Biggest ever nationwide initiative to restore nature in England set for launch

Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

In the first of its kind, an England-wide initiative to be launched today will recover nature across the length and breadth of the country, and help everybody access and enjoy it.

In the first of its kind, an England-wide initiative to be launched tomorrow (5 November) will recover nature across the length and breadth of the country, and help everybody access and enjoy it.

The Nature Recovery Network (NRN) Delivery Partnership, led by Natural England, will bring together representatives from over 600 organisations to drive forward the restoration of protected sites and landscapes and help provide at least 500,000 hectares of new wildlife-rich habitat across England. The Network will link together our very best nature-rich places, restore landscapes in towns and the countryside and create new habitats for everybody to enjoy. It is the biggest initiative to restore nature ever to be launched in England.

The partners, including the Council for Sustainable Business, Wildlife and Countryside Link, National Parks England, RSPB and the Country Land and Business Association, alongside Defra, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission, will be providing a wide range of support including funding and land to be restored. Today Natural England is calling for even more organisations to be part of the initiative, organisations already giving their support include Coca-Cola, Network Rail and Severn Trent Water.

As well as making sure our existing protected sites are in the best possible condition, the Nature Recovery Network programme will recover threatened animal and plant species and create and connect new green and blue spaces such as wetlands, ponds, meadows, woodlands, and peatlands. It will engage conservation rangers and environmentally focused community-based projects and put lost features like hedgerows and trees back into our landscapes. These restored habitats will help address climate change through capturing carbon, while improving the quality of our air, water, and soil, and provide natural flood protection. They will also provide us all with places to enjoy and connect with nature and help to improve our health and wellbeing.

The Nature Recovery Network will:  

  • Restore 75% of protected sites to favourable condition so nature can thrive.
  • Create or restore at least 500,000 additional hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside of protected sites.
  • Recover our threatened and iconic animal and plant species by providing more habitat and wildlife corridors to help species move in response to climate change.
  • Support the planting of 180,000 hectares of woodland.
  • Deliver a range of wider benefits, including carbon capture, flood management, clean water, pollination and recreation. 
  • Bring nature much closer to people, where they live, work, and play, boosting health and wellbeing. 

As part of the Nature Recovery Network, the government is exploring the creation of large scale nature recovery areas to significantly expand wildlife habitat and deliver wide ranging benefits.

The fens will provide better flood storage, retain the peatland soils essential for capturing climate-harming gases and offer a haven for wildlife
Catherine Weightman
Natural England

In the East of England, partners have a history of working together; establishing fantastic wetland creation projects such as Great Fen, Wicken Vision, Ouse Fen and South Lincolnshire Fens Partnership. The fens once contained England’s largest wetland habitat. But the landscape has been intensively farmed for centuries and, today, less than 1% of the original habitat remains. The Fens for the Future Partnership committed to establishing an East Anglian Fens NRN.

The soils of the East Anglian Fens, both silts and peat, support highly important agriculture. By reviewing current practices of land management and farming systems and acting to adopt environmental and nature friendly systems, including new systems such as wet farming, will help move the land nearer to a restored state.

The NRN will see wetland restored, re-created and reconnected across the fens for the benefit of people, natural and historic heritage, as well as the rural and tourism economies.

Catherine Weightman from Natural England said:

“Our work will return the fens to its rightful place as one of England’s most valuable habitats. By working together – restoring natural processes, conserving nature, managing water, and developing sustainable and environmental friendly farming practices – we can recover the area’s wonderful biodiversity. As a result, the fens will provide better flood storage, retain the peatland soils essential for capturing climate-harming gases and offer a haven for wildlife whilst maintaining its really important contribution to food production.”

Together we can recover nature and deliver many more benefits for people and wildlife
Tammy Smalley
Head of Conservation, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Tammy Smalley, Head of Conservation at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust said:

"It is fabulous to see the fens getting the national attention they deserve. We are working with Lincolnshire fens farmers and local communities like Baston to develop Nature Recovery Networks from in the middle of our towns and villages, out across this big sky landscape linking to benefits for The Wash. Our proposed project at Bourne North Fen builds on this too."

"The Baston Naturehood has been developing for 18+ months, and we are now developing multiple Naturehoods with communities in the fens. Plus, we are about to launch our national ELMS Test in South Lincolnshire Fens, looking at options with our farmers to inform the up and coming Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Together we can recover nature and deliver many more benefits for people and wildlife, and that is why we work in partnership across the fens, as hosts of the Fens for the Future and the South Lincolnshire Fenland Partnerships working with Natural England."

Launching the Nature Recovery Network initiative, Natural England chair Tony Juniper said:

“We are firing the starting gun on England’s Nature Recovery Network, backed by the biggest ever collaboration between government, business and charities to drive forward the biggest programme for nature recovery in England’s history. The natural world upon which we all depend has for far too long been in decline, and now is the moment when we must change our approach, to move beyond preserving what little remains and to embark on restoration at scale.

“Achieving nature recovery is a complex task that can only be realised through partnerships. These are needed to bring together the people who manage land and sea, the different sources of investment and knowledge that we need to make progress, the variety of official policies we have, and to make the most of the passion of the many leaders who are ready to step up to deliver action on the ground. Our vision is for that network of organisations and people to create a network of places that will bring huge benefits for wildlife, landscapes and people. It is an ambitious idea, but the fact is that in different parts of the country it’s already happening, and we should take great encouragement from that.”

The Nature Recovery Network is a major commitment in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. It is underpinned by ‘Local Nature Recovery Strategies’ (LNRS), established through our landmark Environment Bill, which will provide the spatial mapping and planning tools to inform nature recovery. Additional funding of over £650m, including the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund and Nature for Climate Fund will help drive the Nature Recovery Network forward.

Earlier this year, Natural England and Defra announced that five local authorities will receive a share of a £1 million fund to pilot how LNRS can drive the recovery of England’s landscapes and wildlife locally.

The Nature Recovery Network will also be key to England’s recovery from coronavirus. The Natural England people survey revealed that the nation’s gardens, parks, woodlands and rivers have played a huge part in helping maintain their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, with almost nine in ten adults in England reporting that access to nature boosts their mood.