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Wildlife and Countryside Link News

Welcome to Link’s news - a roundup of what happened in the last month. For updates from our working groups, please go to the policy hub. If you would like to submit news items for our monthly e-bulletin, please contact Ellie Ward. To subscribe please enter your email here.

May 2021

Bruce's Horizon Scan

May has been something of a nature policy bonanza. We’ve had a major win for wildlife from our State of Nature campaign, with the exciting promise of a species recovery target within the newly returned Environment Bill. The Tree and Peat Action Plans have been published and an Animal Sentience Bill introduced. As ever, more detail, resourcing commitments and long-term implementation plans are needed to realise the full potential of these policies, however there is a real sense of forward momentum for nature’s recovery. One cloud hovers on the horizon; significant concern from nature professionals and MPs of all parties that the forthcoming Planning Bill, and the habitat destruction if could bring, could offset recent gains for nature. It would be a tragedy for all the progress of the past few weeks to be undone by a wave of harmful deregulation. The Planning Bill will be forthcoming in the autumn - its content will determine whether 2021 remains a landmark year for nature.

Environmental Policy News

State of Nature campaign makes its mark
The State of Nature campaign was launched three months ago, calling for a new target on the face of the Environment Bill to reverse the decline of species and habitats in England by 2030. Thanks to the support of over sixty nature and climate organisations, and from the 179,000 members of the public who signed the State of Nature petition, we have had a major win for wildlife! On 18 May the Government announced that the Environment Bill would be amended in the House of Lords to require an additional legally binding target for species for 2030, to halt the decline of nature.

We await more detail on the target; further work will no doubt be needed to ensure it meets the needs of nature and is effectively implemented. Similarly, there are a raft of other areas in the Environment Bill where ambition needs to be lifted and bolder action taken (Link & Greener UK's briefing on the Bill’s final Report stage day in the Commons can be found here). For now, however it is right to take a moment to celebrate a real step forward. England will be the first nation with a target in law to halt nature's decline, setting a strong international precedent in this G7, COP & CBD year. The new species target could mark the turning of the tide for our nature – thank you to everyone who has helped make this happen.

Peat and Tree Action Plans published
18 May also saw the publication of the long-awaited Peat Action Plan, and Tree Action Plan. Both plans were headed with new Government targets – to restore 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025, and to treble tree planting rates in England to 7,000ha each year by 2024. Both targets need to be set in context; 35,000 hectares constitutes 5% of peatland in England, and 7,000ha per year of tree planting translates to England contributing 23% of UK tree planting targets, despite representing 53% of UK land mass. Still, both figures would mark a considerable improvement on the current situation and are very much to be welcomed.

There also tangible measures in both Action Plans that will help ensure that these targets will be met, and wider habitat recovery achieved. The use of peat in horticulture is to be phased out, and the extent of England’s peatlands mapped to help us better understand how to improve them. New funding to support natural regeneration and agroforestry will play a vital role in supporting the growth of nature-rich woodland, and proposals for new protections in the planning system for long-established woodland will help protect the precious trees we already have. Taken in the round, both Action Plans constitute a good start to recovering two habitats vital for nature and climate - with more action needed to follow both. More detailed analysis of the Peat Action Plan can be found here, and more on the Tree Action Plan can be found here.

Animal Sentience Bill introduced in the Lords
It’s been a long road, but at last an Animal Sentience Bill is advancing through Parliament. Introduced in the House of Lords on 13 May, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill seeks to place recognition that animals have feelings in UK law, to replace the animal sentience recognition that applied when the UK was a member of the EU. This is the third attempt to legislate for sentience post 2016, with previous attempts having foundered in the face of fierce disputes about how far the Government should go in creating new legal duties on animal welfare. Will this Bill succeed where others failed?

It is a mixed bag. A welcome lesson learnt from earlier attempts concerns coverage; the new Bill covers all parts of UK Government policy, with no department exempt from the recognition of animal sentience. On the less positive side of the ledger is the effective outsourcing of the bulk of animal sentience responsibilities to the Animal Sentience Committee, a body that can make recommendations to decision makers but has no decision-making powers itself. Link will be working over the months ahead to rectify this through amendments to place sentience duties directly on Ministers and to ensure the Animal Sentience Committee is robust and independent body. Amendment to the definition of animal in the Bill is also needed, to ensure that cephalopods & decapod crustaceans are recognised as sentient beings, in line with the latest science.

Bulletin Board

Three Link blogs you may have missed:

Tackling Invasive Non-Native Species
Paul Walton, Head of Habitats and Species at RSPB Scotland, explains why invasive non-native species are one of the top five drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide.

We need to demand more for our marine turtles and their habitats
Professor Brendan Godley, Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Exeter writes on World Turtle Day.

Everyone deserves to live in a flourishing natural world
Dom Higgins, Head of Health and Education at The Wildlife Trusts and Co-Chair of Link's Nature and Wellbeing Strategy Group, discusses the importance of equal access to our green and blue spaces for our mental health and wellbeing.

Enterprise Development Programme now accepting applications from environment sector

EDP provides a broad range of support for charities and social enterprises working in certain sectors in England, helping them to work up an idea for trading and expand or upscale their existing business or enterprise model. From 15 June environmental organisations can apply to the Fund support for the first time, further details can be found here.

Sector job vacancies:

A list of job opportunities across the Link network can be found here, including roles with the Environmental Investigation Agency, National Trust and Naturewatch Foundation.

Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 58 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature. You can learn more about Link’s policy work here.

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