Bolder action needed to meet the crucial 2030 nature recovery targets

With less than six years left to meet the UK Government’s legally binding commitments to halt the decline of species in England by 2030, the upcoming General Election is a crucial one for nature. Whichever party is elected to power on 4 July, we need to see an ambitious vision, backed up by funding and immediate action, to ensure nature’s recovery.

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Aerial view of a field with a large patch of yellow wildflowers growing next to the hedgerow
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Nature is in crisis and time is running out to save it

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth. We’ve seen 38 million birds disappear from our skies in the last 50 years, 97% of our wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s and our woodland cover is some of the lowest in Europe.  

Nature is the life support system on which we all depend – it gives us the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat – so those in power should be doing all they can to protect and restore it, but sadly that’s not the case. For decades, under successive governments of various parties, nature has continued to decline.

A Tawny Owl perched in a hollowed out tree.

The UK Government risks missing its own targets to restore nature

The Environment Act, which came into law in 2021, means that the UK Government has a legal requirement to halt the decline in the abundance of species in England by 2030. That deadline is fast approaching and yet a raft of scientific reports, including the State of Nature Report 2023 show that nature is still in decline, with a shocking one is six species now at risk of extinction from Great Britain.

The UK Government’s official watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has been highly critical of the UK Government’s progress. In its most recent report in January 2024, it warns that the Government ‘remains largely off track to meet its environmental ambitions and must speed up and scale up efforts in order to achieve them’.

We’re deeply concerned by this lack of progress and by the inadequacy of the current Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) to clearly set out the ambitious and timely actions needed to meet nature recovery targets. We believe that these plans are falling short of legal requirements for nature and that the damning OEP report should have been enough to prompt a review and upgrade of the EIP to ensure nature’s recovery by 2030.

That’s why we support the decision of Wildlife and Countryside Link – a coalition of 82 organisations, of which we are a member – to seek answers from the UK Government about why it hasn’t reviewed its EIP, and to investigate potential legal avenues to address this. The decision to begin legal proceedings was made, and endorsed by RSPB Trustees, before the General Election was called.  Whoever forms the next UK Government, we will continue to work with our partners to hold them to account to these targets.   

A Honey Bee feeder on a lavender flower

The clock is ticking…

With less than six years to go until 2030, the clock is ticking – but there’s still time to turn things around, and that will be the responsibility of whichever party wins the General Election this July. At present, none of the main political parties have presented a plan capable of meeting the UK’s legally binding nature targets. We need them all to prioritise nature’s recovery and to set out clear, deliverable actions to tackle the nature and climate crisis.

Three Puffins on the cliffs on Lundy Island

Nature CAN bounce back

The good news is that nature has shown time and again that, when given the chance, it can bounce back. Take the recovery of Cirl Buntings for example. These little birds were once common on farmland in southern England but suffered huge declines and by 1989 there were just 118 pairs left in the UK.

We carried out research to try to get to the bottom of these declines and discovered that the move towards more intensive farming practices was depriving Cirl Buntings of food sources and nesting sites. So, in a bid to bring the buntings back from the brink, we worked alongside with farmers and landowners in Devon to restore vital farmland habitats for the remaining birds – and it worked! By 2003, there were nearly 700 pairs.

But we wanted to do more. One population in Devon simply wasn’t enough; Cirl Buntings don’t travel far from home and were unlikely to spread of their own accord. So we joined forces with Natural England and other partners to reintroduce Cirl Buntings to Cornwall. Between 2006 and 2011 around 60 hand-reared Cirl Buntings were released each year and in 2007 they bred in Cornwall for the first time in 15 years. Now there are more than 1,000 pairs in the UK and the population is self-sustaining.

The spectacular recovery of Cirl Buntings clearly shows that nature can thrive when given the right support. What we need now is for the next UK Government to set the vision, budget and direction of travel, and to spur on faster and more widespread action.

A Cirl Bunting with an insect in its beak, perched on the top of a large, yellow sunflower head.

What nature needs

We know that action from the Government in a few key areas could help turn nature’s fortunes around and make a significant contribution towards meeting the 2030 nature recovery targets.

As custodians of 70% of the UK’s land, farmers have a crucial role to play in protecting and restoring nature. We want to see the UK’s agriculture budget doubled, so that farmers have the support they need to farm in a wildlife-friendly way. And with just 8% of seas and 3% of land currently protected for nature, the Government must expand and improve protected areas to ensure nature’s recovery.

Aerial view of a field growing crops.

We all need to play our part

Decisive action by the next government is vital, but it’s equally important for each and every one of us to play our part in tackling the nature and climate crisis. We encourage you to raise your concerns about nature with political party candidates and canvassers over the coming weeks – you’ll find lots of advice to help you speak up for nature here.

And if you’re able, please join the RSPB, other NGOs, campaigners and nature lovers from across the UK at the Restore Nature Now march in London on 22 June. With your help, we can make it the biggest ever march for nature and demonstrate the strength of nature’s voice.

People protesting holding banners and smiling.
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