A new plan for the Lake District is aiming to reverse nature loss

This post is by Blanaid Denman, RSPB senior conservation officer, north.

We already know what we need to do for nature. Eleven years ago, the Lawton Report stressed the urgent need to create more, bigger, better, and more interconnected habitats. The more recent 25 year environment plan set clear targets for restoring protected sites, expanding habitats, increasing woodland cover, tackling pollution and invasive species.

Now, the new Environment Act goes further, including a legally binding target to halt the decline of nature by 2030, adding to existing commitments to see 30 per cent of the UK’s land protected for nature by 2030.

We have the evidence. We have the words. What we need now is action and we need it at scale.

A new partnership is raising ambitions 
At the COP26 summit, National Parks UK joined a global coalition of Protected and Conserved Areas in signing their first ever joint statement on climate change and biodiversity, making the obvious but welcome point, “If we fail here, we will fail everywhere.”

This much needed leadership is already being reflected at ground level, as the Lake District becomes the latest to join the likes of Exmoor, New Forest, and the South Downs National Parks in a growing list of protected landscapes demonstrating a step change in their ambition for nature recovery.

As the birthplace of the UK’s conservation movement, a World Heritage Site, and the nation’s most visited national park, the Lake District arguably has the greatest leadership potential of all our protected landscapes, given the challenge it has to balance these multiple purposes.

The Lake District’s 2018 State of the Park report was stark in its findings. Despite localised successes, significantly more needs to be done to halt and reverse the loss of wildlife throughout the landscape. Rather than shy away from this, the Lake District National Park Partnership (LDNPP), a coalition of 25 organisations has decided to tackle it head on.  

Following extensive public consultation, the LDNPP launched an ambitious new five year Partnership Plan, setting the direction for collaboration on the biggest challenges facing the Lake District, and articulating bold actions to care for the National Park and World Heritage Site.

Land management and the local economy needs healthy ecosystems   
Crucially, it recognise that the issues of farming, forestry, nature recovery and climate change – too often pitted against each other or portrayed as incompatible – are, in fact, intrinsically interlinked. To deliver meaningful change, they must be tackled together, appreciating that, to be truly sustainable, land management mustbe underpinned by healthy functioning ecosystems which, in turn, will lead to thriving local economies and communities.

The public consultation saw over 2,000 responses with significant support (86 per cent) in favour of this approach and a strong desire to see nature restoration underpin the core purpose of the park.

The standout commitments of the plan include:

  • That core areas of nature recovery should cover at least ten per cent of the National Park by 2025, where natural processes are being restored at scale and nature can recover and thrive.
  • Development of a nature recovery prospectus for the recovery of priority species and habitats across the park by 2022, with active delivery by 2025.  
  • Actively pursuing the reintroduction of lost species, including Eurasian beavers, pine martens, eagles and more, by 2025.
  • Maintaining, celebrating and strengthening the World Heritage status and traditional farming systems while ensuring that these contribute substantially to nature and climate recovery.
  • Increasing woodland cover to 17 per cent by 2050, ensuring the right trees are planted in the right places, for the right reasons, in the right way.
  • Clear targets and timelines for restoring designated sites and water bodies to good ecological status.

Richard Leafe, CEO of the Lake District National Park has said, “The Lake District of the future will be richer in wildlife and host an improved network of habitats, whilst retaining the best of British agriculture and its important cultural heritage. The Partnership’s plan to develop and improve nature recovery areas in the National Park will deliver a range of public benefits and play a vital role in our goal to be net zero by 2037.”

The partnership has stated its aspiration for the Lake District to be “the richest and most connected part of England’s nature recovery network”. It’s an ambition to which every protected landscape should aspire but, without decisive, focused action, it is only words. The challenge will be to achieve effective delivery.

To support this, the government has to implement the Glover Review recommendations as a priority so authorities running our protected landscapes have the tools and resources they require. The National Trust, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust have together set out a ten point plan to achieve it.

The ambition is set. The work starts now.

One comment

  • A few obvious concerns here. Land usage is driven by money, especially short-term gain, but there are also many people who can’t afford housing, others in death traps similar to Grenfell Tower while many of those in crowded towns or cities would be much happier to be in suburbs if & when the next pandemic arrives (recall UK flu epidemics in the 50s and 60s). There are also a few million expats who may decide to return home either post-Brexit (when the welcome may not be as warm) or anyway. Then there are potential climate refugees which the UK might take to say nothing of those currently trying to escape conflict in Afghanistan, Syria & elsewhere or wanting better lives for themselves. Many sectors of the UK economy (including harvesting, care homes, hospitality, some trades and parts of the NHS) make extensive use of migrant labour. One disturbing recent estimate is that 11 fully used planets would be needed for everyone to have well-off US lifestyles and jobs to afford them (Prof Gordon Marshall of the Leverhulme Trust,, speaking at Exeter University in late 2019).

    The UK’s current population density is around 280 per sq km while England’s is 430. Assume average occupancy of 3 people per household and you do the sums if we’re all going to live in 3 bedroom semis, let alone detached houses and/or bungalows or with fewer people per household. People are also living longer and that brings its own problems with a low birth rate. Then add in roads, schools, hospitals, the occasional solar farm, biofuels etc. and where do the raw materials for building developments come from, along with water abstraction? Depressing to say the least but those of us lucky and/or rich enough to live in nice areas can hardly complain if others want the same. The inevitable “more people should live in towns and cities” will often be hypocritically uttered by someone with no intention of doing so or who might even own a holiday home. Suggestions from anyone English that more people should move to Scotland, Wales, NI or even the Republic also won’t be well received I suspect.

    Any bright ideas here would be welcome. Even if more food can be readily be produced in less space, or more wildlife-friendly farming methods are adopted, the pressures above are not going to go away.

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