Councils could be empowered to designate wildbelt land on the edge of towns and cities for nature restoration if a Conservative Environment Network bid to change the law succeeds.
CEN MP David Simmonds has proposed an amendment, backed by nine more Conservative MPs so far, to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to establish a wildbelt land designation to level up access to nature and meet our environmental targets.
If MPs approve the amendment, councils could designate wildbelt, that could sit on top of existing designations, in their local plans, creating legally protected land marked for nature restoration across the country. It would prevent damaging development but allow sustainable farming and other nature-friendly land use.
The new designation would help the UK meet its target to protect and effectively manage 30 per cent of the country’s land for nature. According to one study, despite 28 per cent of the UK land supposedly being protected by existing classifications, only 5 per cent is being managed primarily for nature and in good condition.
Unlike existing designations like the green belt, which is only designed to prevent urban sprawl, and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and national parks which are not specifically focused on conservation, wildbelt land will be dedicated to restoring nature.
Studies have also shown that sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) are, on average, worse inside England’s national parks - 10 per cent of our land - than outside of them. Only 26 per cent are in favourable condition compared to 39 per cent nationally.
The government could target investment for biodiversity net gain and other habitat creation schemes towards wildbelt land. It would focus efforts to halt the decline of nature in England, which has seen 41 per cent of species decline since 1970 and 15 per cent facing extinction today.
Creating a wildbelt is also an opportunity to bring nature closer to people, as the poorest households are 40 per cent less likely to live close to publicly accessible nature-rich greenspace than the richest 10% of households. According to Natural England, we could save the NHS more than £2 billion a year if everyone had access to green space.
The Conservative Environment Network said creating a legal wildbelt designation is critical to meeting the government's ambitious 2030 targets to halt biodiversity decline and protect and effectively manage 30 per cent of the country's land for nature.
CEN MP David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) commented: “Our existing land designations have not stopped the decline in nature. That's why it's time for a new wildbelt status to boost biodiversity and restore our green and pleasant land. “This new legal status will protect land specifically for biodiversity, creating new habitats and restoring declining landscapes like chalk grasslands, ancient woodlands, and meadows. Without it, we will struggle to meet our target to protect and effectively manage 30 per cent of our land for nature by 2030.
“If we are going to reconnect people with the wonders of the natural world and halt the decline of nature, we need land near towns and cities dedicated to boosting biodiversity.”
James Cullimore, Conservative Environment Network Spokesman, commented: “We have lost more of our biodiversity than any other G7 nation. A new planning designation focused on the recovery of nature can help to turn this around. “Wildbelts would provide safe corridors for species and nearby pockets of vibrant nature for people alongside land for new homes. It’s an opportunity to make our towns and cities green and thriving once again.”