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New mission for protected landscapes needs new means to flourish

15 January 2022

Nature experts say stronger environmental statutory purposes and duty for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are a step in the right direction
• But Government ambition could be undermined by a lack of clarity over the purposes, no new Treasury funding, and no current legislation secured for the changes

Responding to the long-awaited Government response to the Glover Landscapes Review, nature experts including RSPB, the National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, and Campaign for National Parks say the proposed changes in today’s response are headed in the right direction.

But they warn that a stronger nature and climate focus, major funding injection, and new legislation are all vital to achieve the full benefits our protected landscapes can deliver for people, climate and nature. Nature groups say the Government must also act urgently, given the 2030 deadline to restore and protect nature, with delays a concern given that no Bill or new money has been secured to bring these changes into effect.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “A new nature-focused mission could bring our great landscapes to life with nature for generations to come. Now the mission needs to be matched with the legal and financial means to make it a success.”

Emma Marsh, RSPB England Director, said:
“Today’s announcement is a step forward. It’s good to see a headline commitment to give England’s protected landscapes a stronger focus on recovering nature and to make other changes so they can deliver this. But the Government will need to go further and faster, and bring forward legislation to achieve these changes. It must also give these landscapes the resources they need, including doubling AONBs’ woefully inadequate funding.

“We’ve waited more than two years for a response that still does not have a clear timetable with commitments to bold action. At this rate, hopes of meeting the Government’s promises to restore nature by 2030 will soon evaporate. These are landscapes for everyone, and we all need to make our voice heard during the consultation to make sure the Government backs its rhetoric with action.”

Joan Edwards, director of policy and public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts says:
“We are facing a nature emergency – around half of UK wildlife has decreased since 1970, with 1 in 7 species now at risk of extinction. National Parks and AONBs could make a big contribution to restoring nature – the question is, will the proposed new structure and strategy do the job?

"The reality is that this is only possible if it is done in partnership with farmers because most of these precious places are agricultural landscapes. Nature-friendly farming is key to the success of restoring wildlife to them. The Government must speed up rewards for farmers taking part in the new environmental land management schemes – and make them as ambitious as possible.

“It’s a scandal that most of the finest natural places of all – Sites of Special Scientific Interest – are known to be in a worse condition inside National Parks than they are in the wider countryside. Far more funding is needed to maintain and restore these amazing places.”

Dr Rose O'Neill, Chief Executive of Campaign for
National Parks, said: "It's good to finally see the Government's response to the Glover Review – and welcome the stronger emphasis on nature recovery and climate-resilience including strengthening the legal protections. We've waited two years to get to this point, we cannot afford to wait for the legislation and actions needed to deliver this. We urgently need greater powers, protections and investment to bring National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) into the 21st Century, so that they can play their rightful role.

"Our protected landscapes have helped us through a challenging couple of years and should be at the forefront of efforts to improve health and wellbeing of the entire nation. The response is a good first step - and we now need real momentum and investment from Government to level up access to these sites for everyone. It's so very important that we seize this moment to leave a landscape legacy for future generations. We'll be looking at the response in greater detail in the coming weeks and working with our members and partners to help shape the proposed new National Landscape strategy."

Harry Bowell, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust, said:
“We broadly welcome the Government’s response to the Glover Review and support the ambition for a stronger mission for nature’s recovery to ensure our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty realise their full potential. Whilst there is much detail to be worked through, this is a first step in driving the change we need from these treasured landscapes so they fully contribute towards nature’s recovery, help address the climate challenge, and ensure everyone is able to experience and benefit from healthier, more vibrant landscapes.

We care for many places within these national landscapes, and are committed to playing our part to help nature recover, and grow and enhance people’s access and enjoyment. The Government must now follow through with further action to ensure that National Parks and AONBs have the right support and resources to deliver against their ambition. This will require coherent and coordinated action across national and local government, including ensuring the effective implementation of the Environment Act and an agricultural payment scheme that is fit for purpose.”

All of our protected landscapes provide many benefits for nature, climate, people, heritage and culture, but are struggling to achieve the level of recovery for nature and improvements for the public that we need. Large parts of these areas are in a poor condition for nature and the benefits it provides us, often despite the best efforts of the bodies responsible for these landscapes, which have not been given the direction, tools and resources they need by the Government. Protected landscapes make up around 25% of England’s land area, yet only 3% of England’s land area can be considered to be well-protected for nature and in good condition.

Revising the statutory purposes and duties for National Parks and AONBs to give a greater focus on nature and more tools to deliver this is welcome. As is reforming the make-up of the boards that lead these landscapes so they include much more nature expertise and more diversity. But nature and climate must be front and centre of the new purposes, given the poor condition of large areas of protected landscapes and the Government’s reliance on these sites to achieve targets for Net Zero and to protect 30% of land for nature and halt the decline of species by 2030.

Yet it is unclear just how strong an emphasis will be placed on nature and climate in the new purposes. It is also unclear what role the new National Landscape Partnership will play and whether Natural England will have the powers and resources it needs to provide the support, oversight and accountability that will drive a race to the top on recovering nature across our landscapes.

Greater resources are critical to deliver the level of nature restoration needed for all protected landscapes, and to achieve the health and wellbeing benefits of more people accessing these sites. Increased funding is particularly vital for AONBs who receive proportionally far less funding. AONBs cover 15% of English land, yet the 34 AONBs collectively receive a paltry £6.7 million annually, compared to £48.7 million received by 10 National Parks which make up 9.3% of English land. Nature experts would like to see the Glover Review’s recommendation for AONB funding to be at least doubled to £13.4 million implemented without delay, alongside funding increases for National Parks, to unlock their potential to deliver transformative action for nature, climate and people.

It is vital that the Government now secures a rapid legislative opportunity for these new statutory purposes, strengthened duties and changes to leadership. This must be backed up with the increased funding and planning powers to enable protected landscape teams to scale-up their nature restoration and public access plans.


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