Nature conservation organisation Wild Moors has voiced concern over the Conservative Party’s suggestion that it will reduce the focus and powers of Natural England, the environmental watchdog responsible for safeguarding some of the country’s most important nature sites.

The proposal, revealed in the party’s manifesto launched today, suggests it will slim down the powers of the regulator and remove some of its independence if the Conservatives win the upcoming general election. Natural England plays a critical role in protecting and restoring many upland nature sites, including peatlands, which are the country’s largest natural carbon stores on land and are home to vulnerable wildlife.

Wild Moors, which works to restore nature in the uplands, has highlighted that these proposals not only risk landscape protection, but also undermine several positive environmental commitments outlined in the Conservative Party’s manifesto.

This includes expanding tree planting and peatland restoration through the successful Nature for Climate fund, which has already led to the restoration of thousands of hectares of upland peatland and planting of native broadleaf woodlands.

Another is adopting a more localised, catchment-based approach to water management that leverages nature-based solutions. Given that 70% of drinking water originates in upland areas, enhancing water quality through nature restoration is vital. This approach also offers many co-benefits, such as improved carbon storage, biodiversity, natural flood management and increased resilience of upland landscapes to wildfire risk.

Wild Moors says that these positive steps towards nature restoration must be coupled with a well-resourced, independent and effective regulator. Enhancing the uplands requires incentivising landowners which engage in nature restoration and sustainable management while penalising those which harm the environment, the organisation adds.