Many of the UK’s protected areas are not delivering for nature and are in poor ecological condition, a new report has found.
The British Ecological Society report, which includes analysis by Professor Jane Hill and Dr Charles Cunningham from the University of York, warns that the government’s pledge to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 will fail if we don’t make radical and transformative changes to how protected areas help nature to recover.
National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other protected areas currently make up 27% of UK land. However, the report finds that the proportion of land that is effectively protected for nature could be as low as 5%.
Many protected landscapes, such as National Parks, do not specifically prioritise biodiversity and were not established or funded to do so. The report recommends that these areas should not be included in the ’30×30′ target in their current state.
Professor Jane Hill, from the Department of Biology, said: “The evidence is that most protected landscapes are not delivering for nature and only a low percentage are in good ecological condition. However, because there is existing governance in place managing these landscapes, they have great potential to be adapted to improve how they deliver for nature.
“With the right support and willingness, nature can recover and thrive in almost any landscape. If the objectives of protected landscapes like National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty can be reformed to ensure that they deliver for nature in the long-term, they could then count towards the ’30×30′ target.”
For protected areas to deliver for nature and be included in the ’30×30′ target, the report recommends the following criteria:
- Protected areas must be managed to deliver for nature in the long term, using evidence-based approaches.
- Protected areas should have effective governance to address pressures such as climate change, pollution, and damaging fishing activities.
- Have monitoring in place that informs the long-term management of protected areas so that they meet conservation goals. This will require substantial and sustained funding and resourcing.
- Protected areas should be inclusive to benefit local people and ensure buy-in. The governance of protected areas should involve local communities in partnership with landowners, NGOs, researchers, government agencies, and other stakeholders.
Lead author of the report, Dr Joseph Bailey from York St John University said: “Designating an area of land or sea does not automatically make it an effective protected area. Designation is simply the first step in a long process towards ensuring that long-term ecological benefits are delivered for nature and people. To be effective, a protected area needs adequate implementation, enforcement, monitoring, and long-term protection.”
Dr Bailey added: “The 30×30 target presents such a good opportunity that we can’t let it pass us by, especially in the face of a changing environment and a future in which we will need resilient ecosystems.”