Government hails ‘net zero for nature’

Government ramps up efforts to restore nature with new legal targets for species abundance, a ban on peat compost to gardeners and rewilding plans.

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.”

A ban on peat compost for gardeners has been in discussion for years. Image Bernd Thaller. 

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.”


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  1. Whilst I am thankful for these initiatives and I can only hope that they are implemented, the cynic in me looks to new planning intentions and wonders why both government and state fail to see the interconnectedness of climate change in their policy making and implementation and would rather ‘sound-bite’ and ‘dog-whistle’ for political and profit gain….but then that is the way of the world, regardless of whatever party politics one supports.

  2. I can’t believe there is still a discussion about peat. I thought it had been banned years ago.

    And as for the government’s commitment to tree-planting! It’s all lies. They plant saplings while at the same time destroying ancient woodland which has been shown to sequester up to 37% more carbon. And the number of trees they are claiming to plant include commercial plantations which will be cut down in 20 years time! Why don’t they just admit they have no interest in the environment unless it means big pay-offs for themselves and their friends.

    1. you are absolutely right. Whatever they say, it is never to happen (if at all) until the distant future. And they go on about protecting habitats, while destroying vast tracts of land for HSTwo. Veggisan is right; without big payoffs for them or their mates, nothing will happen. I thought Carrie was supposed to be an environmentalist, and to be a big influence on the PM. There are no signs of this. Rather the opposite; her interior decoration is about show, not environmental friendliness.

  3. I guess I will follow the same thread I see running through the comments from others. It seems to me the gov’ts we get say all these wonderful things and make promises but don’t set out what they intend to do to achieve them. And its always a number of years down the line. I would be reassured of their good intent if the peat ban was coming in at least by the end of 2021!

  4. As a retailer grower we haven’t used or sold peat since 2014 but we are very much the exception and it has come at a price in lost sales.

    Unfortunately, although a peat ban has been proposed many times during my 40+ years in horticulture there has never been any real intent to actually go ahead and do it.

    Over the years gardeners have benefited from low cost multipurpose compost and cheap grow-bags – it is this that has kept peat sales strong and is the same argument supermarkets use when they pump products full of sugar and fat – customer demand.

    The point is that good quality peat free compost is more expensive to produce and its unlikely that producers will be able to keep up with demand – they certainly haven’t this year.

    So the choice is pay more and use less or carry on using peat.

    1. Hi chilting, really good to get that commercial perspective on what this means for growers. Great to hear that you are leading positive change, despite the challenges faced.

  5. When I went to buy my annual bag of peat-free potting compost for my tomatoes and courgettes, there was only one type available at the garden centre, and at least ten that contained peat and were less than half the price. Worse still, it wasn’t stored with the others but in a different area. I had to ask especially for it. If we want to stop using peat before 2024 there is no point in waiting for government edicts. We must educate gardeners – who almost by definition are interested in the environment – to stop buying compost containing peat. We just have to keep ‘banging on’ about it to everybody all the time. Riverford and the RHS are doing a great job with this but we need to spread the message to all gardeners, and to all the people who supply them.

  6. A real ‘sea change’ is needed where not just meeting but exceeding our climate change targets should now be at the heart of all policy making. More people than ever want this, it is time for governments to catch up.

  7. Veggisan, you are spot on in saying that ancient woodland is irreplaceable, supporting complex biodiversity. With so little ancient woodland left, it should be protected as a matter of urgency.


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