Progress in improving the natural environment in England, 2021/2022

Government’s progress on delivery of its 25 year plan to improve the environment has ‘fallen far short’ and opportunities to change course must be taken.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) presents here its independent assessment of Government’s progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with its Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) for England in 2021/2022. 

Of 32 trends assessed across the breadth of the natural environment; nine trends were improving, eleven were static, and eight were deteriorating. Of 23 environmental targets assessed, none were found where Government’s progress was demonstrably on track. 

OEP Chair Dame Glenys Stacey said: “Progress on delivery of the 25 Year Environment Plan has fallen far short of what is needed to meet Government’s ambition to leave the environment in a better state for future generations. 

“There have been recent improvements in air quality and people’s engagement with nature, as Covid lockdowns changed the way we live our lives. But many extremely worrying environmental trends remain unchecked, including a chronic decline in species abundance.

“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. 

“At the end of this month Government is due to publish a refreshed EIP. We hope that the advice given in our previous monitoring report, published in May last year, will have been influential. This is a key opportunity to make meaningful cross-government plans to protect, restore and improve the environment, with a true focus on delivery. That plan must then be regularly refined and adapted, taking into account evidence on what needs to improve.”

Our monitoring report published today identifies a number of key themes to help improve future delivery of the EIP. These include: better alignment and co-ordination at all levels of Government, local and national, with actions that extend beyond Defra; better targeted and timely data collection and collation, with the goals of the EIP in mind; and improved assessment of progress, with a purpose-driven monitoring, evaluation, and learning framework. 

This report identifies eight attributes that in our view will mean the next EIP is effective. An EIP should: 

  • clearly translate vision into policies, commitments and actions for the whole of government
  • establish clear and simple governance arrangements that drive delivery on the ground
  • have a unifying overall delivery plan and one for each goal area
  • set and pursue clear and achievable interim targets that are as ambitious as possible in the areas needing most attention
  • make clear use of robust and current data and analyses that are well aligned with all targets
  • establish an evaluation framework and use it to generate feedback on actions and progress, to learn and to improve delivery
  • use enhanced understanding to diagnose the cause of adverse trends, identify the most urgent, harmful or widespread concerns, and develop effective and timely responses
  • develop assessment regimes that look more to the future

These are supported by five recommendations that build on 16 made in our previous EIP monitoring report, ‘Taking Stock: protecting, restoring and improving the environment in England’.

The report published today can be read in full by clicking on the blue button on this page. 

Read the online version of the report.