Government response to the Protected Landscapes Review
The BES policy team responded to a consultation on proposed reforms to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England in April. Here we outline our suggestions for how reforms could more effectively drive nature recovery.
A key part of the UK environmental policy this decade is the aim to protect 30% of UK land and seas by 2030, the ‘30×30’ target. This is certainly welcome, yet, as we explain in our recently published report, Protected Areas and Nature Recovery: Achieving the goal to protect 30% of UK land and seas for nature by 2030, its success largely depends upon how it is implemented.
National Parks (NPs) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are crucial for the achievement of 30×30, and how effective it will be for protecting and promoting the recovery of nature. Published in September 2019, the Landscapes review: National Parks and AONBs (also known as the Glover Review) set out 27 proposals for reforming England’s system of National Parks and AONBs, so that they deliver greater benefits for both nature and people. The Government published a response to this in January 2022, which accepted some of these and set out proposed reforms. The BES policy team responded to a consultation on this response, highlighting the parts we agree with, the parts we don’t, and made suggestions for how reforms could more effectively drive nature recovery.
Our position on the role of protected landscapes in 30×30
In the BES report we argue that as things stand, protected landscapes should not count towards 30×30 because they are not currently effective at protecting nature, let alone fostering nature recovery and biodiversity increase, due to their vulnerability to human land use and other similar pressures. This stems from the fact that these areas were not specifically designated for biodiversity, and other purposes often take precedence. This aligns with the Government position set out in their response to the landscapes review.
We support the Government’s proposal to strengthen the first purpose of protected landscapes, which guides their function for nature. This would change the emphasis from protection of nature to its recovery, shift focus to nature outcomes that specifically mention biodiversity, and incorporate the societal value of nature by including valuation of natural capital and ecosystem services. Any strengthening of purpose must be accompanied by increases in resources. Protected landscapes have existing governance structures that provide them with an advantage when it comes to effectively protecting nature. For England to build upon the foundations by reforming the focus of National Parks and AONBs, it needs to increase the budgets of managing authorities.
We approve of the Government’s commitment ‘to create a single set of statutory purposes for AONB teams and National Parks Authorities, providing a more consistent and unified statutory framework for all protected landscapes’. Given the geography and spatial extent of AONBs, their contributions to ecosystem functioning alongside ecological restoration and connecting people to nature could be immense. Although, like NPs, they are currently failing to realise this and have even less resources to achieve their current objectives, never mind expanded ones.
Changing the approach
As part of our response to this consultation, the BES sets out some general principles that could be used to improve the management of protected landscapes and protected sites.
A move from protecting to recovering nature
If we want nature to thrive and biodiversity to increase, recovering what has been lost is vital. Otherwise, by ‘protecting nature’, we will only be defending what is left, and England only has a Biodiversity Intactness Index of 47%.
Integrating feature-based and ecosystem-based approaches
By implementing this dual approach, the focus shifts to preserving the full range of interactions within an ecosystem and attending to specific species or habitats which require more attention. The value in doing both is that protecting a specific species or habitat often requires the protection or restoration of the ecosystems they depend upon.
From actions to outcomes
We need to know if the actions taken to help nature recover are actually effective. Therefore, the success of our efforts should be based on long term data that tells us whether actions taken had successful or unsuccessful outcomes.
The BES also suggested some specific mechanisms that could be implemented to improve the biodiversity of protected landscapes:
- Apply the Sandford Principle, meaning that conservation interests take priority by default over other considerations if an irreconcilable conflict arises between these purposes.
- Greater community involvement to improve the effectiveness of protected landscapes, by encouraging the protection of Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) and other designated sites within them.
- Implement Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs).
- Environmental Land Management Schemes that are replacing the EU Common Agricultural Policy, could provide enhanced levels of environmental subsidy payments for farmers in protected landscapes. 3-year agreements are not sufficient to provide significant and lasting biodiversity benefits.
The above measures, if put into practice via regulations and incentives and devised in consultation with stakeholders, could become powerful tools that support effective management measures. Protected landscape authorities must have the resources and the power to deliver their obligations to protect biodiversity. For instance, they could help to mitigate potential negative effects of tourism, such as disturbance of ground-nesting birds and livestock by dog-walkers, whilst allowing people to connect with these landscapes.
30×30 for nature and people
At the BES, we are committed to acknowledging inequality, addressing disparities in access to ecological careers and nature experiences, and also to valuing diversity. Therefore, we support the Government’s commitment to remove barriers to, and disparities in, accessing nature in protected landscapes. This is important for people and for effective conservation in protected landscapes.
As part of this, in our consultation response we suggest a stronger integration of the strengthened first and second purposes of protected landscapes to reduce conflicts, and also allow people to engage with nature. Programmes to promote nature recovery and connect people and places should be co-designed with a diverse set of stakeholders. The methods used on the ground to achieve the goals set out in policy should be discussed with the people that will be affected, meaning decisions can be made with a better awareness of the outcomes.
This is a period of significant change in UK environmental policy, and the BES policy team is working to communicate up-to-date ecological evidence to the people who are designing the reforms. If you would like to be involved, then please get in touch!
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