Is the UK Government on track for meeting its own targets for nature?

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Is the UK Government on track for meeting its own targets for nature?

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Earlier today, Defra with the support of the Office of National Statistics released two biodiversity indicators reports for 2015 (for the UK here and for England here).  These reports use government-approved data to help assess whether we are on track to meet targets for nature (such as the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi targets agreed in Nagoya in 2010 or the outcomes in the England Biodiversity Strategy).  

There is a huge amount of detail in these reports and I wish they triggered an annual parliamentary debate on the state of nature.  While the FTSE 100 Index is reported daily and is subject to regular media commentary, Defra releases these data with minimal fanfare.

The reports themselves provide first-rate overviews of biodiversity trends and the presentation of the information and the assessment itself are excellent. However it is hard not to be disappointed by the underlying messages and progress.

For example, the highest priority species for conservation, most birds, butterflies, bats and pollinating insects in the UK continue to decline, especially when you look the recent short-terms trends. The key objective for species (target 12) is to improve the conservation status of threatened species, but today's data suggest there is little evidence here that we are meeting this challenge.

In England, there is the depressing reality that the condition of our finest wildlife sites - Sites of Special Scientific Interest - is actually declining (see below).

Perhaps most alarmingly, the data show that fewer people are taking action for nature and public sector expenditure on UK biodiversity is declining.

The frustration is heightened by the fact that as a nation we are not short of expertise and a huge amount of effort is being invested (see here).   The only conclusion to be drawn is that our current approach, while good, is insufficient.   Our ambitions for nature simply need to be bigger, better and more joined up – to steal a phrase from Professor Sir John Lawton’s report on 'Making Space for Nature'.

The Government has committed to produce a 25 year plan to restore biodiversity in England, and this is, of course, welcome. But these indicators underline how urgent it is that words and aspirations are turned into action on the ground. We set out, with other NGOs, what we think should be in this plan here.

And lest we forget, all of this matters because nature underpins our prosperity, it provides our life-support system and we want our children and theirs to live in a world that is rich and diverse in amazing nature.

As there is so much in these reports, I shall probably return to these reports soon, but in the meantime...

What do you think these indicators say about the state of nature and how should we respond?

It would be great to hear your views.

  • Wendy - I am as frustrated as you at the lack of scrutiny/profile of these figures. I am determined to think about ways to do things differently when these emerge next year.

    Best wishes,

    Martin

  • You seem to be the only wildlife NGO boss who has commented on these latest figures. And, as if to exemplifiy what the report says, no one has commented  on this subject on your blog (apart from me)! I would be surprised in Springwatch is on the telly right now, with lots of "nature lovers"watching, but the trouble is they don't seemed concerned enough to: write to their MPs, make a fuss, protest, shout out, over our rapid loss of wildlife abundance and diversity. Maybe it is the lack of coverage in the media? I can't find any news coverage of that report apart from these basc.org.uk/.../shootings-contribution-to-biodiversity-keeps-growing rather dubious claims in a news release from BASC! Mabybe the wildlife NGOs need to increase their media presence?