Protected areas can be the beating heart of nature recovery in the UK, but they must be more than lines on a map - British Ecological Society

A report by the British Ecological Society says that the UK government’s commitment to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 offers the opportunity to revitalise the contribution of protected areas to nature recovery. But it also warns that this ambitious pledge will fail if we don’t make radical, transformative changes.

The UK government has committed to protecting 30% of the UK’s land and sea to support nature recovery by 2030. The report welcomes this target, as failure to achieve it could result in continued and irrecoverable declines in biodiversity.

The BES’s Protected Areas and Nature Recovery report looks at the role protected areas play in supporting nature and determines what is needed to meet the ‘30×30’ target. Although the ‘30×30’ target seems close to being achieved, with 27% of UK land and 38% of UK seas under some level of protection, the report finds that many protected areas are not delivering for nature and are in poor ecological condition. The report therefore urges caution over what should count towards the ‘30×30’ target and provides recommendations for what protected areas, and the surrounding environment, need in order to be effective in restoring nature.

viewed from above, a green loco pulling maroon heritage carriages on track through forestry
Steam train on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway south of Goathland (home of the CJS Office) in the middle of the North York Moors National Park - doesn’t like very biodiverse or even much visible moorland for which the Park was designated does it? (image: John Kirk on unsplash)

Protecting the land

National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other protected areas currently make up 27% of UK land. However, the report finds that the proportion of land that is effectively protected for nature could be as low as 5%.

Many protected landscapes, such as National Parks, do not specifically prioritise biodiversity and were not established or funded to do so. The report recommends that these areas should not be included in the ‘30×30’ target in their current state.

Dr Joseph Bailey at York St John University and lead author of the report said: “Designating an area of land or sea does not automatically make it an effective protected area. Designation is simply the first step in a long process towards ensuring that long-term ecological benefits are delivered for nature and people. To be effective, a protected area needs adequate implementation, enforcement, monitoring, and long-term protection.”

Protected areas are not enough on their own

Despite the enormous potential of protected areas, they cannot protect nature on their own. Landscapes surrounding protected areas are also vitally important, particularly with species ranges shifting in response to climate change.

The report details how other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) – areas outside of designated protected areas that are managed in a way to support nature – can complement protected areas and provide an essential contribution to nature protection and recovery.

Dr Bailey said: “We need to make sure landscapes are suitable for species to move between highly protected areas. This could be done with wildlife corridors such as hedgerows. Protected areas simply won’t work if the spaces in between them are not working towards the same goals.”

Read the report

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Posted On: 22/04/2022

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