Tories’ ‘toothless’ UK policies failing to halt drastic loss of wildlife

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The government’s underfunded green ambitions and “toothless” policies are failing to halt catastrophic loss of wildlife, a committee of MPs has said in a new report that finds the biodiversity crisis is still not being treated with the urgency of the climate crisis.

The UK is the most wildlife-depleted country out of the G7 nations and, despite pledges to improve the environment within a generation, properly funded policies are not in place to make this happen, according to the report from the environmental audit committee (EAC).

The government’s 25-year environment plan to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 and its promise to deliver biodiversity net gain on infrastructure projects look good on paper, but inadequate monitoring and a lack of compliance means the government is not delivering on them.

Nature is still not being taken into account in policymaking and more money is being spent destroying the environment than protecting it, the report found. Funding cuts and a lack of ecological expertise in government and local authorities is worsening the situation, MPs said.

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “We are losing species at a terrifying rate and multiple warnings are not being heeded. The collapse in biodiversity has to be pushed up the political agenda, and nature protection and restoration given the priority and resources it needs, before it’s too late.

“The Treasury still sticks to an outdated mindset, which sees GDP growth as the key measure of progress and nature as an expendable resource. That has to change, as the report makes clear.”

The EAC report urges the government to increase Natural England’s funding year-on-year so the agency can protect nature at the vast scale needed.

For seas, destructive bottom trawling should be restricted or banned in all marine protected areas and more “no-take” zones must be established.

The committee’s recommendations include creating a legally binding target for soil health, a natural history GCSE, and banning tree-planting on peat soils and floodplains. Important ecosystems such as ancient woodland and peatland must be looked after, whether they are a “protected area” or not.

Other recommendations include creating a commission to track public expenditure that harms biodiversity, removing harmful subsidies and redirecting money into nature conservation.

Ministers should also spend at least GBP3m a year on increasing biosecurity to tackle invasive species, which cost the UK economy GBP1.8bn a year.

The report found the climate emergency has risen up the political agenda and is increasingly being factored into decision-making in the public and private sector, but this has not yet happened with biodiversity.

Government data released at the end of last year found public sector investment in conservation fell in real terms by 33% in five years.

Philip Dunne, chairman of the committee, said despite countless policies to improve the natural environment, they remain “grandiose statements lacking teeth and devoid of effective delivery mechanisms”.

He said: “We have no doubt that the ambition is there, but a poorlymixed cocktail of ambitious targets, superficial strategies, funding cuts and lack of expertise is making any tangible progress incredibly challenging.”

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