These pages are being tested.

Biodiversity in the UK: bloom or bust? – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report with recommendations to the Government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Environmental Audit Committee

Date Published: 30 June 2021

Download and Share



The world is witnessing a colossal decline in global biodiversity. One million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Most terrestrial biomes are damaged. Since 1970 there has been a 68 percent decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. This global picture is reflected in the UK, one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. 15 percent of UK species are threatened with extinction. Of the G7 countries, the UK has the lowest level of biodiversity remaining. At a minimum, the UK has failed to meet 14 of the 19 Aichi biodiversity targets, the global nature goals the UK committed to meet by 2020.

To reverse the trend of biodiversity loss requires urgent transformative change. This cannot be achieved simply though using natural resources more efficiently. Total material consumption in developed economies needs to be reduced, nature needs to be accounted for in economic decision making and governments and businesses need to take pre-emptive and precautionary actions to avoid, mitigate and remedy the deterioration of nature. Alternatives to GDP urgently need to be adopted as more appropriate ways to measure economic success, appraise investment projects and identify sustainable development.

In 2018, the Government published its 25 Year Environment Plan, setting out its ambition to improve the natural environment within a generation. More recently, the Government announced a ‘state of nature’ target aimed at halting the decline in nature in England by 2030. The Government plans to implement a raft of environmental policies to achieve these goals including: establishing Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS), biodiversity net gain for new developments, and a Nature Recovery Network; and supporting nature-based solutions to climate change like tree planting and protecting peatland. The UK is also leading the Global Ocean Alliance to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030.

These policies are a welcome start, but in their current form do not represent the transformative change required to bend the curve of biodiversity loss. As a result, nature will continue to decline and the next generation will inherit a more depleted, damaged natural environment. Action needs to be stepped up in scale, ambition, pace, and detail.

To help achieve the transformative change necessary, we propose a package of recommendations spanning biodiversity monitoring, funding, policy implementation, economics, and education. In particular, we want to highlight the following recommendations:

  • For the Government’s state of nature target to be truly the nature equivalent of Net Zero a comparable delivery mechanism to that within the Climate Change Act is required. Legally binding interim targets are needed, and outcome measures should include targets on species distribution, extinction risk, habitat condition and extent.
  • A barrier to achieving all of the Government’s policies is a severe skills shortage in ecologists. This is the result of cuts to public spending on biodiversity. Local authorities do not have enough ecologists to oversee the biodiversity net gain policy. We recommend that the Government invest in training and skills in chartered ecology as part of the Government’s promised investment in Green Jobs.
  • The 25 Year Environment Plan does not have a set of long-term objectives to achieve the Plan’s ten goals. The Government must urgently establish a natural capital baseline to measure progress against these goals and there needs to be a formal mechanism tying performance against goals to planned action.
  • There is no strategy indicating how new biodiversity policies will work together. Implementation of these policies could be piecemeal, conflicting, and of smaller scale as a result. The Nature Strategy should set out how environmental and planning policies will link together to form a coherent policy approach to realise the 25 Year Environment Plan.
  • Significant changes to individual biodiversity policies are necessary to realise their transformative potential. Biodiversity net gains should endure beyond the 30 year minimum. Defra needs to set out how Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be co-ordinated and joined-up into a national Nature Recovery Network.
  • We welcome the Government’s pledge to protect 30% of UK land and seas by 2030, but simply designating areas as protected is not enough. These areas are poorly managed. This Committee examined marine protected areas in 2019 but none of the recommendations have been adopted. Monitoring needs to be stepped up to track illegal fishing and management plans are needed for all protected areas.
  • Nature is not adequately being factored into government decision making. We recommend the Government identify and reform subsidies harmful to biodiversity, redirecting money to nature conservation. We recommend the Government set a target to reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint.
  • The Government should detail how it intends to move beyond GDP as the primary measure of economic activity, for example towards a concept of inclusive wealth, which includes consideration of the UK’s produced, human and natural capital.
  • The Government should conduct Net Zero stress tests on the 2021 Budget and all future fiscal events. Nature tests should also be developed to ensure spending packages align with the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework. A new fiscal rule should be set focused on balancing our demands on nature with nature’s supply, and efforts to mainstream climate-related financial risks into the financial system should be duplicated for nature-related risks.
  • For biodiversity to be protected, it has to be valued. This starts with education. We support the establishment of a Natural History GCSE and recommend nature visits, teaching outside, and getting children involved in the Government’s tree-planting drive to form part of education recovery plans.

This report focuses on improving biodiversity in the UK. In a subsequent report we will examine the UK’s impact on international biodiversity and the measures Ministers ought to be advocating for at COP15 and COP26 to start nature on the path of recovery.

Damaging changes in the planet’s biodiversity are not being treated with the same urgency and ambition as changes in the planet’s climate. This is unacceptable. Measures to counter the collapse in biodiversity must be raised up the political agenda: each Government department must consider the potential impact of its actions on biodiversity, and such considerations must be factored into decision-making across the public and private sector. We have seen a shift towards this with climate change: the same is possible for biodiversity. To prevent biodiversity collapse becoming a global crisis, action must be taken now.