An additional 400,000 hectares of land in England will be protected to support the recovery of nature under Government plans to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make the pledge at a virtual United Nations event on Monday, where he will warn that countries must act to reverse biodiversity loss.
National parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and other protected areas currently comprise 26% of land in England.
Mr Johnson’s commitment will see an extra 4%, equivalent to the size of the Lake District and South Downs national parks combined, being protected in the next decade.
The environment is a devolved matter, but the Government has said it will work with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as landowners, to increase the size of protected land across the UK.
The Prime Minister will sign the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature at the UN event on Monday, agreeing to prioritise a green recovery from coronavirus, deliver ambitious biodiversity targets and increase financing for nature, among other commitments.
He will say: “We must turn these words into action and use them to build momentum, to agree ambitious goals and binding targets.
“We must act now, right now. We cannot afford dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and it is happening at a frightening rate.
“Left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all. Extinction is forever – so our action must be immediate.”
Environmental organisations welcomed the commitment but called for Government to invest in existing protected sites, and to put the new pledge into law.
Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of umbrella group The Wildlife And Countryside Link, said: “Just 8% of England is currently protected for wildlife, so designating 30% of land to restore nature would be a tremendous step forward…
“Of course, designation alone isn’t a guarantee of change.
“As with marine protection and existing terrestrial protected sites, strong management and investment are also needed.”
WWF-UK chief executive Tanya Steele said: “This announcement is a welcome step, but it must be backed up by urgent ambition, including strong legislation to avoid damaging trade deals and to stop the food we eat from destroying the environment here and abroad.
“Only then can we meet our climate targets, put nature on the path to recovery and set our sights on global leadership at Cop26.”
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of global conservation, said the 30% commitment, if done right, would be a “huge step towards addressing the crisis our wildlife is facing”.
“However, targets on paper won’t be enough.
“Those set a decade ago failed because they weren’t backed up by action.
“This is why the 30 by 30 promise must now be put into domestic law, as part of a suite of goals to restore the abundance and diversity of our wildlife, in every country in the UK.”
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts said it was a “good start” but that more action was needed on the ground to “deliver on the ambition set out by the Prime Minister, and to put nature into recovery”.
“This means rescuing the wildlife sites currently in decline, while also making more space for nature through a new wildlife designation called Wild Belt, specifically aimed at putting nature in recovery, protecting and connecting nature right across the country.”