Defra outlines plans for protecting 30% of land in England by 2030

Environment and climate
Yorkshire Dales National park

Following an environmental pledge made during 2020, Defra has now published its approach on how it plans to protect 30% of English land by 2030.

In 2020 the government committed to protecting 30% of the UK’s land by 2030 (30by30), this target was also adopted globally at the UN Biodiversity Summit COP15 in December 2022.

At the beginning of December, Defra published its approach to delivering 30by30 on land in England. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will set out their approaches to delivering this target separately.

The published government document sets out the criteria for land to contribute towards the target, an indicative map showing areas that already and could count, what policy mechanisms will help achieve 30by30 and importantly, how the government will work with stakeholders to consult and develop the criteria and guidance further.

NFU Countryside adviser Poppy Sherborne said that, despite some government reassurances in the announcement, “the NFU is still concerned that 30by30 may have unforeseen implications on farm businesses”.

“As the 30by30 criteria and guidance is developed we must ensure that it allows farmers and growers to continue to produce food while delivering the environmental benefits we all want to see,” she added.

30by30 criteria

The 30by30 target will focus on the most important areas for biodiversity while still ‘ensuring delivery of wider priorities including food production’. Areas of land which count towards 30by30 should:

  • be able to show that the lands purpose is to deliver positive outcomes for biodiversity
  • be protected from loss or damage to the area’s biodiversity through for example a legal requirement or long-term agreement
  • be managed effectively to delivery positive long-term outcomes for biodiversity.

As the 30by30 criteria and guidance is developed we must ensure that it allows farmers and growers to continue to produce food while delivering the environmental benefits we all want to see.”

NFU Countryside adviser Poppy Sherborne

Which areas does the target cover?

As part of the announcement, the government produced a map which shows areas that currently count towards the target and areas that have the potential to contribute to 30by30.

Currently, 8.5% of land contributes to 30by30, the majority of which is in SSSIs (Sites of Special Specific Interest). An additional 26.8% of land has been identified as having potential to contribute, the majority of which is in Protected Landscapes (National Parks and National Landscapes [AONBs]) and will include some farmland.

Support from landowners and land managers is still needed to guarantee that potential areas will contribute to 30by30.

Delivery details

To help deliver the additional 26.8%, the government plans to use a range of existing and new policy mechanisms to deliver the additional area. They mechanisms are detailed in the 30by30 announcement and link with policies in the recent nature package announcement and the EIP (Environment Improvement Plan). The key mechanisms are:

  • Strengthening policy and statutory safeguards and powers to improve management of nature. These include improved SSSI assessment and condition, the delivery of LNRS (Local Nature Recovery Strategies), a new National Landscapes Association and Protected Landscapes contributions to the Environment Act targets.
  • Extending and creating new protected areas and restoring or creating wildlife rich habitat outside of these. These include a new National Forest, new National Nature Reserves and Nature Recovery Projects, the 34 new Landscape Recovery Projects and the contribution of the existing Environment Act targets (peat and tree planting) and policies, BNG (Biodiversity Net Gain and LNRS.
  • Investing in habitat restoration. These include through the ELMs (Environmental Land Management schemes), the Conservation and Enhancement Scheme, the FiPL (Farming in Protected Landscapes) programme, additional investment and support for Protected Landscapes, the Species Survival Fund, the Nature for Climate Fund, private finance, and Research & Development funding for England’s temperate rainforests.

Next Steps

The government will work with stakeholders including farmers and landowners to finalise the 30by30 criteria and develop more detailed guidance by Summer 2024.

This includes recognising and exploring the role of farming tenancies, and shorter-term management agreements including agri-environment schemes in delivering 30by30. The NFU will continue to engage with government to ensure that the important role of farming and food production in these areas is recognised and supported in 30by30.

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