With the upcoming snap general election on 4 July announced by Rishi Sunak, the next government will have a crucial role in advancing nature restoration in the UK’s uplands. Whether Labour or Conservative, Wild Moors sets out five key issues the next government must address.

Expanding nature restoration in the uplands

The UK’s uplands are vital landscapes for nature, the climate and communities. Making up nearly 4 million hectares, including some of our most iconic national parks and national landscapes, they have significant potential to help achieve ambitions to protect 30% of land and water for nature by 2030.

Restoring upland habitats, such as peatlands, woodlands, heathlands and grasslands, offers numerous benefits. These restored habitats can sequester substantial amounts of carbon to help tackle climate change, support biodiversity, provide clean drinking water, protect communities against flooding and reduce wildfire risk. They also provide vast green spaces for open air recreation, which plays a key part in improving physical and mental health and reducing inequality.

Large-scale upland restoration would also make a vital contribution towards targets to halt nature loss by 2030 and reach carbon net zero by 2050. However, in January, the independent watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, said the government was  “largely off track” on meeting its environmental aims, with only four of 40 targets for England likely to be achieved. It’s clear that a bolder approach to scaling up nature restoration is needed.

Increasing public and private investment in nature

The uplands are under threat from a list of sources that include climate change, unsustainable land management and habitat loss. To beat these threats, a financing programme involving both the public and private sectors is needed to enhance conservation and promote large-scale nature restoration.

Some steps have been taken in recent years under the Conservatives, including the creation of the Nature for Climate Fund. This has financed significant amounts of peatland restoration and clough woodland creation in upland areas to help combat climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and reduce the impact of downstream flooding on local communities. However, this important work can only continue if the next government commits to the future of this vital fund.

It is generally also accepted that public funding alone will not be enough to protect and restore the UK’s vast upland landscapes. Private investment is also crucial, with carbon and biodiversity  increasingly being traded as public goods and environmental assets. This partnership between the private sector and landowners is driving changes in upland management in some areas, but not at the scale or pace necessary to achieve nature and climate ambitions.

A key issue for the next government will be facilitating increased private investment in upland nature restoration, potentially by enhancing the process of investing in ecosystem services. This could include enabling biodiversity net gain in designated landscapes and supporting increased recognition of the restoration of poor-quality peatlands for offsetting unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions.

Significant reform of grouse moors

Environmental organisations have long called for action against the illegal killing of birds of prey and the environmental damage caused by grouse moor management in the uplands. Intensive management practices damage vital habitats such as peatlands through burning, draining, and persecution.

Licensing grouse moors to grant authorities the power to shut down those implicated in wildlife crime and environmental damage is essential. There is no pathway to achieving targets to stop nature loss by 2030 and reach carbon net zero by 2050 without this change.

Additionally, the next government must completely ban the burning of peat moorlands, align with Scotland and Wales by prohibiting the use of snares, and address the misuse of medicated grit for propping up artificially high grouse numbers for sport shooting.

Empowering community right to buy

Empowering local communities through a Community Right to Buy will enable them to purchase and restore moorlands and other land for nature. Similar powers have been successful in Scotland, as seen in the creation of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, acquired by the local community of Langholm in 2022.

Creating more green jobs and skills in nature restoration

The potential for nature restoration in the UK’s uplands is significant. Effective restoration that aims to sustainably manage peatlands and woodlands while benefiting nature and the climate requires skilled professionals. To build these skills, the government must collaborate with partners to accelerate the creation of green jobs and develop various training initiatives.

By addressing these key issues, the next government can significantly advance the restoration of the UK’s uplands, ensuring these vital landscapes contribute to regional, national and global environmental goals.