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Nature Recovery To Be Accelerated As The Government Delivers On Measures To Protect Land And Sea

31st January 2024

Photograph of Nature Recovery To Be Accelerated As The Government Delivers On Measures To Protect Land And Sea

One year on since the publication of the Environmental Improvement Plan, the government launches new measures to halt and reverse nature's decline.

Puffins, porpoises, and pine martens are just some of the species set to benefit from new measures set out by the Government today (31 January) to boost nature recovery on land and at sea.

The new plans - announced one year on from the launch of the Environmental Improvement Plan - will see a permanent closure of the sandeel fisheries in English waters of the North Sea from April, further targeted restrictions on damaging bottom trawling and a new framework for national parks and protected areas to help them better deliver for nature.

Sandeels are a vital food source for some of our most vulnerable seabirds and marine mammals, such as the iconic puffin and harbour porpoise, and commercially important fish species such as haddock and whiting. This closure will bolster the resilience of these species and make space for nature to recover across our marine habitats.

Important pink sea fans, fragile sponges, anemones will also be further boosted with a targeted ban announced on bottom trawling in an additional 13 Marine Protected Areas.

To bring us closer to achieving the global goal to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, a new framework for National Parks and National Landscapes to help them better deliver for nature and access will also be published. This builds on the commitments the government set out at COP28, including a map which demonstrates which areas of land could contribute to the 30by30 target in England.

The framework will support our cherished Protected Landscapes and landowners to deliver our Environmental Improvement Plan targets including tree planting and peatland restoration which are essential for sequestering and storing carbon to mitigate the impacts of climate change while supporting biodiversity.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said:
We've made a lot of progress since we launched the Environmental Improvement Plan – we’ve planted nearly 5 million trees, improved public access to our beautiful countryside and accelerated the adoption of our world-leading farming schemes.

We are building on this progress with a new package to safeguard our marine ecosystems and bring us one step closer to achieving our 30by30 target, both on land and sea.

Protecting the environment is fundamental to the prosperity of our country and our new commitments will drive forward our mission to create a cleaner and greener country for all."

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said:
Restoring thriving ecosystems is a vital process, not only for meeting our national Nature recovery goals, but also for our food and water security, wellbeing and economic prosperity.

The measures set out by the government today will take us closer to meeting our ambitious 2030 targets, both on land and at sea. Natural England has played a key role over the last year delivering the commitments set out in the Environmental Improvement Plan and we look forward to continuing to work in close partnership with government to accelerate delivery on the ground.

Beccy Speight chief executive of the RSPB said, "Answering the RSPB’s call to end industrial Sandeel fishing, today’s announcement is a vital lifeline from our Government for our seabirds when they need it most. The UK is home to globally important seabird colonies, but these populations are at the forefront of the nature and climate emergency and are in significant decline, with their resilience being pushed to the limit.

To support the recovery of our seabirds, the RSPB has long recommended an end to industrial Sandeel fishing in UK waters to secure vital food sources for these amazing birds. A call that has been passionately backed by tens of thousands of our members and supporters when Defra launched a public consultation on the issue. Halting wildlife decline and putting nature on the path to recovery must be supported by a programme of Government actions and today’s announcement represents one of those jigsaw pieces, along with demonstrating that overwhelmingly the public supports these actions that enable nature’s recovery.

The government has also announced the recipients of £7 million of awards to improve lowland peat soils.

Peatlands are our largest terrestrial carbon store, however, as a result of centuries of drainage for agriculture, just 1% of England’s lowland peatlands remain in a near-natural state, and these drained peatlands account for 88% of all greenhouse gas emissions from England’s peat.

The 34 projects, spread across England’s lowland peat regions such as the Cambridgeshire Fens and Somerset Levels, will use government funding to improve the management of water on lowland peat and enhance understanding of climate change impacts and flood risk. They include projects that will use innovative technologies, such as telemetry, to precisely control water retention levels across the landscape.

Since the launch of the Environmental Improvement Plan a year ago, the government has delivered more than 50 commitments set out in the plan and the Environment Act. This includes:

Implementing a ban on single-use plastics

Planting nearly 5 million trees

Accelerating the Sustainable Farming Incentive and a launching further 34 new Landscape Recovery projects – putting us on track to have 70% of land in Environmental Land Management schemes by 2028

Launching a new species survival fund

Beginning the process of creating a new national park and forest for the nation

Significantly improving air quality with PM2.5 emissions down by 10%

Improving access to the countryside by opening up a further 245 miles of the King Charles III England Coast Path

Delivering on these commitments will ensure that our most important places, at the core of nature’s recovery, deliver for people and the planet. In doing so, we will create a natural world that is rich in diverse plants and wildlife and restored for future generations to enjoy.

It is due to UK leadership that the global target to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, known as 30by30 was adopted and these announcements today will further support that target and the historic agreement for nature reached by the UK and nearly 200 countries at the 2022 UN Biodiversity summit.