London Wildlife Trust welcomes the passing of the Environment Act, which will help the UK Government make significant progress in tackling the nature and climate crises. The Wildlife Trusts, other environmental NGOs, MPs and Peers, have campaigned for this Bill for more than three years and look forward to seeing it receive Royal Assent in its current, much-strengthened form. This comes on the back of advocacy for much stronger restorative legislation for nature for well over a decade, given that the last Act (Natural Environment & Rural Communities, 2006) only slightly strengthened existing legislation at that time.*
The inclusion of a legally-binding 2030 species abundance target has the potential to boost efforts to reverse the decline in wildlife and will put the UK on the path towards protecting 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. A much needed new requirement for planning applications to provide Biodiversity Net Gain will encourage developers to put nature at the heart of their work, whilst Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) will create the framework for a national system of interconnected sites for nature. This will be particularly important in London where pressure on wildlife is very much down to new development, and LNRS could provide the means to deliver biodiverse green infrastructure that can also contribute to people's wellbeing in the city.
We would still like to see further strengthening, specifically complete independence for the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), some legally binding interim targets in the Act and we are concerned plans for Local Nature Recovery Strategies fail to robustly embed them into the planning system, which would make them more effective in towns and cities.
The ambitions of the new Act are laudable, and reflect much of which the nature conservation sector has sought for many years. However, Government agencies like Natural England and the Environment Agency, along with local authorities, will need to be given the necessary resources to facilitate their role in delivering on the Act. Without this, despite this welcome Act, there is a likely danger that our treasured wildlife and natural places will continue to decline in abundance and quality.
The nature and climate emergencies are interlinked, and the Government must use every power it has to address these; the Trust, our partners and supporters are keen to play our role in nature’s recovery in London and beyond, and we seek the Government leadership in helping us deliver on the Act’s ambitions.
*The more recent Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 and Marine Act (Scotland) 2010 focused very much on the first significant protective measures for the wildlife of our seas.