Policy paper

Nature for people, climate and wildlife

Published 18 May 2021

Applies to England

The events of the last 12 months have led people to appreciate the difference that nature makes to our lives more than ever before. There is an increased awareness of the link between our own health, and economic prosperity, and that of the planet – as highlighted by the recent Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity. This link will be crucial as we seek to build back greener from this pandemic, and in what is a huge year for the environment we will use our COP26 and G7 presidencies to take a leading role on driving a global green recovery on the world stage.

Nature is a key pillar of our work as host of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. We were the first major economy in the world to set a net zero emissions target in law. To meet that target we must protect and restore nature, with nature-based solutions forming a key part of our approach to tackling climate change. We are also playing a leading role in developing an ambitious and transformative framework of new international goals for nature under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The announcements that we are making today (18 May 2021) set out many of the actions that the government will take in England to protect precious habitats and species in the terrestrial environment. They demonstrate how the government is investing in nature, as called for by the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity and as promised in the government’s recent Integrated Review. They will contribute to our wider environmental goals as set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan and to achieving Net Zero by 2050.

As a core part of our commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, we are announcing that 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. We will seek to turn the tide on biodiversity loss, underpinned by much of the work we are setting out below.

We hope that this world leading measure will be the Net Zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis. As part of this, we have announced that we will publish a Green Paper later in 2021, setting out how our protections framework might better deliver this and our wider domestic ambitions now that we have left the EU, such as protecting 30% of UK land by 2030.

Woodlands and peatlands are 2 of our largest natural climate-regulating ecosystem types; our climate change and biodiversity obligations require us to manage them both sustainably. We are launching Action Plans, supported by the £640 million Nature for Climate Fund, to expand and enhance woodland cover and to restore, protect and better manage peatland, which need to work hand in hand to form a key part of our Nature Recovery Network.

As well as improving these habitats for our native species, we want to expand the populations of some of our most threatened species, such as hen harrier and pine marten, and look into the feasibility of reintroducing those species we have lost, such as the golden eagle.

We should not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Over the last 50 years, much of the UK’s wildlife-rich habitat has been lost or degraded, and many of our once common species are in long-term decline.

Our landmark Environment Bill introduces a range of measures to support the creation of a Nature Recovery Network, including Local Nature Recovery Strategies, measures to increase investment in and action for nature, and Conservation Covenants. This goes hand in hand with our new agricultural policies. Our Environmental Land Management schemes - the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery – will pay farmers for environmentally sustainable actions, support local nature recovery and deliver landscape and ecosystem recovery. These schemes will help us to deliver our targets to restore nature.

As per the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, our action on nature will create new jobs and green existing jobs. The England Peat Action Plan alone is likely to create around 600 jobs largely in the North of England, significantly contributing to our wider levelling-up agenda.

Targets and guidance

Our landmark Environment Bill is on track to be on the statute book by autumn 2021, ahead of COP26. We will set a new legally binding biodiversity target under its targets’ framework. The actions outlined in this set of announcements will be key to delivering that target.

We will also go further and introduce a specific duty to set a target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of species in England. To recover species, we’ll work on habitats both within protected sites and in the wider countryside and urban areas. A single target for 2030 will drive wide-ranging improvements to the state of nature. We will refine this target alongside the longer term legally binding targets we are already developing and set the final target in secondary legislation, following the agreement of global targets at the UN Nature Conference CBD COP15 in autumn 2021.

The 2030 target goes hand-in-hand with other actions to create real global change for our environment. We are driving a world-leading programme of environmental reform. This includes playing a leading role in developing a far-reaching and transformative framework for biodiversity to be adopted at CBD COP15 later this year and driving forward the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, alongside our own domestic 30 by 30 target.

This is why we are taking a power in the Environment Bill to re-focus the Habitats Regulations to ensure our legislation adequately supports our ambitions for nature, including our new world leading targets, rather than remaining tied to legacy EU legislation. We have already set out some important changes in the Environment Bill to switch the focus to nature recovery. We have the requirement for new environmental targets including on biodiversity and water quality; a requirement for an Environment Improvement Plan; Local Nature Recovery Strategies supported with new funding under biodiversity net gain; and Natural England are making progress with a more strategic approach to nature recovery through their support for delivering the Nature Recovery Network. We will also be exploring ways to make Site Improvement Plans on protected sites and the Local Nature Recovery Strategies more prominent in decision-making processes.

We will take a measured approach to reform. We will also consult with the new Office for Environmental Protection and conservation groups on any proposals we develop before any regulatory changes are made. In addition, later this year, we plan to bring forward a Green Paper setting out how we plan to deliver this, as part of our objective of protecting 30 percent of terrestrial land by 2030.

England Peat Action Plan

With only 13% of our peatland in a near-natural state, the England Peat Action Plan sets out our plans to restore, sustainably manage and protect our peatlands. We intend to invest over £50 million in peatland restoration as part of the Nature for Climate Fund. This will enable us to restore at least 35,000 ha of peatland by 2025, supported by our new Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme. This represents a tripling in average historic rates of annual restoration, providing a strong foundation for long-term investment.

Peatlands are our biggest terrestrial carbon store and home to some of our rarest species, including bitterns, swallowtail butterfly, carnivorous sundews, hen harriers and short-eared owls. In the UK it is estimated that there are over 3 billion tonnes of carbon stored in peatlands, equivalent to all of the carbon stored in the forests of the UK, Germany and France combined. Healthy peatlands can help us adapt to the effects of climate change. Restored upland peatland reduces flood risk, storing water and releasing it over a longer period of time and reducing high flows downstream during rainstorms. We will set a target for peatland restoration as part of the forthcoming Net Zero Strategy which will be compliant with the route to meet Carbon Budget 6.

A new Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme has just been launched and will include planning grants and annual bidding opportunities. We have invested £2.7 million in the Great North Bog, a landscape approach to restoration across nearly 7,000KM2 of upland peat in the Protected Landscapes of northern England.

We are outlining the action that we will take to phase out the most damaging practices to our peatland. We are phasing out managed burning on protected peatlands and reducing the risk of wildfire. We have brought forward legislation to introduce new restrictions on managed burning on protected blanket bog, with a ban on burning unless covered by a licence in limited circumstances granted by the Secretary of State. This is protecting some 142,000ha of England’s upland deep peat. We will also phase out the use of peat in horticulture, publishing a consultation in 2021 on banning the sale of peat and peat containing products in the amateur sector by the end of this Parliament.

In areas like the Pennines, we will be developing incentives under the future agriculture policy to support projects that deliver both the capital required to achieve the re-wetting of land, coupled with maintenance payments to preserve it for the future.

Our Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force is coordinating work and developing new solutions to manage peatlands that are important for food and farming – to retain peat topsoil for as long as possible and reduce emissions. By summer 2022, we will have recommendations for a more sustainable future – including better regulation, and the possibility of new schemes that reward farmers and land managers for producing public goods or from carbon credits.

England Trees Action Plan

Our England Trees Action Plan outlines measures to better protect our existing trees and woodland and set us on the path to ensure that we have at least 12% woodland cover by the middle of the century, supported by over 80 announcements knitting together to create a comprehensive plan of action.

It is our ambition that all woodlands in England will improve the environment, acknowledging that our woods and trees are vital habitats as well as important for sequestering carbon. This plan aims to see current planting trends for majority native broadleaf woodlands continue, given the additional benefits they provide for nature. England’s woodlands will be managed and created for biodiversity and other environmental benefits, along with providing a sustainable source of hardwood and softwood timber for use in construction and other wood products. These are an effective carbon store and we expect to see increased demand for timber as we transition to a green economy.

Over £500 million of the £640 million Nature for Climate Fund is dedicated to trees. We aim to treble woodland creation rates by the end of this Parliament, reflecting England’s contribution to meeting the UK’s overall target of planting 30,000 hectares per year by the end of this Parliament. We will make sure that the right trees are planted in the right places, that trees and woodlands are better protected, that more green jobs are created in the forestry sector and that people have greater access to trees and woodlands.

From that £500 million, a series of funds will support the creation and management of woodland. This includes £25 million for Woodland Creation Partnerships this year, a further £6 million for the Urban Tree Challenge Fund for the next two years, a £2.7 million Local Authority Treescape Fund over the next year, and substantial funding for the England Woodland Creation Offer which will launch this spring. This will support traditional methods of tree establishment, as well as natural colonisation, agroforestry and critically riparian planting, with new riverwoods providing corridors for biodiversity as well as flood prevention benefits

We will create at least 3 new community forests which, together with existing community forests, will enable the establishment of 6,000 hectares of new woodland around our towns and cities by 2025, building on the 500 hectares planted in the last year. We will also develop the evidence bases for different methods of expansion and introduce a new category of ‘long established woodland’ on which we will consult on the protections afforded to them in the planning system. We will provide significant funding between now and 2025 to build nursery capacity – supporting UK public and private sector nurseries and seed suppliers to enhance the quantity, quality, diversity, and biosecurity of domestic tree production.

We will create a new Centre for Forest Protection and develop a Woodland Resilience Implementation Plan to improve the ecological condition of woodlands and increase resilience to climate change, pests and disease. To drive higher international standards of biosecurity, we will publish a new Great Britain Plant Biosecurity Strategy by 2022. This will be supported by a Trees and Woodland Science Advisory Group which will provide independent scientific advice.

We want to upskill the current supply chain, so we will encourage sector engagement with government schemes, charities and businesses to develop new technical, higher technical and professional education routes into the forestry sector, improve links with allied sectors, and create a new Forestry Skills Action Plan for England.

We will create an Impact Fund to leverage private finance into new natural capital markets. In addition, we will develop a Woodland Water Code which will act as a crediting mechanism for water quality to encourage private investment in riparian planting.

We also want people to be involved in our ambitious plans, and that is why we are encouraging everyone to get involved in the Queen’s Green Canopy, a unique, UK-wide tree planting initiative created to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, by inviting people to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee”.

To consider how the quantity, quality and permanency of public access can be improved in new and existing woodlands, we are developing a Woodland Access Implementation Plan. Our wellbeing is dependent on nature, and access to it has never been so important.

Species reintroduction

We want to see a more nature rich Britain, with further action to bend the curve of species loss in this country. We will recover threatened species and continue to provide opportunities for successful reintroductions such as white-tailed eagle to the Isle of Wight, pine marten in the Forest of Dean, and restoring populations of hen harrier and curlew.

Building on this, we will work towards further potential reintroductions. A partnership project between Natural England, the RSPB and the Knepp Estate and will look at the feasibility of reintroducing the red-backed shrike as breeding birds in England. We will undertake a feasibility study for the reintroduction of Golden Eagle to England.

After a successful release in Devon, we are now looking positively towards the reintroduction of beaver and further releases of this iconic species in England. Our consultation, to be issued this summer, will outline our approach to this, and the management of beaver in the wild. We will particularly consider reintroductions where the benefits are clear, there are strong partnerships and agreement from stakeholders. Our approach will acknowledge the potential of beavers as a keystone species whilst working closely with local communities.

We will establish an England Species Reintroduction Taskforce which will bring together experts, landowners and NGOs to prioritise, share knowledge, find consensus and build collaborative projects, toward a more ambitious approach to recovering and restoring iconic species in England. It will consider reintroductions of iconic species we have lost entirely, such as wildcat, as well as the release of declining species, such as curlew, into areas from which they have been lost to help populations recover.

It is important that reintroductions are carried out properly and fully take biodiversity, social and economic impacts into account. That is why we will publish a Reintroductions Code of best practice guidance, emphasising our commitment to seeing good quality projects delivering for species reintroductions. The code will provide guidelines for anyone considering reintroductions or other conservation translocations.

This work will complement the action that we are already taking on species through the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which is supporting projects that create and restore priority habitats, recover threatened native species, reverse species decline and increase the diversity and populations of insect pollinator species.

Next steps

The actions set out for peat, trees and species represent a huge step forward in our efforts to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss in the terrestrial environment, but they are by no means the full extent of our ambition for nature.

We are also taking action elsewhere, extending and enhancing our protected areas to protect 30% of our land and sea by 2030; introducing planning, partnerships and financing for nature’s recovery; and acting on pressures that drive nature’s loss. We are in a strong position to drive investment into nature-based solutions. We will continue to explore opportunities to build and strengthen our approach to climate change and to reverse biodiversity loss. This will be a shared endeavour, across government, business and society to ultimately deliver our new target for 2030 aiming to halt the decline in nature.

We will continue to develop clear indicators to track progress with our commitments for nature, so we understand how they are contributing to our ambitions for net zero and halting biodiversity loss. We will also drive international ambition and action on nature at the CBD COP15 and the G7, and on nature-based solutions at COP26.

This is all part of delivering our goal of leaving the environment in a better state for future generations.