No. The warning bells are ringing from all directions:

  • UK nations are all rated amongst the 12 worst in the world at protecting nature, with England the 7th worst - according to a shocking new report from the Natural History Museum with RSPB.
  • UK woodland cover is just 13% of our land area compared to a European average of 38%, and our uplands are nearly all bare, contributing to lowland flooding. Government plans to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland per year, but that’s such a small amount, it will take 10 years to increase woodland from 13% to just 14%.  
  • WWF reports that UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world
  • WWF warns the world of ecological collapse without bold action. The UK has an impact on many critical ecosystems around the world due to our international supply chains, and disposal of waste.
  • The RSPB’s report A Lost Decade for Nature calls for urgent action after the UK fails to deliver 14 out of 20 commitments to nature made under a UN biodiversity treaty in 2010.
  • RSPB's State of Nature Report warns that we have continued to allow nature to decline in the UK in the last decade, with 1 in 7 species facing extinction. 

We can hopefully all agree that protecting nature is important for its own sake, but nature is also inextricably bound up with climate change. Protecting and restoring nature is also part of the solution to climate change, with critical ecosystems like peat bogs, tidal marshes, forests and sea grasses able to absorb vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. We are currently destroying many of these environments and releasing CO2, making climate change even worse.

By passing the CEE Bill, the government would be making a legally-binding commitment to protect and restore nature, as well as formally recognising the inter-relationship with climate change in order to encourage joined-up thinking. There is no other proposed legislation that would protect important ecosystems like woodlands, peat bogs and wetlands.



Answer

The Government’s Environment Bill is sometimes held up as a solution to the crisis facing nature, but its main purpose is to tie up loose ends post-Brexit. It does not contain the kind of bold policy action needed to respond to the stark warnings from scientists. 

Over recent decades, we have witnessed an extraordinary decline in biodiversity and the ecosystem services essential to life. From pollination & natural flood prevention, to crop nutrition provided by soils, we depend on a healthy biosphere. Humankind is part of the circle of life, not outside of it. Yet for decades, human activity has outstripped safe planetary boundaries, resulting in what scientists now define as the arrival of the sixth mass extinction. Experts now warn of looming ecological collapse if policymakers fail to take emergency action - see World Wildlife Fund article.

In his foreword to report on biodiversity, the Dasgupta Review, (commissioned by the UK Government) David Attenborough says: 

“Today, we ourselves, together with the livestock we rear for food, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet. Only 4% is everything else – from elephants to badgers, from moose to monkeys. And 70% of all birds alive at this moment are poultry – mostly chickens for us to eat. We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.”

RSPB's State of Nature Report warns that despite the Government making a commitment to nature in 2010 as part of a UN biodiversity treaty (Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020), we have continued to allow nature to decline in the UK in the last decade, with 1 in 7 species facing extinction. RSPB’s Lost Decade Report explains how, ten years on from the UN treaty, the UK has failed on 14 of the 20 biodiversity commitments it made

The RSPB’s 2019 State of Nature report on the UK’s biodiversity states:

  • 41% of all UK’s species have declined since the 1970s 
  • 15% of species are at a very real risk of becoming extinct
  • 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost in the last century.  Read more from Kew Gardens on why wildflower meadows are so important.

 

Other statistics from the report can be found in this infographic

 

Some say that the UK’s woodland cover is so low (13% compared to 38% for Europe) because we are a densely populated country. But that is not correct. Other European countries do much better. Belgium, for example, has a higher population density 36% higher than the UK yet manages far higher woodland cover - 22% of land area.

 

There is nowhere near enough Government focus on this issue which is inextricably bound up with climate change.  The two need to be tackled together, with an appreciation of their interdependencies. This is why we need the CEE Bill to create a legal obligation to protect and restore nature, whilst ensuring that policies work hand in hand with those addressing climate change.

The good news is that nature can heal quickly if we just give it the chance. Read about the groundbreaking wilding project at the Knepp estate in Sussex.