The report, published today by the Wildlife Trusts, also says that other government departments are doing little to help reach the target to restore 30% of land for nature by 2030.
The A Wilder Recovery report argues that putting nature at the heart of a sustainable economy will create jobs, level-up local economies and secure the prosperity of future generations.
It adds that government spending on biodiversity has shrunk by 33% over five years, and that the amount the UK spends on activities which damage nature still outstrips government spending to restore it.
The report also calls for the introduction of a new ‘Wildbelt’ designation where land is put aside for nature’s recovery.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We must halt old-fashioned business-as-usual, and stop wasting public money on the polluting infrastructure of the past, such as £27 billion on new roads, and invest instead in green infrastructure. This means restoring wild places for wildlife, flood prevention, storing carbon, and to improve our physical and mental wellbeing.
“Rather than proposed measures to weaken our planning system, we need it strengthened so that it stops badly planned developments and rewards good development that protects and enhances nature and improves peoples’ lives.”
Responding to the report, a DEFRA group spokesperson said: “The government is committed to helping our native wildlife recover and thrive. We have made significant progress implementing our 25 Year Environment Plan for a greener future and our landmark Environment Bill will go further by bringing in legal targets aiming to halt the decline of nature.
“We have also recently published action plans which will see tree planting rates treble by the end of this Parliament and 35,000 hectares of peatlands restored, all backed up by over £500 million of climate finance.”
The spokesperson added that the G7 have agreed to champion the global target to conserve or protect at least 30% of global land and at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030, in addition to the UK’s domestic ‘30by30’ commitments.
In a policy paper published in May, DEFRA acknowledged that the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The paper said that over the last 50 years, much of the UK’s wildlife-rich habitat has been lost or degraded, and many of our once common species are in long-term decline.
DEFRA also recently set out its England Peat Action Plan, targeting an ‘absolute’ end for peat extraction.
The Wildlife Trusts report comes in the same week that the UN launched the ‘decade on ecosystem restoration’, an urgent call for the large-scale revival of nature in farmlands, forests and other ecosystems.
According to reports, the UN said the world must rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on nature and the climate, and that the revival of ecosystems must be met with all the ambition of the space race.