Biodiversity: UK surroundings watchdog rebukes authorities for gradual motion on nature

Slow progress on the UK’s 25-year surroundings plan may result in ecological tipping factors resembling collapsing fish shares, says the Office for Environmental Protection


12 May 2022

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Maureen McLean/Shutterstock (12879001d) Pollution on the Jubilee River in Taplow. During 2021, water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers in England 372,533 times. By 2040 the sewage discharges into rivers is targetted to be reduced by 40%, however, many environmentalists say this is too little, too late Pollution, Jubilee River, Taplow, Buckinghamshire, UK - 02 Apr 2022

Pollution on the Jubilee river in Taplow, UK

Maureen McLean/Shutterstock

The UK’s post-Brexit “green watchdog” has criticised the federal government’s gradual progress on its flagship plan to guard and restore nature, warning {that a} “stately” tempo of motion may result in environmental tipping factors together with collapses in fish shares.

In its first public intervention since being created by regulation in November 2021, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) warned of worrying declines within the numbers of birds and different wildlife, and lamented falling funding for monitoring the well being of rivers and soil.

“We’re edging seemingly inexorably towards real tipping points for the environment,” says Glenys Stacey, chair of the OEP, a brand new unbiased company designed to safeguard environmental requirements after the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Overall progress on the federal government’s 25-year surroundings plan, launched 4 years in the past, has been too gradual, the group mentioned in a report immediately. Policies since 2018 have did not reverse declining biodiversity or considerably enhance polluted waterways and the air, the watchdog mentioned.

Only 16 per cent of rivers in England had been in good ecological well being, the group identified, whereas solely 33 of the UK’s 44 air high quality zones complied with annual limits on nitrogen dioxide, a dangerous pollutant primarily produced by diesel vehicles. Stacey says progress to arrest degradation of the marine surroundings has been weak, and was “stately at best”.

Simon Brockington on the OEP says the tempo of progress means the UK is nearing ecological tipping factors  “where a very slow and persistent and gradual decline suddenly becomes catastrophic”. He says examples embody setting fish catch quotas too excessive, damaging “bottom trawling” of the ocean flooring and nutrient run-off from farmland, which might pollute waterways.

Outside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), cross-government assist for the 25-year plan lacks the gravitas or urgency of the UK’s internet zero purpose, the group provides. “Our message to government is clear: do not delay making the changes necessary to protect, restore, [and] improve the environment,” says Stacey.

Senior environmental figures in authorities instructed New Scientist they hope the intervention by the OEP injects some momentum to satisfy the goals of the 25-year plan, which is supposed to ship on a 2011 pledge to “leave our environment in a better state than we found it”. The new report signifies that the UK is not any nearer to that purpose now than it was at a damning evaluation by the nation’s spending watchdog two years in the past.

Craig Bennett from the Wildlife Trusts charity says of the report: “We strongly agree with this. There is a problem within government: there’s just not a sense of the kind of timescales and urgency needed.” He says too typically coverage bulletins on nature had been piecemeal and strikes by some departments undermined Defra’s optimistic steps.

The OEP, which since January has had authorized powers to take enforcement motion towards public authorities for environmental failings, revealed it had already acquired 39 complaints from members of the general public.

Defra says it welcomes the report and can reply to its suggestions later this summer time.

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