Can '30 by 30' work for nature and landowners?

What is 30 by 30 and what will it mean for members? CLA Environment Adviser Bethany Turner reacts to the latest Defra announcement
Balancing Barn Owl

In 2020, the UK Government committed to protecting 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 – known as 30 by 30. Defra has now published plans for how it intends to protect 30% of land in England.

30 by 30

Much of this week’s announcement is not new, and simply reiterates the targets set in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 (EIP23). However, since the commitment was made, we have been waiting for Defra to give guidance on what counts towards the target and how much land in England currently qualifies as protected for nature, with estimates ranging from as low as 6% to as high as 26%.

Defra’s announcement states that only 8.5% of land in England currently meets the requirements to be counted towards the target. This is land which is protected through legislation, in the form of Protected Sites (such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves) and areas of woodland which are protected for biodiversity.

Nevertheless, Defra has also identified “potential 30 by 30 areas” which may be able to count towards the target in future. This land includes Protected Landscapes (National Parks and National Landscapes), Local Nature Reserves and areas of priority habitat. This is not a commitment to counting all of these areas towards the target, but serves as a tool to identify areas which could be targeted for action or investment.

Finally, there are other areas of land which have not been mapped but could count for 30 by 30 in future. This includes land in Landscape Recovery schemes or other agri-environment schemes, and land in offsite Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).

What does the announcement mean for landowners?

The CLA was concerned that 30 by 30 would be achieved through restrictive designations like SSSIs, which we believe are ineffective ways of delivering nature improvement and supporting the rural economy. Defra is keen to stress that they recognise some land should be prioritised for food production, especially Best and Most Versatile (BMV) land. They also make clear that the remainder of the target will be achieved through a combination of funding and strengthening existing structures.

The CLA will keep working to ensure that Defra recognise the role that farming and agri-environment schemes play in nature recovery. We will push for the land identified but not mapped, such as land in Landscape Recovery or BNG agreements, to be counted towards the target with landowner consent, while stressing the need for flexibility. We want to demonstrate that nature conservation and running a viable business go hand in hand.

CLA Cymru meanwhile are waiting for the Welsh Government to set out plans for how to achieve the target on land in Wales.