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A ‘roadmap to the cliff edge’

Campaigners react to government’s five-year roadmap for ‘a cleaner, greener country’
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Rodney Bird Reserve in Leeds

Plans to restore nature, improve environmental quality, and increase the prosperity of our country will be set out by the government today (31 Jan) as it publishes its Environmental Improvement Plan 2023.

Building on the vision set out five years ago in the 25 Year Environment Plan, with new powers and duties from the Environment Act, Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act, it provides a comprehensive delivery plan for the government’s approach to halting and then reversing the decline in nature.

This was the central target agreed in the new global deal for nature at the UN Nature Summit COP15 in December, which UK leadership helped deliver.

‘Protecting our natural environment is fundamental to the health, economy and prosperity of our country.

‘This plan provides the blueprint for how we will deliver our commitment to leave our environment in a better state than we found it, making sure we drive forward progress with renewed ambition and achieve our target of not just halting, but reversing the decline of nature.’

Prime Minister

A ‘blueprint’ for action

The plan, to be unveiled by the Environment Secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey at a keynote speech this morning, covers how government will:

  • Create and restore at least 500,000 hectares of new wildlife habitats, starting with 70 new wildlife projects including 25 new or expanded National Nature Reserves and 19 further Nature Recovery Projects.
  • Deliver a clean and plentiful supply of water for people and nature into the future, by tackling leaks, publishing a roadmap to boost household water efficiency and enabling greater sources of supply.
  • Challenge councils to improve air quality more quickly and tackle key hotspots.
  • Transform the management of 70% of our countryside by incentivising farmers to adopt nature-friendly practices.
  • Boost green growth and create new jobs – from foresters and farmers to roles in green finance and research and development.

The public will also benefit from a new commitment to access green space or water within a 15-minute walk from their home, such as woodlands, wetlands, parks and rivers.

‘Access to green space is without doubt vital, but when that space is polluted or devoid of nature, it doesn’t mean much.

‘Nature around us is in crisis and if we are to have any chance of halting and reversing nature loss by 2030 we need more than warm words on paper, we need investment and immediate action from the Government. That includes providing proper support for farmers to become nature friendly, and tackling the root causes of the nature crisis.’

WWF’S head of production policy

‘This is a real emergency’

Thérèse Coffey, Environment Secretary, acknowledged that nature is vital for our survival and crucial to our food security, clean air and clean water, as well as brining health and wellbeing benefits.

She said the Environmental Improvement Plan sets out how the government will continue to improve our environment here in the UK and around the world.

However, Greenpeace warned that the plan ‘won’t do’, dismissing it as a ‘threadbare patchwork of policies that fail to tackle many of the real threats to our natural world.’

‘If this is a roadmap, it’s a roadmap to the cliff edge. This Conservative government promised the most ambitious environmental plan of any country on earth. Instead, here’s yet more paperwork containing a threadbare patchwork of policies that fail to tackle many of the real threats to our natural world. This won’t do.

‘Ministers want to crack down on dual flush toilets while letting water firms pump tonnes of raw sewage into our rivers and seas. Until we see immediate action this Parliament to ban industrial fishing in all our marine protected areas, reduce industrial meat and dairy farming and ramp up protections across a bigger network of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, we’re in real danger of UK nature going into freefall. 

‘This is a real emergency. Churning out a litany of long-term targets with weak but headline-grabbing policies and hoping the voting public won’t notice the big holes at the centre of the plan just won’t cut it. With these issues at a critical point and so many people worrying about it, the Sunak government have no more time to waste or they’ll feel the result of their failure keenly come the next general election.’

Greenpeace UK’s policy director

New environmental commitments

Other new commitments set out today include the following.

A multi-million pound Species Survival Fund will protect our rarest species – from hedgehogs to red squirrels.

New schemes will help 65-80% of landowners and farmers to adopt nature-friendly farming practices on at least 10-15% of their land by 2030. Landowners and farmers will also be supported to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2050.

Action on water efficiency in new developments and retrofits will include a review of building regulations and other legislation to address leaky loos and confusing dual flush buttons, and to enable new water-efficient technologies

400 miles of river will be restored through the first round of Landscape Recovery projects and 3,000 hectares of new woodlands will e established along England’s rivers.

A more efficient system will better enable joined-up working to achieve catchment-level outcomes.

Councils will be challenged to improve air quality faster through performance assessments and the use of existing powers, alongside clear guidance, funding and tools.

It will be made easier for people to do the right thing to minimise their waste, and a new set of interim targets for 2028 will reduce different types of waste, including plastic, glass, metal, paper, and food.

The plan sets out a clear framework to ensure progress can be clearly tracked.

The environmental principles policy statement will also be published today. It means that, from 1 November 2023, environmental protection and enhancement will be embedded into the design and development of new policy across government.

‘We are facing into a series of environmental challenges that are very serious, pressing and which are connected to one another. If we are to take effective action then we will need an ambitious and integrated plan that is geared up to meeting some very challenging targets. That plan and those targets are now live.

‘The package is broad and most welcome and important. It will now require efforts across government and across society to translate its intent into action.

‘This can be done, so long as priority is attached to it and we remain focused on joined-up delivery. Success will not only bring benefits for our depleted natural environment, but also for jobs, food and water security, health and investment.’

Natural England chair

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