Global Agriculture

Government pledges to boost Britain’s access to nature ahead of COP28

29 November 2023, UK: Helping more people get access to our natural heritage and putting nature at the forefront of government efforts to tackle climate change are at the heart of a new package announced by the Environment Secretary today (29 November).  

The new package of measures includes launching a search for a new National Park, 34 new landscape recovery projects, new forests and funding to help more children get outdoors and into the great British countryside, in what is the latest step by the government in its drive to improve public access to the natural world and recover nature. 

The series of nature pledges comes ahead of COP28 later this week, where the Prime Minister will continue our leadership set out at COP26 to champion the role of nature in tackling climate change.  

The search for a new National Park – a manifesto commitment – will begin in the new year. This will be focused on looking for England’s most beautiful nature spots, alongside the area’s ability to connect people with nature.

This comes alongside new funding for England’s most special places, with a further £15 million pledged to support our existing National Parks and National Landscapes, helping to support our most iconic landscapes. The government has also published the final response to the Glover Landscapes Review, which sets out how we will make these precious sites fit for the future. 

Government will also announce 34 new Landscape Recovery projects across England. These projects will cover over 200,000 hectares of land, including woodlands, rainforests and sustainable food production, building on the 22 Landscape Recovery projects already underway which aim to restore over 600km of rivers and protect and provide habitats for at least 263 species. These projects are part of the Government’s new farming schemes, replacing the bureaucratic common agricultural policy from the EU, helping farmers produce food alongside environmental benefits whilst accessing green finance opportunities. 

More children and disadvantaged young people will also be able to access green spaces with a further £2.5m committed to helping children experience the benefits of the great outdoors. This will build on the success of the Generation Green project which created over 115,000 opportunities for children in the last four years. Research has shown that 18% of children living in the most deprived areas never spend time in any kind of natural space. Today’s announcement will help change that by opening up more green spaces for the next generation and we’re also improving access to our woodlands with a new Woodland Access Implementation Plan.  

New powers will also come into force that will strengthen requirements for local authorities to consult with communities before cutting down street trees. Under plans first announced in the Environment Act, this will empower people to have a greater say in preserving much loved trees on their streets.

As well as putting people more in touch with nature, the new package of measures which will touch every part of England, will help tackle climate change and drive forward the UK’s pledge to protect 30% of land and halt the decline of species by 2030. These further measures include:     

  • A new plan to recover England’s temperate rainforests – backed by £750,000 of Research & Development funding to improve resilience, management and protection of our unique temperate rainforests in England found in Cornwall, Devon and Cumbria.
  • A competition to create a new National Forest – this forest for the nation is inspired by the success of the existing National Forest in the Midlands, which spans 200 square miles across parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire.  
  • Two additional Community Forests – these will be created in Derbyshire and the Tees Valley and will see 175 hectares of new woodland planted by 2025 alongside new pipeline forests.  
  • A more nature friendly built environment – legislation for Biodiversity Net Gain will be laid in parliament this week with guidance published as the Government takes its next step to ensure developments leave nature in a better state.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:  

I shared in the nation’s profound sense of anger in response to what happened at the Sycamore Gap earlier this year, but the public’s outrage fundamentally demonstrated just how much love the British people have for the natural world.  

From Yorkshire’s historic rolling moors to ancient rainforest on the Cornish coast, we are home to many globally significant landscapes. We must do all it takes to protect these much-loved spaces and ensure that love for the natural world continues into the next generations. 

As I head to COP28, we are reasserting the UK’s leading role in promoting our iconic landscapes and keeping nature at the centre of our action to tackle climate change.” 

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said:     

Nature is at the foundation of food production, water security, and is critical to our economy, and our mental and physical health. It is why it is so important to deliver on our commitment to halt the decline of nature and safeguard at least 30 percent of our extraordinary landscapes.     

Through our Environmental Improvement Plan and today’s announcement, we are creating more opportunities for people to access nature, spend time outdoors and enjoy our beautiful countryside – as well as supporting wildlife. A healthy natural environment is critical for our wellbeing, our economy and combatting climate change.”    

Tony Juniper Chair of Natural England said:  

Having more well connected and wildlife-rich habitats is a central priority for meeting our Nature recovery ambitions. This includes enhancing landscapes, helping more species thrive, improving climate adaptation and wellbeing for people.  

As we look ahead to COP28 it is timely to set out practical actions that reflect the deep connections between Nature and climate change. The wide-ranging measures announced today mark a positive step forward and we look forward to supporting the government in delivering them”.   

Sir William Worsley, Chair of the Forestry Commission said:  

Trees improve people’s quality of lives and are the heart of our communities. It is vital that alongside increasing tree planting across the nation, we protect our existing treescapes and woodlands and ensure more people have access to them.  

The ambitious new measures announced today build upon the ongoing work of the Forestry Commission. From rare British rainforests in our countryside to the trees in our towns and cities, we will continue to ensure trees bring benefits for future generations.” 

Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said: 

The Landscape Recovery scheme has a vital role to play in enhancing our natural environment at a landscape scale, delivering benefits for water, wildlife, and people.  

It’s promising to see so many farmers, landowners, and stakeholders from around the country getting involved. I’m delighted that we can support even more of these ambitious projects than originally planned.

Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust said:  

As world leaders head to Dubai for the Climate Change Conference, I am pleased to see that restoring nature is high on the Prime Minister’s climate action agenda. 

A healthier environment here in the UK will protect all of us from climate shocks, help reduce carbon emissions, and bring back wildlife and landscapes that are such a strong part of our national identity.  I also support efforts to increase access to nature – which can do so much to improve people’s health and wellbeing – and I look forward to working with Ministers as they develop their plans.” 

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts:

It’s great to see more support for farmers who want to help heal nature through Landscape Recovery. There’s been a huge demand for this new scheme and rural groups have come together to create visionary projects that strengthen farm businesses, reverse species decline and restore habitats at scale. These have huge benefits for wildlife, store carbon, prevent pollution from reaching rivers and hold back water, thus alleviating flooding and the effects of drought.

The UK Food Security report found that climate change and biodiversity loss are the biggest medium to long term threats to domestic food production – and so securing long term funding for Landscape Recovery schemes is absolutely vital for us all. The latest assessment shows that one in six species is now at risk of extinction and the abundance of nature is more threatened than ever, so speeding up the roll out of ambitious nature friendly farming schemes has never been more important.

Dr Darren Moorcroft, Woodland Trust Chief Executive said:

The health of people, and our planet depends on a diverse, nature rich environment. The felling of the Sycamore Gap tree reinforced how hugely people in the UK value trees as a vital part of our natural heritage. An emphasis on enhancing access for, and engagement with young people is pivotal to building a better, greener future and is to be welcomed.

Whoever is in power we need action on the urgent need for greater protection for our oldest most remarkable trees, our living legends, as well as increasing the protection and restoration of ancient woods – international leadership begins at home. We also need to see proper funding and support for woodland expansion, ensuring land managers feel confident to invest in planting trees for the long term to deliver the many benefits they provide to society.

Today’s announcement delivers the next steps of our Environmental Improvement Plan and builds on the UK’s strong environmental leadership – since 2010 we have created or restored wildlife habitats the size of Dorset, established 100 Marine Protected Areas across 35,000 square miles of English waters, and passed the world-leading Environment Act with long term targets to restore nature.  

The UK led global efforts to protect nature through the COP26 Presidency in Glasgow, where it brought together 140 countries in a historic agreement to protect the world’s forests and halt land degradation.  

At COP28 in December, the UK government will continue to champion nature recovery and will set out further action to achieve our ambitious targets to restore our natural world.    

Also Read: CO2-free hydrogen: BASF receives funding approval for 54-megawatt water electrolysis plant

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