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Eye-opening research led by York St John University academic finds UK ‘protected areas’ are failing to safeguard nature.

Published: 22 April 2022

  •   Research
View of Roseberry Topping with wildflowers
Geography lecturer Dr Joseph Bailey leads an impactful report published today by the British Ecological Society (The BES) that challenges current UK actions to protect wildlife.

The UK is currently at the forefront of an international call to safeguard nature by protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 in a pledge titled the ‘30 x 30’ target.  

However, the BES Protected Areas and Nature Recovery report shows that landscapes designated as ‘protected areas’ are largely failing to deliver for nature and are in poor ecological condition. 

Dr Bailey said “Designating an area of land or sea does not automatically make it an effective protected area. Designation is simply the first step in a long process towards ensuring that long-term ecological benefits are delivered for nature and people. To be effective, a protected area needs adequate implementation, enforcement, monitoring, and long-term protection.” 

Dr Bailey added: “The 30×30 target presents such a good opportunity that we can’t let is pass us by, especially in the face of a changing environment and a future in which we will need resilient ecosystems.” 

Dr Bailey and fellow academics from universities across the UK are calling for a more robust approach to the designation of ‘protected areas’. This means not allocating areas as such, unless the way they look after wildlife radically improves for the long term. 

The report calls attention to national parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), which are currently failing in their potential to protect wildlife. For example, whilst national parks and AONBs make up 28% of the UK, only 5% of this landscape is protected. Poor ecological conditions are also prevalent, due to unsustainable farming, pollution and non-native species spreading. 

And, whilst the factors of planning and policy are considered in the report, Dr Bailey emphasises that in order to address these wide failings, a reconsideration of the value we place on nature is necessary. 

The UK has a good coverage of protected areas but is not using them in best way. It all comes down to taking nature seriously to ensure that the true values are reflected in planning.  

“Nature is not static; it needs to be able to change. If we want a functioning, resilient society, we need functioning, resilient ecosystems. This means effectively preventing damaging activities and removing pressures for protected areas.” 

Read the full report: 

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