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Why we’re calling for new ocean and nature recovery targets in the Marine Super Year

In the second of a series of blogs launching the Wildlife and Countryside Link 2021 Marine Scorecard for Defra, Marine Group Vice Chair Sean Clement explains why we need a fundamental rethink of the strategy and targets governing how we manage our seas

April 2021

The UK Government lays frequent claim to being a world leader in the protection of our ocean, promising that 2021 will be a Super Year for our seas. Wildlife & Countryside Link’s Marine Scorecard aims to hold our Government to account on that promise, setting priority actions to ensure claims to global leadership are truly backed by ambition and delivery at home.

The UK began 2021 as an independent coastal state and with a record of failure. We are failing to meet our own targets for the state of our seas and promises to build world leading protections are yet to be fulfilled. Now is the time to step back and ask fundamental questions about how we manage our seas in this new decade and new context. Current arrangements are fragmented, do not address the climate crisis, and will not drive recovery or restoration at the scale or pace needed by 2030. If 2021 is to truly be a Marine Super Year, we need targets followed by action to turn the tide for nature’s recovery.

It is past time for the Government to write nature’s recovery into law – it can do this by giving the Environment Bill a legally binding State of Nature target to halt and reverse the decline of nature by the end of the decade. Adding this target would strengthen our laws in nature’s favour - and compel us to tackle the nature and climate crises with the ambition and urgency we need.

In addition, the UK Marine Strategy’s failure to deliver Good Environmental Status for UK waters, missing 11 out of 15 targets, is a clear indication of the need to chart a new course for our seas. By taking the UK Marine Strategy and turning it into an Ocean Recovery Strategy, we can grasp this opportunity to level up protections for our marine environment and deliver a mandate for its long-term restoration. An Ocean Recovery Strategy would move our marine management to a restoration footing, for the benefit of our coastlines, communities and efforts to tackle climate change. It would also increase investment in our ocean by realising the true value of restored UK Seas.

To ignore these calls would undermine much of the scene setting for the months ahead. UK international ocean leadership would be compromised by a lack of domestic credibility and the Prime Minister’s commitment to the ‘Leaders’ Pledge for Nature’ would lack a legal footing at home.

So, as the White House Leaders Summit sounds the starting gun on a ‘race to the top’ for action on both the climate and on ocean and nature recovery, this year can see the first steps on a path to victory for people, climate and nature. Now that the race is on, we’ll be watching for progress - early action in Parliament as the Environment Bill makes its long-awaited return and a Government commitment to an Ocean Recovery strategy on World Ocean Day would go some way to giving the UK a head start.

Sean Clement is a Policy Officer for the UK SEAS Programme at WWF-UK. Follow: @wwf_uk

This year, WWF and Wildlife and Countryside Link are calling for action on nature’s recovery on land and at sea – learn about Link’s State of Nature Campaign here and WWF and Sky’s campaign for Ocean Recovery here.

To read the Marine Scorecard report click here. The scorecard is supported by Buglife, Greenpeace, the Institute of Fisheries Management, the Marine Conservation Society, ORCA, RSPB, RSPCA, Surfers Against Sewage, WDC, The Wildlife Trusts, WWT, and WWF

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.