The UK government is failing to deliver on promises to improve England’s environment as wildlife declines at a “wateringly high” rate, according to its watchdog.
In 2018, ministers pledged to b 25 year plan To protect and leave the UK’s natural environment In better condition than when the government found it. They identified a set of priorities, including abundance of wildlife species and their habitats, air and water quality, access to the natural world, waste management, resource use management, and pollution reduction.
Progress on all of this has been promised as part of a series of five-year plans to improve the environment. But in assessing their progress, the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) – A monitoring agency was set up to supervise the targets – has been found:
Species abundance is in ‘ruthless’ decline, despite a pledge to halt wildlife decline by 2030.
Of the 23 environmental targets examined, it was clear that the government was not on the right track on any of them.
On 14 of the goals, they were ruled visibly off course.
The government even fails to collect data on several key areas.
Only 38% of sites of special scientific interest are in ‘favorable condition’, with ‘little’ progress in this regard over the past decade.
Agriculture policy failed to focus on the environment.
There is no common approach across government.
Only limited progress in improving air quality, and moves to reduce emissions, in part in response to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Concerns about plans to scrap EU laws that could reduce environmental protections.
Wildlife in particular was experiencing severe decline, said Ms. Glennis Stacey, head of the OEP. She said the abundance of the species was a particular concern, as it was “pivotal” to any assessment of the UK’s environmental performance. “Species decline stands out – the rate of decline is inexorable,” she said. “This needs a lot of intervention, and it’s absolutely needed.”
Stacey said the government was not keeping up with its agricultural policies – the Environmental land management schemes – With its biodiversity or its water targets and clean air. “Farmers play a crucial role, and we really have to build on that,” she added.
Ruth Chambers, senior fellow at Greener UK, a coalition of 10 large environmental organisations, said the government must act urgently. “The new green vigilante does not pull punches. Ministers need to make tackling the nature and climate crises a priority. That means more resources, greater focus and better coordination.
Richard Benwell, the NGO’s chief executive, added that more funding was also needed wild animals and rural link. “To stop the decline of nature, the days of bland wish lists and back-of-the-couch funding for nature policy must end. The Environment Improvement Plan needs scientifically sound delivery plans to stop the decline in wildlife, backed by the financing to make it happen.
Benuel said there was a lack of coordination among the government, and warned of the implications of repealing the EU law. The Ministry of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) could not succeed in restoring nature while the Ministry of Settlement, Housing and Communities faltered on planning reform and the Ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy pressed on the “destroyer”. The agenda for deregulation of the EU bill is being held,” he said. “The prime minister should sponsor the environmental improvement plan and mobilize the whole government to implement it.”
The public is losing out as a result of government inaction, said Paul de Zelva, a senior nature activist for Friends of the Earth. “Improving our natural world is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for our health and our economy,” he said. “Rather than focusing on the sustainable actions needed to build a greener future, ministers seem obsessed with abandoning existing standards despite promises of tougher environmental protections.”
The government said this week that the next five-year improvement plan will be published by the end of this month. It will include a policy statement of environmental principles, which will require an assessment of all relevant government policies in relation to their environmental impact.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Since the publication of the 25-Year Environment Plan in 2018, we have funded new nature restoration projects spanning over 120,000 hectares. [300,000 acres], increased our tree planting rates and started working to restore our peatlands on a landscape scale. Our international efforts through our presidency of Cop26 and leadership in Cop15 also put nature at the center of addressing the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said: “For the government’s environmental watchdog to publish such a scathing assessment shows the extent of the environmental damage caused by 13 years of Tory government. The environment secretary, after only three months in office, has already taken the situation from Dreary to outright dangerous, by violating its environmental targets and declaring a plan to inflict more toxic air and dump sewage, for longer. The Tories have clearly given up on governance.”