Top 10 issues for The Wildlife Trusts and nature’s recovery in 2023

In 2023, The Wildlife Trusts will call on the Government to ensure that nature is able to recover by…

In 2022 we witnessed first-hand the impacts of a warming world on nature in the UK, with devastating wildfires and extended periods of drought putting nature under increasing pressure. Research also revealed that global wildlife populations have seen a catastrophic 69% drop on average since 1970. In 2023, action to restore our natural world is more urgent than ever.

Last year, there was an unprecedented attack on nature from a raft of dangerous decisions by the Liz Truss Government. Although much of what we were concerned about has since been scrapped, the Government’s ‘Bulldozer Bill’ – officially called the Retained EU Law Bill – is still hurtling its way through Parliament. It threatens to rip up over a thousand laws that protect the environment by the end of this year.

2022 also saw the Government commit to a range of new environment targets – including new legally-binding targets under the Environment Act and an international agreement at the UN Nature Conference COP15 in December. With less than seven years to meet their target to halt nature’s decline by 2030, the Government’s New Year’s resolution must be to end their culture of delay and get cracking with their long ‘to-do’ list from last year.  In doing so, it is not just nature that will reap the benefits. Our health gets a boost too, through cleaner air and water, and neighbourhoods enjoying access to natural green space.

In 2023, The Wildlife Trusts will call on the Government to ensure that nature is able to recover by:

  1. Scrapping the Retained EU Law Bill – This Bill, which is scheduled to be debated by MPs early in the new year, threatens to wipe away thousands of crucial laws which protect wildlife by the end of 2023. To stop the attack on nature, the Government must bin this Bill. See The Wildlife Trusts call on the Government to bin the ‘Bulldozer Bill’.
  1. Ensuring new farm schemes (ELMs) reward farmers for benefits to society – With further detail on new ELM schemes expected in the coming weeks, The Wildlife Trusts want to see a clear departure from the old agri-environment schemes and much more generous support for farmers to restore nature, reduce pesticide use and adapt to climate change. See Scale of nature and climate crises undermined by low ambition farm payments.
  1. Setting a clear plan to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 – Little progress has been made on the Government’s 30×30 target, with just 3.22% of England’s land effectively protected for nature. January’s expected Environmental Improvement Plan needs to set out how this target will be met, including consulting on a new legally binding target to improve the state of our protected sites. See No real progress made on protecting 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.
  1. Publishing a proper set of government policies to address climate change – The revised Net Zero Strategy is due out before the end of March and the first of the revised National Adaptation Plans (for England) is due in the summer. Both sets of plans are not yet strong enough to ensure meaningful action is taken to address the climate crisis and neither has adequately represented nature to date. See The UK isn’t prepared for climate change – Inside track.
  1. Taking urgent action on river pollution to protect wildlife and clean up England’s waterways – Tackling agricultural pollution, which accounts for around 40% of waters failing ecological standards, should be prioritised alongside an ongoing focus on water industry pollution. See Are delayed water plans ‘too little, too late’?
  1. Reviewing planning reform so that it sets clear and strong rules to protect nature – The current reviewof the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) must strengthen protections for Local Wildlife Sites and create a new Wildbelt designation to ensure nature’s recovery and provide access to nature for all.  See Planning changes – England needs a Wildbelt to protect land in recovery.
  1. Designating Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) – HPMAs will give stronger levels of protection to allow nature to fully recover at sea. The Government has until 6 July 2023 to designate new pilot HPMAs. See New Highly Protected Marine Areas shortlisted.
  1. Setting a presumption against development of offshore wind farms in designated sites – Offshore wind has a huge impact on sea life, marine habitats and the blue carbon they store. With less than 20% of our Marine Protected Areas in ‘recovering’ or ‘favourable’ conservation status and a significant increase in offshore wind generation expected, The Wildlife Trusts want to see a presumption against development for these sites. See Energy Security Bill – 2nd Reading Briefing.
  1. Banning the import, sale and extraction of peat products – By the end of the year, The Wildlife Trusts want to see a full retail ban on the sale of bagged peat compost, alongside a plan to restore all bogs damaged by the removal of peat to recognise the incredible role they play in tackling climate change and preventing flooding. See Devastating climate impact of using peat in UK horticulture revealed.
  1. Recognising the vital role that nature plays in our health and education – By renewing commitments and outlining progress towards the introduction of a Natural History GCSE, ready for a first teach of September 2025 – and by securing funding for Green Prescribing for Mental Health pilots up until March 2025.