nature Director, National Trust

Professor Karen Jones, Professor of Environmental and Cultural History, School of History / Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent

Richard Lindsay, Head of Environmental and Conservation Research, Sustainability Research Institute University of East London

Dr Caroline Nash, Senior Research Fellow, Sustainability Research Institute, University of East London Dr Lisa Norton, Senior Scientist UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Professor Lois Mansfield, Director for the Centre for National Parks & Protected Areas, University of Cumbria

Professor David Macdonald CBE, WildCRU, Biology, University of Oxford

Dr Chloë Metcalfe, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London Professor Jesse O’Hanley, Professor of Environmental Systems Management, University of Kent Professor Nathalie Pettorelli, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London

Dr James Robinson, Director of Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Professor Christopher Short, Associate Professor in Environmental Governance, Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire

Professor Bob Smith, Director of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent David Stroud MBE, Former Chair of Ramsar Convention Science Panel and AEWA Technical Committee Professor Philip Warren, Emeritus Professor of Ecology, School of Biosciences, University of Sheffield Professor Michael Winter OBE, Glanely Professor of Agricultural Change, University of Exeter