The Wildlife Trusts’ statement in response to the Government proposals to create and improve protected landscapes across England

The Wildlife Trusts respond to today’s (Thursday 24th June) Government announcement about improving the management of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

Background: In May 2018, Defra commissioned Julian Glover and an independent panel to consider how we might improve the management of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Their report, the Landscapes Review, was published in September 2019. Today the Government published a statement responding to the review.

The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts fear the Government is squandering the opportunity for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to become better for nature through restoring habitats to benefit declining wildlife, increasing people’s enjoyment and to store carbon and help heal our climate.  These designated places might look green but too often they suffer from the effects of intensive agriculture or overgrazing – green hillsides are denuded of vegetation and wildflower meadows have been replaced by one species of rye grass. Whilst some National Parks and AONBs have high quality, natural areas, many of these are isolated from each other and fragmented, leaving wildlife stranded in the middle of green deserts.

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the Government’s ambition to protect 30% of land for nature’s recovery, but today’s announcement further demonstrates that the green rhetoric is not matched by reality on the ground. The consideration and designation of two new AONB protected landscapes would not mean that land will become able to support an abundance of wildlife, nor to contribute to tackling our climate and nature emergencies. 

Jo Smith, CEO Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said:

“The Government seems to think there is more land currently protected for nature than is actually the case. Our National Parks and AONBs are landscape not nature designations, and whilst there are some fantastic places for wildlife and great partnership restoration projects being delivered, many of these places are severely depleted of wildlife because of overgrazing, poor management or intensive agricultural practices.

“The Government has said Natural England will consider the designation of four new protected landscapes, but these will not magically help meet the target of 30% of land where nature can thrive.  Instead, what’s needed is urgent action, political will and more resources, to repair and heal the natural world across the National Parks that we already have.

“Within National Parks, for example, only 25% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, are in a favorable condition. These SSSIs are supposed to be protected for nature – they are the crown jewels of the natural world – so it’s pitiful that three-quarters are not in tip-top shape.

“Despite the best efforts of many, England’s protected landscapes have so far failed to buck the trend across England of declining wildlife or to welcome and reflect the needs of our diverse society. Sites within National Parks and AONBs need better management so that wildlife can recover, and people can reap the health and wellbeing benefits that nature brings.”

“If this Government is serious about its ambition to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation, it must properly fund meaningful action to restore habitats across our protected landscapes. What is needed, more than anything, is to address the issues raised in the Glover Review and restructuring and renaming will potentially divert time and resources away from doing so.”

The Glover Review included 27 proposals on how National Parks and AONBs could be supported to become more than the sum of their parts and play a leading role in tackling the nature and climate emergencies, and to ensure national parks reach out to everyone, especially under-represented groups. 

National Parks and AONBs are highly valuable national assets, with pockets of excellent wildlife conservation.  With unique and inspiring landscapes, they make important contributions to our economy and society and are part of our national identity.

The Wildlife Trusts look forward to further engagement with Government and will be responding to consultations later in the year.