Seascape Scotland UK Mark Kirkland

Achieving 30 by 30: Can it be done?

3 minute read

A new report published by the House of Lords sets out the challenges to achieving 30x30 and what must be done to deliver the international commitment of protecting 30% of England’s land and seas by 2030.

We made a detailed submission to the Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee’s report, An extraordinary challenge: restoring 30 per cent of our land and sea by 2030”. Its findings, which include much of our evidence, warn that the Government is “clearly not on course to meet 30 by 30” – something which is very concerning.

With only seven years remaining to fulfil its 30 by 30 commitment, the Government has not made it clear how it plans to do so, with the report stating that both urgent action and a delivery action plan are needed.

In the UK, 41% of species have decreased in abundance since 1970, and 15% of our species are threatened with extinction.

“Biodiversity and threatened species fare better in protected areas than in the wider environment”, so if we are to protect and conserve our species, we must first protect and conserve their homes and habitats.

According to the report, “Protected areas will play a vital role in delivering 30 by 30 and wider environmental targets” – something we have been working hard to evidence.

Our marine areas are home to countless species, store carbon – something which is crucial to achieve our net-zero target – and offer a multitude of other benefits, from coastal protection to livelihoods, and good health and wellbeing.

Common starfish on maerl bed, Loch Sween, Scotland

Credit: Dan Bolt

The report also found that our current protected areas “are not sufficient in their extent and are often in poor condition” – something else we’ve been working to both evidence and improve.

With only 178 Marine Protected Areas, and three Highly Protected Marine Areas (representing less than 0.5% of English seas) currently designated in England, and damaging activity such as bottom trawling taking place within them, it is clear that we need more, and better, protected areas in our blue spaces if we are to fulfil our nature crisis pledge.

Richard Hill, MPA Policy Officer, said, “We know that fully protecting areas of our seas works. When left to recover and thrive, biodiversity and species abundance increases and the amazing ability for our ocean to store carbon also increases.

“We need our government to be ambitious in protecting our seas, but also to protect the very environmental laws that can help the UK achieve the 30 by 30 targets. It is doable, but this report demonstrates that action must be taken urgently, for the sake of people and planet."

The report highlights that the Habitats Regulations, which were confirmed to be retained from EU law, may still be under threat with “a possibility of their substantial dilution”.

The House of Lords recommends that these environmental laws are retained and are firstly, not subject to amendment, without an appropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny, or secondly, have the protections the regulations provide weakened. We strongly support both these recommendations.

Snakelocks Anemone, Chalk Reef, Freshwater Bay

Credit: Laura McConnell

The Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee concluded that:

  • Achieving 30 by 30 requires more areas to be protected and those areas must comply with international criteria.
  • Existing protected areas need to be better managed to achieve favourable condition and they need to be better monitored to enable effective management planning and to measure improvement.
  • Protection should be afforded to areas in the long-term, which we conclude should be for more than 30 years.
  • These issues around the quantity and quality of protected areas, as well as the monitoring and management of these areas are all magnified in the marine environment.

We need to effectively monitor what is happening in our seas, particularly in our protected areas. There needs to be a “significant expansion of marine monitoring, both inshore and offshore” to collect the volume and quality of data required to assess and improve current conditions. For this reason, we worked as part of the Future Fisheries Alliance to highlight the importance of effective monitoring of vessels fishing in our waters.

Under Swanage pier

Credit: Paul Pettitt

As the report states, “the Government faces an extraordinary challenge to halt species decline and recover nature for the public good.” It has seven years to take the necessary steps to protect 30% of England’s land and sea – a position it is currently nowhere near.

If the Government is to fulfil its pledge, which we believe it can, it must act now. We need to see an action plan of exactly how it will protect these spaces and those species living within them. We need to see progress and delivery on these targets. Our blue planet deserves that much.

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