Charity Rewilding Britain said nature is badly depleted in many of the UK’s 15 national parks, with protected sites often in a worse condition than elsewhere, with key species missing or declining, and out of date laws hampering the ability of the parks’ authorities to take action to protect what’s left.
The organisation is calling on the government to rewild 10 per cent of the national parks, and hand the parks’ authorities the power to tackle biodiversity loss and help fight the climate emergency.
“Wilder national parks could lead the way for a healthier, more nature-rich Britain, with opportunities for communities and local economies,” said Guy Shrubsole, Rewilding Britain’s Policy and Campaigns Coordinator.
“Nature would be in an even worse state were it not for the parks, but we’re being outpaced by the nature and climate crises.
“Despite some superb initiatives, the parks’ ability to upscale nature’s recovery and lead the way is being hobbled by decades-old laws dating as far back as the 1940s.”
He added: “It’s time for change. Without wilder national parks, the prime minister’s pledge to protect 30 per cent of Britain for nature by 2030 is just not credible.”
The most recent State of Nature report, which pooled data from an array of organisations, including the RSPB, BTO, National Trust, Natural history Museum, Plantlife and Wildlife Trusts, ranked the UK 189th out of 218 countries for its quality of nature, with some 56 per cent of species in decline and 15 per cent threatened with extinction.
Rewilding Britain has argued for greater levels of rewilding, in which large-scale restorations of nature to the point it can take care of itself, could reverse the country’s collapse in biodiversity.
The organisation highlighted a Friends of the Earth study which revealed there is less woodland cover in the Yorkshire Dales than London, less in the Peak District than in Leeds, and less in the Lake District than in Sheffield.
Outlining a vision of what rewilding 10 per cent of the country’s national parks would look like, the organisation said: “Peatlands, moorlands, woods, rivers and seas [would be] restored, with no loss of productive farmland.
“Allowing native trees to naturally regenerate, and restoring peatlands damaged by drainage and moorland burning, would boost biodiversity, absorb carbon dioxide, reduce flooding and improve water quality.
“Missing species such as beavers, pine martens and white-tailed eagles should be reintroduced when habitat is available and in consultation with local people. Conservation grazing by native livestock would help overgrazed meadows and heaths revive.”
An additional 50 per cent of national park land should consist of “nature recovery areas” consisting of a mix of habitats, wildlife corridors and land uses, backed by government financial support for nature-friendly agriculture, the organisation said.
Existing evidence shows the public already wants wilder national parks, the charity said. The top response from residents and visitors to a Campaign for National Parks survey in 2016 for improving the parks was “better conservation of wildlife”, closely followed by “make them wilder”.
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