- UK failure on international environmental targets revealed by the RSPB on eve of major UN report
- RSPB analysis of the UK’s self-assessment reveals the picture may be worse than reported, raising doubts some targets have not been met and highlighting areas where the UK has regressed
- The UK must recognise the opportunity to make urgent changes at home which can be used to provide international leadership ahead of negotiating the next global plan to save nature and the climate in 2021
- To get nature’s recovery back on track the RSPB is launching the Revive Our World campaign, pushing for legally binding targets to restore nature by 2030 and ensure there is not another decade of failure
On the eve of a major United Nations report, which will show the international community has failed to halt environmental decline over the last 10 years, new analysis from the RSPB has revealed the UK’s self-assessment is overly optimistic as high environmental ambitions have not led to real progress being made.
The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, published tomorrow by the United Nations, will contain no country-level breakdowns of how the UK has fared, but an RSPB report ‘A Lost Decade for Nature’, will reveal our true performance.
With UK wildlife continuing to decline and vital habitat being lost or degraded the ability of the governments of the UK to revive our world will depend on an honest assessment of the work needed. While the UK Government believes it has met a third of its targets, RSPB analysis shows the UK may have met as few as just 3 of the 20 international targets it agreed to a decade ago, and in six areas the UK has actually gone backwards.
A decade ago, ‘the Aichi Targets’ were hailed as the blueprint for saving life on Earth and reversing the terrible losses in wildlife and the natural environment seen over previous decades. The RSPB believes the cause for their failure was that the targets were not legally binding, so Governments around the world, including in the UK, were not compelled to act.
Beccy Speight, chief executive at the RSPB said: “Even the Government’s optimistic assessment should act as a wake-up call that words alone will not revive our world or tackle the twin crises facing nature and climate.
Next year we have the opportunity to play a leading role in developing a new set of global targets to restore nature. But first we need an honest assessment that recognises we need to do much more at home. We have targets enshrined in law to tackle the climate emergency, but none, yet, to reverse the crisis facing nature. We cannot be in this same position in 2030 with our natural world vanishing due to inaction.”
To ensure the next decade is not again lost to inaction the RSPB is launching the Revive Our World campaign tomorrow, pushing for legally binding targets to restore nature and deliver a green recovery across all Governments of the UK.
The RSPB analysis reveals the UK Government’s key Aichi failures to be:
- The UK’s wildlife is vanishing. The UK Government’s own assessment claims to be making progress towards saving our most threatened species, while all the evidence points to the contrary. According to State of Nature (2019) 41% of UK species are in decline and 133 species have been lost from our shores completely since 1950. In the most comprehensive assessment of nature in the UK scientists looked at almost 8,500 species, finding that over one in ten (15%) is threatened with extinction. There are no signs of these trends slowing.
- Not enough land is being protected or managed for nature. Although the UK claims to be protecting large areas of land (28%) and sea (24%), closer inspection reveals that this includes National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that are not well managed for nature, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) that are in poor health and not adequately monitored. With recent reports of a lack of inspections or assessments, along with species loss at these locations, the amount of land protected and well-managed for nature could be as low as 5% of the UK. At sea, although new protected areas have been announced, only 10% of these are being actively managed.
- Insufficient funding for nature conservation. During the past decade public funding for the environment and nature has declined in the UK from £641 million (2012/13) to just £456 million (2017/18), a drop of almost 30%. Adjusting for inflation this represents a decrease of over a quarter of a billion Pounds (£256m). Funding is vital for creating and protecting important habitat as well as ensuring the condition of our natural world is being monitored so action can be taken swiftly when needed. The UK Government claims it has made progress, but at an insufficient rate. The figures show otherwise.
Beccy Speight added: “This is a global issue, and something that will take a generation to resolve, however the hard work must start today. The UK is not alone in failing to meet the ambitious targets set out ten years ago, but it is now time that the high ambitions set by successive Governments becomes action at home as well as leading the international effort.
We now need people across the UK to stand up for nature, to let our politicians know this is not good enough and we demand they revive our world. Every country in the UK must create legally binding targets to restore nature, invest in nature and green jobs, and support farmers to produce healthy food that’s good for people, climate and wildlife. We have to put our money where our mouth is and use the next decade to do something truly impressive.”
To put the UK back on track, the RSPB is launching a campaign to Revive our World that will give everyone a place to voice their concerns and outrage at the inaction of the UK, as well as proposing the legislation and priorities the UK and devolved Governments must set to avoid another lost decade. To find out more visit www.rspb.org.uk/ReviveOurWorld
Case study: the plight of the Wash and the Redshank
The UK government states that 28% of land in the UK is currently protected for nature, but many of those protected areas are struggling.
The Wash in Eastern England, for example, is England’s largest Site of Special Scientific Interest and is currently listed as being in ‘favourable’ condition.
This is despite data from the RSPB showing populations plummeting for threatened species such as the redshank.
In some areas across the Wash this striking red-legged wading bird, often called the ‘sentinel of the marshes for their warning call, has declined by as much as 79%.
A drop that severe is meant to automatically trigger the listing of The Wash as ‘unfavourable’ – but a lack of funding for Natural England’s regular monitoring has let this go unnoticed.
The RSPB does all it can for these threatened birds at its wonderful network of nature reserves and beyond, but if the wider landscape is not well managed for nature as it should be, it will always be fighting an uphill battle.
Case Study: Our uplands up in smoke
Vast tracts of the UK’s uplands are covered in peatland habitats, which have been depositing carbon-rich peat for thousands of years. In places, particularly on flatter areas, the peat is metres deep. Though our upland peatlands are of international importance and home to special wildlife, they are in poor health, with large areas lacking precious peat-forming vegetation, especially sphagnum mosses.
Over the years, peatlands have been damaged by pollution (associated with the industrial revolution), drainage, livestock grazing and burning. Each of these, sometimes in combination, has had a negative impact on hydrology and peatland vegetation, with large areas now in urgent need of restoration.
The state of our upland peatlands is not helped by repeated burning to improve heather cover for red grouse. Despite peatlands being identified as sensitive (no-burn areas), peatland vegetation is still burnt each year, particularly in England and Scotland, to create a patchwork of young and old heather – grouse prefer to feed on young (more nutritious) heather and nest/hide in longer heather.
Upland peat bogs store an estimated 2,000 megatons of carbon. But our precious blanket bogs are in a very sorry state – in England they release 350,000 tonnes CO2 to the atmosphere each year – the same as 140,000 cars. And despite wanting to lead the world on climate change, our Governments continue to allow our uplands to be set ablaze each year.
The RSPB is calling for an immediate end to burning in the uplands and for peatlands to be restored, protecting the stored carbon, ensuring the peatlands remain wet and resilient to a changing climate (especially drought and associated wildfire) and allowing special species to thrive.