Last week the UK Government announced new measures to accelerate nature recovery and help it to deliver on the commitments made in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 (EIP23). The announcement comes just weeks after the Office for Environmental Protection reported that the lack of progress made towards the commitments so far is ‘deeply concerning’, and a month after Defra set initial plans for protecting 30% of land for nature by 2030 (known as 30 by 30).
What did the latest announcement say about Protected Landscapes?
Historically, Protected Landscapes (National Parks and National Landscapes, formerly known as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or AONBs) have been focused on conserving the appearance and heritage of an area, as well as promoting access to the countryside. In the December ‘30 by 30’ announcement, Defra stated an intention to give Protected Landscapes a greater role in nature conservation.
To this end, last week’s announcement introduced the new ‘Protected Landscapes Outcome Framework’. The framework sets out how all Protected Landscapes will contribute to the targets set in the EIP23. It is down to each individual Protected Landscape body to work with Natural England to determine what that looks like and approaches will vary depending on the type of landscape.
The framework has ten targets around three themes:
- Thriving plants and wildlife
- Mitigating and adapting to climate change
- Enhancing beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment
The targets cover a range of goals, including increasing woodland cover, restoring peat, and improving the condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
What does this mean for landowners and rural businesses?
Because the targets are about delivering the existing EIP23 targets in Protected Landscapes, most of the content is not new. However, the role Protected Landscapes are expected to play in delivering the EIP23, and in nature restoration more broadly, is ambitious.
For example, there is an existing EIP23 target to restore or create at least 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats outside of protected sites by 2042. The target for Protected Landscapes is to deliver 250,000 hectares, meaning that they will deliver half of the target despite only covering around 25% of England.
While the CLA unequivocally supports the government’s commitments to nature restoration and recognises that healthy ecosystems underpin food production, it is important that these targets are achieved through the right combination of funding and advice, not through restrictions. We are also concerned that the bodies that govern Protected Landscapes are not sufficiently resourced to be able to take on the extra responsibilities of implementing these targets.
The CLA will be keeping a close eye on how the frameworks are implemented across England’s 44 Protected Landscapes. As the role of Protected Landscapes changes, there is an opportunity for us to lobby for Protected Landscapes to have another statutory purpose: to foster the social and economic wellbeing of their communities. We are also working to make sure that the views of landowners and land managers are heard as Defra develops its 30 by 30 proposals, by feeding into their stakeholder engagement.