A new legally-binding target for restoring species abundance by 2030 has been described by the government as "net zero for nature" and a bid to halt the decline of the natural world.
The environment minister George Eustice made the announcement yesterday at an event held by The Wildlife Trusts, and where he outlined several other new environmental initiatives, including a ban on peat compost to amateur gardeners.
To recover species, Eustice said habitats both within protected areas and the wider countryside will be restored under new long-term “legally-binding targets” for 203o.
“Today we will be amending the Environment Bill to require an additional legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature,” he said. “We hope that this will be the Net Zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis.”
Sales of peat compost to gardeners will be phased out by the end of this parliament (2024), Eustice announced, alongside a new £50 million government grant scheme to restore the UK’s peat bogs.
Peatlands are the country’s biggest on land peat store, and are home to rare species including bitterns, swallowtail butterfly and hen harriers. While they are powerful carbon stores, misuse or degradation due to agriculture or other uses can reverse this potential and turn bogs into significant carbon emitters.
The new peat fund will restore 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025, Eustice said, but the announcement of both peat initiatives has been criticised for being too far in the future.
“The announcement today of a potential peat ban is welcome – but the timeline is not,” the Wildlife Trusts tweeted. “A ban on sales to gardeners is long overdue and must happen as soon as possible – and definitely before 2024.”
Elsewhere, the government announced a series of new schemes for tree planting, including “at least three new community forests”, which it said will enable the planting of 6,000 hectares of new woodland around towns and cities by 2025,
It also wants to explore the possibility of rewilding via a partnership project between Natural England, the RSPB and the Knepp Estate to look at reintroducing the red backed shrike as breeding birds in England, a feasibility study for reintroduction of Golden Eagle in England, and replicating a successful reintroduction of beavers.
“After a successful release in Devon, we are now looking positively towards the reintroduction of beavers and further releases of this iconic species in England,” Eustice added.
In conclusion, he said: “If we do all of these things then we will leave our environment in a better state for future generations – and we will succeed in turning the tide on the decline that we have seen in recent decades.”
Soil Association chief executive Helen Browning warned there is a need to ‘join the dots’ between the government’s new nature ambitions, along with farm subsidy reform and post Brexit support, as a greater vision for land usage.
“Today’s announcements are an important step to halt the decline of our natural world,” she said. “Measures to increase tree planting and woodlands across England and to protect and restore our fragile peatland are critical to address the climate crisis, while reversing loss of wildlife.
“How this ambition is implemented will determine its likelihood of success. Doing the right things in the right places is essential, and ensuring farmers, foresters and land managers are equipped and supported to be at the forefront of this crucial reversal of the climate and nature crises will be key to success.”