Effective protected areas have the potential to be the beating heart of the UK government’s approach to nature restoration, says Joseph Bailey in his conclusion to the BES report.
Nature, climate and society are intimately linked. Policy and legislation in the United Kingdom (UK) must therefore address these three issues with equal urgency if UK biodiversity is to have the resilience and adaptability to
global environmental challenges.
The natural world provides humans with important ecosystem services that we need not only to thrive, but also to survive.1. Resilient and healthy natural systems are the foundation of a resilient and healthy society.
Protected areas are part of a larger approach
Effective protected areas (PAs) have the potential to be the beating heart of the government’s approach to nature restoration in the UK. These must support and be supported by other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) and sustainably managed lands and seas, linked by a well-designed network of wildlife habitat corridors and stepping stones. All of these components are necessary: PAs are crucial but can only be part of a larger approach.
Some of the PA shortcomings highlighted in this report are well known (for example see the 2010 ‘Making Space for Nature’ report on England’s wildlife sites2) and result from the fact that nature is not systematically prioritized, monitored and managed.
The UK has a highly degraded natural environment
PAs in the UK face pressures both inside and outside their borders from activities such as harmful fishing practices in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), conversion or loss of habitats, housing developments, intensive and unsustainable land use and pollution, resulting in degradation of ecological conditions that prevent an area from achieving positive outcomes for nature.
Areas are not fully designed for biodiversity
Despite excellent efforts at local level, the UK has a heavily degraded natural environment and a portfolio of designated sites which do not consistently prioritize biodiversity and have not been fully designed for it.
On land, much of the UK’s designated land covers protected landscapes (including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty), which do not effectively respect nature due to their other priorities.3. There are significant opportunities to reform existing governance structures to ensure these protected landscapes are managed effectively for nature and people. These reforms must include the presence of nature experts in the councils that manage the protected landscapes. Otherwise, these important areas will remain unable to support nature’s recovery.
Many designated sites that prioritize nature (e.g. Sites of Special Scientific Interest) are not in favorable condition, despite efforts to protect features of interest (e.g. habitat or species). This is often due to external pressures, highlighting the need for more integrated approaches to ensure the regeneration of nature on land and at sea.
30×30 is the opportunity
The 30×30 agenda offers an opportunity to redefine our area-based approach to conservation and provide a system that is suitable not only for the protection of rare or vulnerable species, but which supports the restoration of nature more broadly and which can be adapt and be resilient to long-term change.
Effective nature protection and recovery should be a prerequisite for a site to contribute to the 30×30 target. A significant amount of work is still needed to get closer to a meaningful 30% by 2030, which will require rapid and substantial action as part of a transformative change in the way we preserve the nature of the Kingdom. United for future generations.
The 30×30 agenda is an opportunity to redefine our approach
It is essential to ensure effective and representative PAs, but also that PAs are supported by a wider network of OECMs and well-managed unprotected lands and seas, which will always make up the majority of our landscapes and seascapes even if 30 % are reached. .
PAs and OECMs, underpinned by appropriate policies in the wider landscape and seascape, should serve long-term nature (including living and non-living components; biodiversity and geodiversity), build ecological resilience and be in a favorable or recovering state, and subject to coordinated monitoring and management (including incentives and sanctions to enforce protection).
PAs should represent all habitat types, restore habitats within an ecosystem approach, manage existing PAs to reach favorable or recovering status, and ensure connectivity by effectively using OECMs and other spaces between APs.
All of these approaches must proactively engage the people and businesses that live and work in these places.
The UK’s approach must ensure that biodiversity is prioritized in the large protected landscapes of national parks and AONBs, as well as in smaller designated sites, so that all of these areas contribute effectively to the 30 target. %.
There is some information on the status of biodiversity features and trends in PAs, but there are also significant evidence gaps due to a lack of resources for management and monitoring. Thus, the status of many PAs and their performance for nature compared to unprotected areas is not known. The management and setting of conservation objectives relies on effective monitoring, so that conservation objectives can be adaptive and fit for purpose in response to a changing landscape or seascape.
Significant funding needed
Overall, these requirements require empowered government departments and statutory agencies that have sufficient funding to be able to play a leadership role, accept responsibility for monitoring and management, and enforce the law to protect biodiversity.
Management, incentives and sanctions to limit pressures should be undertaken in consultation with stakeholders and within a governance system that incorporates top-down and bottom-up approaches to achieving conservation goals and restoring nature.
As we scan the horizon with optimism, the UK has a great opportunity to show political will, leadership and commitment to protect nature and provide an integrated nature recovery network for a healthy and sustainable society. sustainable.
York St. John’s University
1 Stafford, R., Chamberlain, B., Clavey, L., Gillingham, PK, McKain, S., Morecroft, MD, Morrison-Bell, C. and Watts, O. (Eds.), 2021. Solutions for the climate change in the UK: a report by the British Ecological Society. London, UK. [online] [Accessed 03 March 2022].
2 Lawton, JH, Brotherton, PNM, Brown, VK, Elphick, C., Fitter, AH, Forshaw, J., Haddow, RW, Hilborne, S., Leafe, RN, Mace, GM, Southgate, MP, Sutherland, WJ, Tew, TE, Varley, J. and Wynne, GR 2010. Making Room for Nature: A Review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network. Report to Defra. [Accessed 07 March 2022].
3 Cunningham, CA, Crick, HQ, Morecroft, MD, Thomas, CD and Beale, CM, 2021. Translating area-based conservation promises into effective biodiversity protection outcomes. Communications Biology, 4(1), p.1-5.
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