2020 biodiversity target

Lord de Mauley seems to think that we are a shoo-in to meet the 2020 biodiversity target of halting biodiversity loss.

This is what four of our leading wildlife NGOs think:

Martin Warren, Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation says: ‘I think it is extremely unlikely that the UK will meet all the targets set out at the CBD conference at Aichi, and those set within the EU. Although the government has put in place many good initiatives such as agri-environment schemes and Nature Improvement Areas, the resources going in have either ceased or have been drastically reduced. NGOs are working hard to pick up the slack but they need more governmental support and stronger policies to protect key sites and halt the decline of threatened species.’

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife says: ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity is entirely achievable.  Although there are now only 5 years left until the 2020 deadline, if the new Government was serious about halting wildlife declines then quick action to bolster resources and efforts in the first year could see the corner turned by 2020, even if some biological responses would still take a while to take effect. 

The current trajectory is towards failure, 60% of UK species are in decline and species such as the Horrid ground weaver are under threat of global extinction.  Unfortunately the coalition failed to deliver the main plank of their commitment to wildlife  “We will introduce measures to….promote…..wildlife corridors in order to halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity”.  It has been left to Buglife to build local coalitions with the Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, Co-op and Local Authorities to develop a national network of wild flower grassland wildlife corridors – B-Lines.  A new Government would have to quickly increase funding for nature conservation from the current pittance to a realistic figure, introduce a Nature and Wellbeing Act, and enable partnerships of agencies, NGOs, companies and land owners to get a move on.  At the moment we have not seen sufficient commitment to such a gear change from any of the big political parties to have any confidence that the trajectory be corrected.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes of the Wildlife Trusts says: ‘Halting the loss, let alone securing recovery, of nature across the UK by 2020 was always going to be hugely challenging. The evidence outlined in the State of Nature report is a sobering reminder.  It suggests targets to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 are looking increasingly and worryingly ambitious. However, we’ve shown we can reverse declines with care and resources, the challenge is to do it at scale.  There are systemic and resource-related issues that are working against us meeting this challenge, hence our call for a Nature and Wellbeing Act and a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.  We know now, more than ever, that it is critical for nature’s own sake, and our own, that we meet it.  Up and down the UK, The Wildlife Trusts are working incredibly hard to play our part – working at a landscape-scale with hundreds of farmers, businesses and tens of thousands of volunteers to manage and create habitats, restore ecosystems, and inspire all ages to connect with nature.  It will be hard but, we must believe, and have hope, we can get there.

Martin Harper, Conservation Director of the RSPB says: ‘The next occupants of Defra and Number Ten face a challenging task in hitting the 2020 targets as things currently stand but – who knows – with adequate resources, effective and properly enforced regulation and a determined political will to succeed, anything is theoretically possible. We are looking forward to the manifesto commitments with great interest and to working with the person who next occupies the hot seat, to help them tackle the challenge.


I get the impression that the NGOs think that the next government would have to pull its finger out to meet the 2020 target. Business as usual won’t do the job. But that’s just the view of the people who have been doing nature conservation for years – what would they know…?

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23 Replies to “2020 biodiversity target”

  1. No mention of the environment from any party, except the Greens, so far in the electioneering. I'm waiting to see what their manifestos say........

  2. After over 35 years in nature conservation my conclusion is that if we want biodiversity to survive, we need to buy land. Promises and policies are just leaves blowing in the wind.

    1. I agree Circus. And we also need to start naming and shaming that tiny minority (a few thosand people) who already claim to own most of the land in Britain, to persuade them to take their responsibilities seriously and manage the land properly with wildlife and biodiversity as a top priority rather than their bank balances and on- and off-shore trust funds. They also need to stop selling off and leasing land to big developers who cover it in concrete and tarmac.

      The sad thing is that many of these extremely wealthy people claim to be environmentally aware and conservation-minded, yet they do not back their words with right action. These people are often well-known and high-profile (we know who they are) and their actions need far more intense public scrutiny with the aim of holding them to their fine words!

      There's a job with great scope for journalists and bloggers ...

    2. That would depend who "we" may be, and what our powers and resources are. I guess "we" would need to buy and manage about 10% (?) of the UK's land area and secure all rights over a similar percentage of territorial seas? And then manage and monitor same in perpetuity? I guess "we" would have to be a very determined national Government.

      I rapidly came to the reverse conclusion over 30 years and counting, working successively for three wildlife trusts with not enough resources to hope to buy anything like enough land in a given county in a strategic distribution - assuming we could secure a sale! - and frustratingly often with not enough resources, year to year, to manage much of what little percentage we did have in an effective manner, or even be sure that what management we did accomplish was always being effective. And, of course, nothing at sea!

      If nature conservation is to be delivered to real effect across the UK it surely needs to be as integral to politics and society as "grey" infrastructure has become?

      1. "wildlife trusts with not enough resources to hope to buy anything like enough land in a given county in a strategic distribution"

        On top of which is the problem that once you own the land it costs yet more money to manage it. Nature reserves have their place but I agree that they cannot possibly provide the whole answer. Government policies will have to ensure that all forms of land use are managed and controlled in a way that leaves enough viable space for nature.

        The outgoing government pursued a philosophy of reducing regulation and control and giving commercial interests a free rein as much as they could but I am afraid that the free market will only ever drive biodiversity downwards and we have to accept that reasonable regulation is essential in a civilised society (and not just to protect wildlife either).

      2. Exactly. Owning land is just the very beginning - it is managing land well that is the real challenge. Many Wildlife Trusts own land which they do not have the resources to manage optimally (understatement). That is the point of my comment. We, that is we who care about and have some understanding of wildlife and biodiversity, WE need to be putting much more effective pressure on the large private landowners to manage "their" land for w&b more than only financial profit. Agricultural colleges could also do a lot more by teaching upcoming generations to view w&b as a major priority in all land management decisions. Being as most of the land in Britain is "owned" and controlled by a tiny number of extraordinarily wealthy and powerful families and individuals, there should be no excuse for continued losses or degradation of hedgerows, soils, songbirds, streams or anything else. Bring greater public scrutiny and pressure onto these few people and WE could have a huge multiplier effect.

    3. Indeed, people may think they like wildlife but those who even notice it are quite few. People in my mothers flats call for weedkiller to improve the lawn which has attractive sweet violets as well as rare small flowered buttercup.

      There are landowners who delight in natural things but in all honesty they are rather few. When agri subsidies required a high water table on our local SSSI that was achieved but now the rules have changed they get their subsidy with a river largely emptied out in the winter, the empty fleets being one of the reasons for the designation. How long before denotification?

      The idea of Living Landscapes is a good one and conservationists have always sought to make the relationships with land owners where possible, but we are not really making enough progress.

      The main political parties have largely forgotten the living world while some are openly hostile, preferring exponential economic growth and no regulation to hinder it.

      The former landfill site, now a country park, where I conduct a butterfly transect, is subject to a mowing regime, which aims to eradicate the untidy bristly ox-tongue. I quietly try to encourage them to ease off mowing and leave fringes but even with financial constraint they still seem to not be happy till its mown down to look like so many playing fields.

      So I tend to agree, those of us interested in the living world probably have to try to buy it, in a market where many other interests want it different.


  3. It would be interesting to know what

    Sir John Lawton, Profs. Chris Thomas, Georgina Mace, Bill Sutherland....

    The Linnean, Royal and British Ecological Societies....

    The Freshwater Habitats Trust, the Marine Biological Association....

    and the State of Nature partnership as a whole

    and A Focus on Nature

    think of the likelihood of achieving the targets as a whole.

    (Other academics, learned societies and wildlife groups for terrestrial, aquatic and marine habitats are available)

    It's worth pointing out that the 2020 targets were meant to be entirely achievable in the wake of the Countdown 2010 fiasco - and that Defra officials apparently gave up on them by 2013-14, saying that they were 'aspirational'.

    It is still possible to achieve much of what the UK Government signed up to, but that requires such a huge change in approach by officialdom and by all those NGOs who 'have been doing conservation for years' that.... [insert favourite cliche indicating extreme improbability here]. And then some.

    Although oft-quoted, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, Making Space for Nature, the State of Nature report, nor yet all those Catchment plans, all the work that went into identifying suitable Marine Conservation zones (and inland SSSIs); and (thinking more globally, as well as failing to act locally) all those Red Lists and multi-authored papers on habitat loss of the red-crested bulbul might be partially mitigated by including patches of widgey-widgey weed amongst crops - have failed to have any real impact. Even within Defra the most important thing appears to be cut yet more money from the budget rather than finding ways of achieving more. Being 10% more efficient with 30% less doesn't cut it, as any Micawber could tell you.

    It's actually, locally, on the ground that most decisions and (in)actions that result in habitat loss, decline and fragmentation occur. Local government is hugley impportant in the way that it acts for, against or in wilful ignorance of conservation issues (and how they relate to the man/woman/child/in the street/park/nature reserve).

    So it would be great to have a Making Space for Nature-type review of Nature Conservation in the UK - and for all the learned societies, NGOs, conservation scientists, Media Naturalists, NGOs and stick insects in the street to back calls for this - provided it led to positive, joined-up action, nationally and locally.

    And whatever the recomendations of such a report, and however good any Nature and Well-being Act is on paper, it will need to be supported by many more people than belong to all the NGOs laid end to end, will need to be enforced locally and nationally, and will need to be resourced in an effective way.

    As yet, there's a long way to go before that happens. It would be a good start to reprioritise Lottery spending.

    May 23rd will mark the 10th anniversary of Derek Ratcliffe's death. I don't know whether he'd approve but that would seem quite a good day for inundating the nouveau regime with requests/demands from all of the above for a better approach to nature conservation and natural capital (whilst we still have some).

    {and no more from me till after the May 23rd}

  4. All this is very well but does anyone understand which 2020 targets are being talked about? All the various comments seem to vary between the CBD 2020 targets of its Strategic plan, the England Biodiversity Strategy (which presumably is what the CEO NE was discussing). Then is the EU 2020 plan, probably best kept for Private Eye’s "Brussels Sprouts".
    But of course the real issue is that none of the targets will be reached in entirety – except, probably, as in 2010, the % of protected areas – which is fine but it’s a naked % without any reference to status, on-going prospects etc.
    So the CEO NE and the Minister may have been advised all was well but it’s clearly not going to be. (of course the advisers are the individuals who help establish the targets in the first place so there is, as we say, “reputational risk” to showing any leg on the issue). And the CEO of any statutory Conservation body shouldn’t need advising on these issues anyway.
    But then there is a more important question – does it actually matter? What is it we should be concentrating on? Halting some loss? Reducing rate of loss? Managing Change? Better communication? I’m willing to stick my neck out and say the last thing we need is new legislation based around waffle. Legislation, rigid as it is, informal policies, weak as they are, have not helped since the establishment of the Nature Conservancy in 1949. Nor of course has the continued reshaping of the conservation delivery bodies by whim and political design, none of which has been well-thought through (your recent blog, Mark, on FE/NE is very à propos to this).
    Frankly, since I left the sceptred isles last year I see and hear nothing new, and very little hopeful, and even less helpful. Grand meetings organised by NGOs with the same old (in every sense) talking heads is not the game changer needed. But I’m sure there will be more of them all the same. So don’t knock the pollies unnecessarily, do keep the bureaucrats accountable, and don’t expect the manifestos to have any serious ideas. As a side remark I remember your slight incredulity – even irritation - Mark, when you discovered biodiversity was actually most frequently mentioned (the word frequent is hardly the right one) in the Conservative manifesto last time.
    The best way forward is for NGOs to lift eyes above the parapet look out and come up with really novel ideas for nature conservation in the Anthropocene, not pining for the ‘50s again. I’ll watch with great interest, but little expectation.

      1. nope! maybe my english is too ozzified but like the dormouse i mean what i say.. 🙂

    1. Yes, a new, non-Tory government will have to pull its fingers out, given that his government, if one can call it that, has achieved zilch of benefit, and caused a blot of harm.

  5. Lord de Mauley said it because James Cross of Natural England said it would be so, so ask Cross not de Mauley.

    1. And if the reply is as good from that gentleman as that which we've all received to the variation SSSI question then there's little hope left?

      Conversely if someone told you the moon was made of green cheese, would you repeat without evidence?

  6. Anything thing is possible given the will and determination. As JFK said "these issues are man made and therefore can be solved by man and man can be as big as he wants" It is having the will and determination that counts and I am sorry to say, regarding the target of halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2020, I see virtually none of that in the current Government and I am not sure there will be much in the next, although I hope I am wrong on this point. Complacent and ill in form statements by ministers that clearly do not understand the very big national effort that would be need to achieve this target only serve to reduce the confidence level in them to zero.

  7. When the target was set it looked feasible and Labour left an upward trajectory - though no real solutions to the agriculture problem - but since then it has been mostly down hill - 5 years lost more to dogma than cuts, making the prospect of success very thin indeed.

  8. Is it time to accept the "biodiversity process" has come to a (natural) conclusion? And we started with such high hopes....

  9. If the "biodiversity process" has come to a natural conclusion it is because none of the powerful NGO's with budgets of 100's of millions, armies of bureaucrats and memberships of many millions are campaigning on reforming the funding stream that drives agriculture/wildlife destruction/the potential alternatives; vis the CAP.

    Here we are its election time and silence on the CAP; we know who gets the money; its the landed 1% and the only bloody person to campaign on this consistently is George Monbiot.

    The entire charitable wildlife alliance is silent re the Tory backbenchers, MP's and Lords public subsidies; its not even on the Fxxxing Register of Interests of Parliament; its the Old Boy Network, Sir David Attenborough has never even mentioned it, nor has the Natural History Unit because the charitable wildlife alliance is not fit for purpose because it is constrained by its "charitable status". Here we are at another election and silence on the CAP; the countryside is dying, the bees are in catastrophic decline and who gets the 3 billion of public funds that could dramatically change this..sodding Ian Duncan Smith's wife gets 150,000 while her husband the hypocrite at the Ministry for the Disabled hammers the poor sods who had their lives so profoundly affected through no fault of their own......................silence from the highly paid professionals at the wildlife alliance while the assemblages of species that its is their duty to protect die for lack of funds....

    1. Peter = are you suggesting that economics has a massive relevance to conservation? If so i would very much agree. We need to create ecologically sustainable economics.

  10. I think that anyone involved in forming policy on "biodiversity" and just as (if not more) importantly, anyone commenting on "biodiversity" policy (or even using the word "biodiversity" in an intelligent, researched sentence or argument should certainly read the book below.
    "Science and public policy". (The virtuous corruption of virtual environmental science). By Aynsley Kellow. Edward Elgar publishing. ISBN 978-1-84720-470-7
    Many who do won't like what they find in that book (with specific regards to "biodiversity" and far less so "climate change"), but it might help to arrest the casual, thoughtless, throwaway use of the (complicated) word "biodiversity" now banded around by everyone from kids' TV presenters to Lords.

  11. The problem is that the ngo's role has changed but they have not been able to react, generally due to lack of understanding. However most of the blame lies with senior management who are either untrained to react, in denial or afraid for their well paid jobs to speak out and to advocate or to take radical remedies.
    The UK and Netherlands have challenged the 2020 targets in Brussels while the euro agri dept has also laughed and walked out of meetings saying they are fantasy. Meanwhile the UK gvt. has failed to put in place any delivery mechanism and has scraped English Nature, already long a body to diminish nature in favour of the heavily cut and chopping and changing NE who are now told to promote development and not to reform land use strategies to enable Lawton. Many areas such as planning control have been stripped away. DEFRA has not been a Department of the Environment for many years and is now under political control of minority interests such as NFU who are set to help erase many of the gains of the last 40 years. Classic Ministerial confusion destroying the careful building of four decades. Local people are now fighting back in the courts and often see the government and ngo's as two parts of the problem as while ngos may still fight a few big cases and gvt try in few small niche areas, they have failed to adapt to the need to challenge the accelerating avalanche of bad decisions by local Councils, now all but ignoring the BAP philosophy and related guidelines.
    There is also less money than was frittered for the failed 2010 targets and agri-incentive spend is still horribly badly designed and very poor value for money. with misuse of large lump sums. NE's licensing is often a total disgrace by DEFRA's own research findings and lawfulness of many licenses needs testing. Redress for failings is not even on the agenda.
    Ngo's would need new leadership and to reorganise and restructure in order to reverse the trend. Or a new kind of ngo is needed. We are back to the 1970's in terms of the mountain to climb to recover nature and the need for a political will that has been lost from even the smallest and green political parties. Government has tied in and down ngo's financially and more cuts will make many areas further fragmented and sterile.
    'Things', to adapt a slogan 'can only get worse.'


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