What should a 25-year plan for nature look like?

In their election manifesto, the Conservatives set out a welcome ambition to develop a “25-year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity”, stating that they would work with the recommendations of the Natural Capital Committee “to ensure that both public and private investment in the environment is directed where we need it most”.

Since the election, little further detail has emerged about the shape of this 25-year plan. Conversely, the new Conservative administration has been strongly criticised by some environmental organisations for a number of decisions deemed antithetical to the Government’s stated aim of accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy and enhancing the state of the natural environment. Examples include the withdrawal of subsidies for renewable energy, the cancellation of the zero carbon homes plan, and the loosening of restrictions on fracking in protected areas.

In this context, making strong progress towards developing a robust, ambitious, integrated plan for the recovery of nature is a clear priority. One of the BES’s priorities for policy-making in this Parliament is that the value of the environment to human wellbeing and prosperity is recognised across government, and that this value is fully integrated into decision-making. With this in mind, we have joined with twenty-three other organisations to support Wildlife and Countryside Link’s recommendations for the essential components of a 25-year plan for the natural environment.

So what would a 25-year plan for the natural environment look like? Wildlife and Countryside Link have set out eleven key principles, suggesting that the plan must:

  • Set out a new vision for a thriving natural environment
  • Establish overarching goals for government for the protection and recovery of nature
  • Contain clear objectives and five year milestones with accountability to Parliament
  • Set the right institutional framework and align resources, for meeting environmental goals across Government
  • Build on existing policy and legislation
  • Ensure the terrestrial and marine planning systems enhance landscapes and nature, delivering an ecological network
  • Deliver for our seas as well as land
  • Support people working together for nature
  • Set out stronger safeguards for threatened species and habitats
  • Include the UK Overseas Territories and our impact on natural capital abroad
  • Have a statutory basis

Furthermore, it is recommended that the plan is developed and delivered in a cross-departmental manner, subject to a broad, open consultation, and is published within twelve months to avoid delaying action towards the Biodiversity 2020 targets.

As our recent Ecology Matters publication makes clear, ecological science has an important role to play in tackling many of the most pressing policy challenges at the interface between people and the environment, and there are a number of components within Wildlife and Countryside Link’s outline plan where ecological knowledge and solutions will be essential. Scientific advice will be integral to setting objectives and milestones against which the success of the plan will be measured, and for establishing monitoring programmes to effectively assess progress. Delivering a coherent ecological network of protected sites will need to build on the recommendations of the Lawton Report – more, bigger, better and joined – and ecological expertise and information will have a crucial role in enabling regulators and planning authorities to plan and manage “nature-positive” development and infrastructure.

The development of the 25-year plan for nature will be a key environmental policy issue of this Parliament, and could shape the direction of natural environment policy in the UK for years to come. We will be working with Wildlife and Countryside Link over the coming months to feed into their ambitions for the 25-year plan, and also engaging with the Government’s plans as they emerge. We are always keen to hear from members looking get involved with our policy work, so if you would like to contribute your evidence and ideas for a new vision for the natural environment and keep up to date with the latest developments, please get in touch.