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Environment

Environment Bill will ban peat compost and bring back wildcats

New proposals for the Environment Bill could push forward the UK’s green jobs drive

UK government plans to restore nature are “a breath of fresh air”, experts said, but the upcoming Environment Bill must be bolder if the country is to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The delayed legislation will put wildlife targets into law, meaning the government will be accountable for reintroducing animals lost from the UK in past years – such as wildcats – and helping diminishing species such as beavers to recover. 

The government will also ban the sale of peat compost by 2024, environment secretary George Eustice said, with England’s damaged peatlands emitting 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and as we at WWF have long been calling for measures to halt the loss of nature by 2030, today’s announcements are a breath of fresh air,” Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF, told The Big Issue.

“However, we must also restore as well as protect our natural world and just protecting nature within our own borders isn’t enough. 

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“We need a stronger Environment Bill which takes full account of the UK’s environmental footprint, stops funding deforestation overseas and an active plan of repair and restoration for future generations.”

UK peatlands store three times as much carbon as its forests do but only 13 per cent are in a “near-natural” state, according to Eustice, damaged by the process of removing the top layer to access soil underneath, which releases greenhouse gases.

“The government’s intention to phase out the use of horticultural peat is excellent. Previous efforts have failed, so we hope the government will expedite consultation to ensure that new regulations are agreed this year,” said Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link.

“Thirty-five thousand hectares of peatland restoration is a really welcome start, but this is only around five percent of England’s peat,” he added. “Further regulation to stop wildlife destruction, incentives to reward regeneration, and public investment in restoration will all be needed in the years ahead. 

“Not only is peatland restoration great for wildlife and climate, it’s also a fantastic opportunity for government to create green jobs in areas with higher unemployment as part of levelling up plans.”

The government will treble tree planting rates in England before the end of this parliament, the environment secretary said, and plant 6,000 hectares of new woodland by 2025.

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A Trees for Climate programme will create at least three new community forests to make green space more accessible for more people, while a species reintroduction taskforce will develop a series of projects to boost the UK’s dwindling wildlife.

The UK ranks 228th out of 240 countries and territories for protecting wildlife and nature from human activity, according to the RSPB.

“Today we face a twin nature and climate emergency,” said Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts. “These crises are entirely interlinked and one cannot be tackled without addressing the other. 

“It’s essential that we stop nature’s decline and restore 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030. Doing so will help wildlife fight back and enable repaired habitats to store carbon once more.”

The bill returns to parliament for a final debate later this month, before moving to the House of Lords.

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