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England is one of the most nature depleted countries globally. Historic and recent agricultural intensification, development of built infrastructure and pollution, amongst other drivers, has led to the degradation, fragmentation and loss of habitats that species depend on. Ecological restoration is the process of promoting the recovery of degraded ecosystems and habitats, for example by reducing or removing the drivers of degradation and through methods such as planting vegetation characteristic of that habitat type. A complimentary approach where native habitats have been lost, is habitat creation where wildlife-rich habitat is established in places where it is currently absent. Under the Environment Act 2021, the UK Government has committed to setting legally binding targets for nature recovery. Defra have consulted on a ‘long-term wider habitats’ target to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife rich habitat outside of protected areas by 2042 (3.8% of England’s land area). Successfully restoring England’s habitats will depend upon overcoming a number of barriers.  

This POSTnote focuses on restoration of terrestrial habitats for the wider habitats target in England and is complemented by POSTbrief 48, which describes approaches to and challenges of restoring different semi-natural habitat types in England including native woodlands, heathlands, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal habitats.

Key Points:  

  • Habitats provide the environmental conditions and resources needed by species.  
  • Agricultural intensity, built development and infrastructure, pollution, invasive species, unsustainable extraction, and climate change can degrade habitats. Ecological restoration can promote their recovery. 
  • Defra has consulted on a target to ‘create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife rich habitat’ outside of protected sites in England by 2042. 
  • Barriers to delivering the target include: the funding of management and monitoring, land ownership and access issues, and capacity/skills gaps. 
  • Emerging monitoring technologies for habitats and species can be used to monitor success and identify when further intervention might be needed. 

Acknowledgements 

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

POST Board members* 

Bethany Chamberlain, BES Policy 

Dr Daniela Russi, BES Policy 

Peter Shepherd, BSG Ecology 

Jamie Robbins, Buglife B-lines* 

Rachel Richards, Buglife B-lines* 

Jason Reeves, CIEEM* 

CIEEM Ecological Restoration and Habitat Creation Special Interest Group* 

Harry Greenfield, Country Land and Business Association (CLA)* 

Professor Jim Harris, Cranfield University/RestREco 

Freya Dixon van-Djik, Defra* 

Eleanor Andrews, Defra* 

Hugh Loxton, Defra* 

Judith Stuart, Defra* 

Ian Fenn, Defra* 

Clare Mason, Defra* 

Stephen Rogers, Defra* 

Saskia Boardman, Defra* 

Ellie Pierce, Defra* 

Laura Grant, Defra* 

Sian Shufflebotham, Defra* 

Kevin Woodhouse, Defra* 

Mark Gerred, Defra* 

Hannah Hudson, Defra* 

Henrietta Appleton, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust/Allerton Project 

Alastair Leake, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust/Allerton Project 

Dr Ted Chapman, Kew/UK Native Seed Hub 

Dr Christopher Cockel, Kew/UK Native Seed Hub 

Professor Simon Caporn , Manchester Metropolitan/CARE PEAT Project 

David Payne, Mineral Products Association (MPA) 

Dr Rosie Hails, National Trust 

James Grischeff, Natural England 

Verity Pitts, Natural England/Dynamic Dunescapes 

Dr Louise Denning, Natural England/Dynamic Dunescapes* 

Katey Stephen, Natural England* 

Frances McCullagh, Natural England* 

Emma Goldberg, Natural England* 

Dr Louise Denning, Natural England* 

David Glaves, Natural England* 

Dr Alice Noble, Natural England* 

Dr Isabel Alonso, Natural England* 

Clare Pinches, Natural England* 

Poppy Sherborne, NFU* 

Professor David Gowing, Open University/Floodplain Meadows Partnership 

Jenna Hegarty, RSPB 

Nigel Symes, RSPB/Nature After Minerals 

David Edwards, Sheffield University 

Professor Kirsty Park, Stirling University/RestREco/WrEn 

Dr Emma Toovey, the Environment Bank 

Dr Jo Treweek, Treweek Environmental Consultants/UK Hab/eCountability/Wendling Beck Environment Project 

Professor James Bullock, UKCEH/RestREco 

Dr Nick Isaac, UKCEH 

Katie Powell, UKCEH/BES Policy 

Professor Richard Pywell, UKCEH/RestREco 

Bob Edmunds, UKHab 

Professor Douglas Yu, University of East Anglia/Nature Metrics 

John Martin, University of Plymouth 

Glenn Anderson, Wendling Beck Environment Project* 

Richard Benwell , Wildlife and Countryside link* 

Christine Reid, Woodland Trust* 

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, ZSL/IUCN Rewilding Working Group 

*denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing 

 


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