Wildlife and Countryside Link—a coalition of over 80 charities including the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and WWF UK—is challenging all political parties to set out how they would halt wildlife decline by 2030, ahead of the General Election.

Under the Environment Act 2021, Government has a legal duty to halt the decline of wildlife by 2030, and further targets on biodiversity, air pollution, water quality and waste reduction for 2042.

Nature groups recognise that the Government has taken significant positive steps in environmental policy, including the world’s first legally binding target to halt the decline of biodiversity. However, they do not think that politicians have yet taken sufficient action to meet that target, or laid out clear and credible plans for how they would do so.

The government’s statutory advisor, the Office for Environmental Protection, has warned that nature action is largely off-track, but the Government has not considered whether to strengthen the plan in light of the OEP’s findings.

Ahead of the announcement of the General Election, Wildlife & Countryside Link initiated legal proceedings, questioning why the Secretary of State did not fulfil a legal duty to consider a review of the Environmental Improvement Plan in light of the watchdog’s report. Responsibility for updating the plan and meeting the target will now transfer to the next administration.

The charities are calling on political parties to:

  1. Increase public investment in nature, including doubling the budget for wildlife-friendly farming. Currently public funding for biodiversity is just 0.031% of GDP.
  2. Increase private investment in nature by requiring big businesses to disclose their impacts on nature and to pay toward nature-recovery. This makes business sense: 12% of GDP could be lost in the coming decade because of the degradation of nature.
  3. Properly protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, by expanding and improved wildlife sites. Only 3% of land and 8% of seas are effectively protected for nature so far. 
  4. Guarantee environmental Rights for Everyone: clean air, clean water, access to nature. Government figures show that 38% of people do not have access to green space within a 15 minute walk of home, often the most vulnerable communities.

Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: "In the Environment Act, the previous Government established a groundbreaking legal framework for nature recovery, and it is positive to see politicians of all stripes pledge to halt wildlife decline. Yet time after time, environmental targets are missed. 

“The Office for Environmental Protection says that once again delivery is falling short. It’s time for the culture of non-compliance with environmental law to end. When plans to restore biodiversity and stop pollution aren’t delivering, we can’t afford to stand by. Environmental charities are ready to take legal action where any Government falls short of its own promises for nature.

“As we approach polling day, we’re calling on all parties to set out what they’d do for nature if elected. Environmental charities large and small have written to all party leaders to challenge them to explain to the voting public how they would restore our natural world and pass on a country rich in nature for future generations.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link is represented by Leigh Day environment team solicitor, who added: “The government set ambitious targets for itself in the Environment Act 2021, as well as setting up an independent regulator, the OEP, to monitor whether it is on track to meet those targets. The OEP’s most recent assessment is bleak, finding that the government is ‘largely off track’ to meet the targets that it set for itself. Link are rightly asking the government how it can carry on with a business as usual approach and still meet its targets in light of the OEP’s findings. A pre-action letter has been sent asking that question. If the government don’t give a satisfactory response then Link will consider issuing a claim for judicial review in the High Court.”

With pollution on the rise, wildlife numbers declining, and just a small proportion of the land and sea adequately protected for nature, the UK is among the most nature-deprived countries in the world.

The Environment Act 2021 and the Environmental Improvement Plan (first published in 2018 and updated in 2023) are the core of the Government’s programme for nature protection, intended to ensure that this is the first generation to pass on nature in better condition. Wildlife and Countryside Link argues that the Government’s Environmental Improvement Plan falls short in substance, evidence and delivery, and that the plan must be strengthened to guarantee a brighter future for nature. [3]

Wildlife & Countryside Link has taken the first step towards a challenge in court over why the Government has not fulfilled its legal duties under the Environment Act. To comply with its legal duty, nature groups believe that the Government must consider whether to review and strengthen its plan in light of its advisor’s warning. Through seeking a judicial review, nature groups want the Government to strengthen its Environmental Improvement Plan.

Link has sent a pre-action protocol letter, which obliges Government to explain how it thinks it is fulfilling its legal obligations. If further legal proceedings follow, Government could be required to consider whether to review and strengthen its nature plans. 

Charities have also written to all political party leaders today, saying that the next Government will be in breach of the law if it does not halt the decline of nature by 2030. In the letters, the charities say that the main parties have so far failed to set out credible plans.

Key failings in the Environmental Improvement Plan include:

  • The measures set out in the plan—and progress on delivery—will not ensure that the Government’s legal obligation to halt the decline of wildlife by 2030 will be met.
  • The plan does not quantify or explain in scientific terms how the Government thinks that current measures will enable the targets to be met.
  • The plan does not set out a clear timetable for delivery and there is no overall accountability for its delivery.

The nature coalition contends that other critical elements of the plan, such as the transition to wildlife-friendly farming, must be strengthened to deliver nature-recovery. It is calling for a combination of better regulation and more investment in nature-friendly farming, alongside market reforms that would see farmers receive fairer prices for the production of sustainable, healthy food without being undercut by lower quality imports.

Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling for the following improvements to be made to the Environment Improvement Plan (EIP):

  1. Government should set out a cross-Departmental delivery framework, with clear timelines and accountability for implementation of key actions.
  2. It should scale up and speed up delivery of priority actions, including:
    • Scaling up investment in nature.
    • Scaling up nature-friendly farming, with higher standards and incentives.
    • Speeding up private sector investment, with “polluter pays” plans for big businesses.
    • Speeding up improving access to nature, focusing on nature-deprived areas.
  3. Government should publish evidence of how actions in the plan add up to delivery of the Environment Act targets.

The threat of legal action comes ahead of what aims to be the biggest gathering of people for nature and climate that the UK has ever seen. Environment campaigners are urging everyone who cares for nature to unite and march through London to Parliament Square on Saturday 22 June, with a simple demand to all political parties: Restore Nature Now

The following organisations support the legal action:

  • Beccy Speight, CEO, RSPB
  • Craig Bennett, CEO, The Wildlife Trusts
  • Tanya Steele, CEO, WWF UK
  • Hilary McGrady, Director General, The National Trust 
  • Dr Darren Moorcroft, CEO, The Woodland Trust
  • Dr Rose O’Neill, CEO, Campaign for National Parks
  • Nida Al-Fulaij, CEO, People’s Trust for Endangered Species
  • Dr Mark Avery, Director, Wild Justice
  • Hugh Knowles and Miriam Turner, Co-Executive Directors, Friends of the Earth
  • Matt Larsen-Daw, CEO, The Mammal Society
  • Julie Williams, CEO, Butterfly Conservation
  • Kit Stoner, CEO, Bat Conservation Trust
  • Gill Perkins, CEO, Bumblebee Conservation Trust
  • Dr Stephen Head, Founder Patron, Wildlife Gardening Forum
  • Matt Collis, Deputy Vice President, Policy, IFAW
  • Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, Chief Executive, Keep Britain Tidy
  • Sandy Luk, CEO, Marine Conservation Society
  • Professor Jeremy Biggs, CEO, Freshwater Habitats Trust 
  • Clare Brook, CEO, Blue Marine
  • Catherine Gunby, Executive Director, FIDRA
  • Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary, Open Spaces Society
  • Hugo Tagholm, Executive Director & Vice President, Oceana UK
  • Andy Atkins, CEO, A Rocha UK
  • Nick Measham, CEO, WildFish
  • Prof Alastair Driver FCIEEM, Director, Rewilding Britain
  • Sue Sayer MBE, Director, the Seal Research Trust
  • Mark Lloyd, CEO, The Rivers Trust
  • James Wallace, CEO, River Action
  • Professor Jeremy Biggs, CEO, Freshwater Habitats Trust
  • Dr Richard Benwell, CEO, Wildlife & Countryside Link