UK government falling far short on environment protection plan - watchdog

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises above a factory at sunset in Rugby

By William James

LONDON (Reuters) - The UK government is falling far short of delivering its 25-year plan to improve the environment, the country's nature protection watchdog said on Thursday, highlighting in particular a chronic decline in the abundance of key plant and wildlife species.

In 2018, the government set out a long term plan designed to "leave our environment in a better state than we found it", publishing targets across a broad range of areas and promising a new public body to monitor its implementation.

That watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), set out its latest findings in a critical report covering England.

"Progress on delivery of the 25 Year Environment Plan has fallen far short of what is needed to meet government’s ambition," said OEP Chair Glenys Stacey.

The report found that of 23 targets assessed there were none where the government's progress was demonstrably on track. In 32 trends it examined, nine were improving, eleven were static and eight were deteriorating.

In response, the government highlighted environmental legislation passed last year and said it would build on that with an Environment Improvement Plan soon. That would set out action to "reverse the decline in nature, achieve our net zero goals and deliver cleaner air and water,” a spokesperson said.

The OEP report said a goal to ensure greater species abundance in 2042 was shown to be off track with levels still falling and only limited signs this was slowing. It urged the government to step up its action in this area.

"Our assessment shows that the current pace and scale of action will not deliver the changes necessary to significantly improve the environment in England. But there is clear opportunity to change course," Stacey said.

(Reporting by William James; editing by Sarah Young)