We must Scale-up Action to meet Nature Targets in England

Britain coast overhead photo
Alison Smith (NbSI & Agile Researcher), comments on the recent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) annual report, citing an urgent need to scale-up action for nature.

The Government is largely off-track to meet its legally binding environmental targets in England, and action must be speeded up and scaled up, according to a progress report by the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

The OEP’s annual report on progress towards the goals of the Environmental Improvement Plan was released on the 18 January, covering the year from April 2022 to March 2023. Dame Glenys Stacey, the OEP chair, said the report shows that “deeply concerning adverse environmental trends continue”, and that “more must be done, and done at pace”.

Of the 40 targets assessed, the report found we are on track to deliver just four. There is partial progress towards 11, and we are off-track for 10, including waste management, sustainable fisheries, chemicals and nature recovery. For fifteen targets there is not even enough evidence to do an assessment.

Similarly, of 51 environmental trends, over half are either getting worse (8), not improving (10), or have no evidence (8). Those that are improving include greenhouse gas emissions, and some air pollutants and chemical pollutants. But the government is off-track to meet the key overall goals of ‘thriving plants and wildlife’ as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation, and exposure to pesticides.

Delays in long-awaited policies such as a Land Use Framework, Chemicals Strategy and Pesticides Strategy are amongst the reasons given for lack of progress, as well as a failure to provide enough resources to tackle urgent problems such as the spread of invasive non-native species. The Government has announced policies such as cleaning up air and water and helping wildlife recover, but failed to back them up with delivery plans and resources.

It’s clear that there is an urgent need to rapidly scale up action on nature recovery – and our Agile Initiative sprint is developing tools and guidance to help with this. We are working with local partners across the UK to test approaches for delivering successful, sustainable nature-based solutions to societal challenges, with multiple benefits for nature and people.

Our mapping tools can help to locate the right NbS in the right places, and our ‘Recipe for Engagement’ shows how local communities and other stakeholders can be involved in participatory governance of NbS. We have also developed tools to help practitioners find funding, and select indicators to monitor the outcomes of their projects for biodiversity and soil health. We are creating a map of inspiring case studies, and modelling land-use strategies that make space for nature recovery and carbon sequestration alongside food production.

Yet nature-based solutions cannot deliver their potential unless there is a supportive policy framework to ensure ecosystem health and resilience. Unfortunately, the OEP report comes against a backdrop of contradictory policies that undermine progress towards nature recovery. These include issuing new oil and gas licenses, approving ‘emergency use’ of banned neonicotinoid pesticides for the fourth year in a row, abandoning the commitment that everyone should have access to nature-rich green space within a 15 minute walk, and scrapping of swathes of environmental legislation under the Retained EU Law Bill.

We urgently need a joined-up approach that both delivers nature recovery and reverses damaging policies and harmful subsidies. Only then will nature be able to play its part in underpinning a healthy, prosperous and resilient society.


Alison Smith is a Senior Research Associate at Nature-based Solutions Initiative, as well as in the Ecosystems Group at the Environmental Change Institute, Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery and Agile Initiative.