Defra Publishes Underwhelming Nature Green Paper

Defra has today published consultations on nature recovery (including two short papers on the Habitats Regulations) and environmental targets. Defra has also today published a policy paper on action to tackle nutrient pollution.

The Nature Green Paper is rather open, asking more questions than providing solutions, as you could expect from a green (rather than white) paper from government. The main elements of the paper are around reforming of sites protections, species protections, and institutions.

We echo the thoughts of Wildlife and Countryside Link, of which we are a member:

On the green paper:

  • It’s right to consider how the protection for sites and species can be strengthened.
  • We welcome some elements: proposals for statutory site improvement plans, stronger penalties for wildlife crime, and ideas for a new Nature Recovery Network designation.
  • But the proposals in the paper would not constitute the improvements for sites and species needed for nature’s recovery by 2030.
  • The answer isn’t an exercise in simplification; that will use a lot of time, without clear benefits for wildlife.
  • The proposals include clear risks of removing key elements of the Habitats Regulations site protection process, and protection for species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

On the targets:

  • We welcome the focus on the 2030 species abundance target as an “apex target”.
  • But the long-term wildlife target must be ambitious enough to truly “pass on nature in a better condition”. As written, species abundance could at best take 20 years to get back to 2022 levels, and may actually be lower in 2042 than it is today.
  • We need a protected sites target to restore SSSIs to favourable condition. As written, there is no target to improve the condition of SSSIs.
  • There should be a long-term target for the overall condition of our rivers and streams. As written, there are partial targets for farming and wastewater, but no measure of overall quality of freshwaters.
  • The marine environment is neglected. As written, only seabirds will be part of the species abundance target.

Dr Stephanie Wray, chair of CIEEM’s Strategic Policy Panel, said:

A Green Paper doesn’t tie a government to do anything; it’s an opportunity to test the water. It was therefore disappointing that at a time when the natural environment is in crisis and the Treasury’s own Dasgupta Review has indicated structural change is needed, this Green Paper promoted more of the same failed approaches.

Dr Wray added that one example (of many) specifics that worried her:

I am very concerned that the government proposes that terrestrial sites would be designated by Ministers “on the advice of their nature conservation bodies”. Sites are currently designated by those nature conservation bodies; the only effect of this proposed change would be to move away from evidence-based conservation and add a political dimension.

CIEEM will be responding in full to the two consultations, which both close on 11 May 2022. If you would like to contribute to the CIEEM response please get in touch with policy@cieem.net. We would encourage you to also respond individually or on behalf of your own organisation.