The government has been warned it may be acting too slowly to meet its promise to restore nature by 2030 as it unveils a plan to protect national parks, which has been more than two years in the drafting.
The environment secretary, George Eustice, has set out proposals to boost nature recovery and safeguard England’s national parks, with a public consultation to seek people’s views.
The scheme involves “ambitious changes to increase access to nature and ensure protected landscapes can deliver more for climate, nature, people and places for the next 70 years and beyond”.
A new “national landscapes partnership” will enable people in charge of England’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) to work together on nature recovery and better public access.
The idea is they will carry out campaigns, organise events and offer volunteering opportunities that bring people closer to nature.
The 12-week consultation will ask for views on proposals to drive nature recovery within landscapes and support communities that live and work within them.
In 2018, Julian Glover, a former government adviser and speechwriter to David Cameron, was asked to review the protection for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, and drew up a report the following year. These plans have now been drawn up in response.
Ministers said protected landscapes play an essential role in tackling the climate crisis, protecting biodiversity and supporting health and wellbeing.
A Natural England survey found that almost half the population say they are spending more time outside since the pandemic started, and most adults surveyed by Forest Research agreed their level of happiness when in nature had increased.
However, the RSPB criticised the time taken to devise a response to the review, and urged ministers to do more, and more quickly.
The charity director of England, Emma Marsh, said: “Today’s announcement is a step forward. It’s good to see a headline commitment to give England’s protected landscapes a stronger focus on recovering nature and to make other changes so they can deliver this.
“But the government will need to go further and faster, and bring forward legislation to achieve these changes.
“It must also give these landscapes the resources they need, including doubling AONBs’ woefully inadequate funding.
“We’ve waited more than two years for a response that still does not have a clear timetable with commitments to bold action. At this rate, hopes of meeting the government’s promises to restore nature by 2030 will soon evaporate.
“These are landscapes for everyone, and we all need to make our voice heard during the consultation to make sure the government backs its rhetoric with action.”
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