Imagine the last year of lockdowns without occasionally being able to escape into nature.
No weekend walks through parks or fields, no rapturous birdsong through spring as streets grew more quiet in Britain’s cities. This is not some faraway, bleak, alternative reality, either — without an urgent change of direction from the current decline of nature, it may very well be our future.
That’s why more than 50 wildlife activists, celebrities, and nonprofits have come together for an urgent call to action: arguing that if the UK truly cares about protecting nature, it must put its legislation where its mouth is, and set immediate targets for nature recovery, enshrined in law.
The group has written a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to urge him to make the UK the first country to set legally binding targets on nature, according to the BBC.
Signatories include TV presenters Steve Backshall MBE and Chris Packham CBE; activists Mya-Rose Craig and Dara McAnulty; organisations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and even Johnson’s own father.
Although the government has already promised to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, the target is not legally binding. This coalition insists that it must be.
There’s a lot of evidence right now that suggests the world is rapidly accelerating towards a “sixth mass extinction.”
Whether that’s biologists who say that half of Earth’s species could go extinct by 2050, researchers who claim that large animals like rhinos could die out within a century, or a scientific study that reported that over 500 species were already on the brink of extinction, there appears to be a consensus that nature is hurtling towards a point of no return.
Globally, one report found that species were disappearing at more than 100 times the natural rate. In the UK, the coalition of groups pushing for change referred to the latest State of Nature report, that highlighted how half of UK wildlife is in long term decline, while 15% of UK species are at risk of extinction.
The BBC reports that half of all wildlife in the UK has declined since 1970, while in September 2020, every single English river, stream, and lake failed a pollution test.
🌱Nature needs our help🦔— The Wildlife Trusts (@WildlifeTrusts) March 1, 2021
We all want our environment to be in a better state, but half of UK species are in long-term decline now! Let’s persuade the PM to put the weight of the law behind promises to protect our #StateofNature 👇 https://t.co/aAnh7Ck09Zpic.twitter.com/KheDO25OYJ
However, there is a small window of opportunity coming up in the UK to turn a corner on nature.
The government’s Environment Bill has already been delayed by months to swathes of criticism from green organisations. In its current form, it "falls short of its potential", according to the letter to Johnson. Key issues with the bill include a lack of instilling any targets before 2023, with those targets currently sitting around 2038 or even later.
That’s why the group is calling for amendments to the bill now, while it’s still edging through the different stages of readings in parliament. It insists that the only way to reverse the decline in nature is with a commitment, in law, to do so before 2030.
"Nature in the UK is in freefall — we are losing species and the habitat they need every year,” said Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB. “Actions not just words are now required."
She added: “In 10 years’ time we have to be able to look back at this moment and know it was the point when we genuinely committed to revive our world.”
The government has since responded to the campaign, through George Eustice, the environment secretary, who referenced a £640 million climate fund and £80 million green recovery challenge fund already underway.
“Now more than ever, it is vital that we protect the natural environment and reverse nature’s decline,” Eustice said. “Our landmark Environment Bill and 25-year Environment Plan are truly world leading and represent a huge step-change in our country’s ambition for wildlife and the natural environment.”
You can join the campaign and sign its petition here.