We cannot afford to lose any more wildlife – we need a new Project Speed for nature.
A new “wildbelt” designation protecting land that is being restored for nature must be included in the UK government’s planning reforms, it has been urged.
The Wildlife Trusts warn the proposed changes to the planning system – which the government says aim to tackle a shortage of quality homes, boost wildlife and support sustainable growth – will increase the threat to nature.
They have raised concerns about the impact of inadequate data on wildlife, a bias towards development and weakening of environmental protections.
The Trusts want to see the recovery of wildlife and easy access to nature for people put at the heart of the planning system.
And they called for a new designation within the system to protect land where nature is being restored.
This wildbelt designation would enable new land that currently does not do much for wildlife to be protected, so efforts to create or restore natural habitat or rewild the area are secure from future changes to land use.
The call comes after a UN report warns countries are failing to halt “unprecedented” declines in nature, missing all 20 targets agreed a decade ago to protect biodiversity by the deadline of this year.
Conservation charity the RSPB released analysis showing how the UK has missed almost all of the targets, including failing to protect or manage enough land for nature.
Proposed government planning reforms include: zoning land for growth, where major developments could take place; renewal, where more small scale building could occur; and protected areas where there would be more stringent controls.
Under the plans the Green Belt, along with other protected landscapes and wildlife sites, would fall into the protected areas, but the Trusts warn much of the Green Belt is not wildlife-rich.
The wildbelt could be introduced as an opt-in designation that owners could choose for their land, as part of efforts to restore nature there and to secure the investment in conservation they or funders have made.
For example, designation of land as wildbelt could be a requirement for receiving public money through the planned environmental land management schemes which will pay people to manage land for nature.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We’re in a climate and ecological crisis and we cannot afford to lose any more wildlife – we need a new Project Speed for nature.
“We must keep the environmental protections that we have – but even that is not enough. Protections must be strengthened, and the Government needs to take a big step towards helping nature to recover everywhere.”
And he said: “Evidence shows that healthy communities need nature and the Government must map out a Nature Recovery Network across every one of their proposed zones, whether it’s a growth, renewal or protected area.
“We’re proposing five principles to ensure the planning system helps nature and we want to see a bold new designation which will protect new land that’s put into recovery – we’re calling this wildbelt.”
The five principles the Wildlife Trusts wants to see in the planning system are:
– Wildlife recovery and people’s easy access to nature must be at the heart of planning reform, with the network of space needed for nature’s recovery identified, mapped and integrated into the planning system across all zones.
– Nature protection policies and standards must not be weakened, and assessment of environmental impact must take place before development is permitted.
– New land put into recovery should be protected by creating a new designation, wildbelt, to address the nature and climate crises.
– People and local stakeholders must be able to engage with the planning system.
– Decisions must be based on up-to-date and accurate nature data.
A government spokeswoman said: “We disagree entirely with these claims – the Government is placing community engagement, environmental protection and sustainability at the heart of our reforms.
“We will put an end to unnecessary building on green spaces by prioritising brownfield development and all new homes built under the Future Homes Standard will be ‘zero-carbon ready’ to meet our climate change and environmental objectives.
“Our Environment Bill will also ensure that the new houses we build are delivered in a way which protects and enhances nature, helping to deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities.”
Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.