RSPB calls out UK’s lost decade for nature – press release

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
  • 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   

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. 


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10 Replies to “RSPB calls out UK’s lost decade for nature – press release”

  1. This is good. I want more of this from my RSPB. As it comes to AGM time, I would like them to drop the ‘Royal’ since the royals have nothing to do with protection of our wildlife and I would like them to change their stance on DGS, either calling for a complete ban or, at the very least, explain how their version of licensing could work, be funded and be policed effectively.
    Commissioning a past Director of Conservation to write a five or six page article explaining what really goes on our moorlands for inclusion in the next edition of Nature’s Home would be a good place to start.
    Reviving our wildlife must surely start with a cessation to killing it for pleasure. Royal or not.

  2. a report that tells it how it really is, well done RSPB. Our governments have failed to do enough or in many cases anything at all to stem the loss of nature something we all depend on in the end to sustain life itself. So government has failed will it continue under this woeful administration to fail nature, which is failing us, failing our future, failing future generations. They may even fail to notice they are failing!

  3. This is bloody good, when the RSPB eventually bares its teeth it’s easy to understand why some have been on the offensive to keep it cowed these past few years – it has clout, it would just be nice if it used it more. Since the uplands were mentioned I’d recommend this article that points out it’s not either trees or peatland there we can have both as in fact we had in the past

  4. Very well said RSPB. Sorry to say successive Tory Governments have totally failed nature and hence all of us The Tories always hated Natural England and since they came to power they have continuously cut its budget so recently it could not even carry out its statutory responsibilities. They have also changed its role from an independent advisory body to the Government to a purely puppet organisation doing their bidding on every issue.
    Successive Tory governments have presided over the servere degrading of our moorlands by the Driven Grouse Shooting brigade. They are now driving HS2 through some of our best wildlife sites. Everywhere our wildlife is threaten by the actions of this Government and I don’t see any change to this under the present extreme right wing regime. We can only hope for better days under a different government and keep doing our very best for nature just as the excellent RSPB are doing.

    1. Lest it be forgotten H2S was conceived in 2009 and promoted thoughout by Andrew Adonis who was never elected by anyone on his way to the HoL – in 2010 the Cameron government merely continued the gig as there were huge piles of dosh to be had which was always the intention and we would be providing said dosh as was always the intention

  5. A long time coming. It was obvious on day one what a Conservative government was about – not least because of the bonfire of environmental institutions such as the Sustainable Development Commission. Austerity wasn’t principally about money – the 2008 financial crisis was a useful excuse – it was really about reducing the public realm, and the shared value of nature has heen a very clear loser. But the conservation lobby has continued to behave as if the go ernment were still on it’s side as during the labour years. How on earth can it even engage with the 25 year plan for nature, which is achieving everything it was set up for – delay and yet more delay. Has everyone fogotten that Labour set to seriously to i prove our SSSI’s and demonstrated very clearly what can be done. Added to this, conservation in its sole focus on biodiversity has become quite isolated – it is issues like flooding and water, carbon, people’s connection with nature that might give real political leverage – and that means working more widely with people with widely differing interests. In the meantime, there is only one game in town, and that is ELMS and the messages it gives the biggest factor in all this – what happens to agriculture .

    1. Well said RL. There’s absolutely no lower hanging fruit for conservation than the fact some ecological restoration especially in the uplands would reduce flood damage to homes, businesses and genuine farmland downstream. The case for it is fantastic, but it’s not being pushed forward properly by those who need to do so – RSPB, WWF, the Wildlife Trusts. Bloody frustrating.

  6. Enough is enough. We have a government that doesn’t care a fig about the natural world. It’s time to call them out.

    It would also be an enormous help if the opposition parties showed some signs of taking an interest in wildlife, specifically Labour.They need to realise that there are votes to be won here.

  7. I classify the RSPB report under the “No shit, Sherlock!” tab. (i.e. the totally obvious). The almost total exclusion of non-governmental sectors from policy and advice has been extremely noteable (i.e. pretty much absent).

    I am sorry to report that my correspondence of some years ago from an ex-MP on ancient woodland and HS2 has now been shredded (green ink from the HoP). Not that the MP said anything of great importance or import. I doubt the MP actually knew there were two offical designations of “ancient woodland”. I’m watching that same MP to see how it votes on current legal matters.

    My hope went anorexic.

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