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We urgently need to protect England’s nature

26 July 2023

The Environment and Climate Change Committee has published its report on Protected Areas.


Nature is in decline in the UK: 41% of species have decreased in abundance since 1970.

In December 2022, the Government committed to an internationally agreed ’30 by 30’ target to protect 30% of our land and seas by 2030. However, an urgent step-change is needed if the Government is to deliver on this target.

Evidence shows that only around 6.5% of England is effectively protected for nature. More than 3,000,000 hectares are needed to achieve the 30 by 30 target: this equates to an area roughly one and a half times the size of Wales.

Improving nature in England would bring a host of co-benefits – including improvements to public health and wellbeing, as well as tackling climate change. Protected areas in England will play an important role in restoring nature and meeting internationally-agreed biodiversity targets.

Whilst welcoming the Government’s ambitions to meet the stretching target by 2030, the Committee’s report concludes that it is not clear how the Government plans to achieve ’30 by 30’, and that a major step change in its approach to protected areas is required to deliver the commitment it made.

Key recommendations

The Committee is calling on the Government to:

  • Create more protected areas, retaining all existing designations, whilst ensuring existing protected areas are better managed, to achieve favourable condition.
  • Confirm that areas should be protected for nature for more than 30 years to meet the ‘30 by 30’ criteria.
  • Put in place a management plan, with effective monitoring for protected areas on land based on an up-to date condition assessment which must be updated every six years.
  • Expand the current marine monitoring programme, both inshore and offshore, to develop a robust baseline of data that should be made publicly available.
  • Raise public awareness of local protected sites and communicate how they can play their role in protecting them, including unleashing and harnessing citizen science for data collection.
  • Use the next legislative opportunity to place a statutory duty on Natural England to monitor Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and ensure the resulting data is published.

Chair’s comments

The Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, Baroness Parminter, said:

“Our report makes it clear that the Government faces a huge challenge to meet the ‘30 by 30’ target it signed up to last year.

"The Government must designate more areas to be protected, meeting international criteria, and manage and monitor all protected areas better to achieve favourable condition.

"Time is running out to halt species decline and recover nature for the public good. We are therefore calling on the Government to act urgently as it has just seven crucial years to fulfil its nature crisis pledge.”

Further information