Time for Nature?

On Friday I spent an idle ten minutes at lunchtime searching through party websites for mentions of nature or wildlife conservation. I thought it was high time – with a mere 6 days left until the election – that I knew what the parties vying for my vote thought about the issue dearest to my heart.

I (wrongly) presumed all of them would have something to say on the subject, but what priority do they give nature? My first rudimentary test was to time how long it took me to navigate from their homepage to the first mention of nature or wildlife policies. Here are the results, showing time in seconds:

PartytimesReally this comes down to web design, prominence of the right words, and how observant I am.

However, I was surprised at how easy it was to find the Lib-Dems nature policies – hover over ‘Manifesto’, and one of the five main areas highlighted is ‘Environment and Nature’.

I was likewise surprised at how long it took to find nature policy on the Green Party website. They seem to prefer to focus on issues for which they are less well known, and buried nature and wildlife in the PDF full manifesto.

UKIP have a Housing and Environment section, but it’s full of nothing but incoherent planning policy and climate change lunacy (for more on their bizarre housing and environment spokesman Andrew Charalambous, see Miles King’s blog).

As for the conservatives, I had to dig into the full Tory manifesto to see what they had in store for wildlife after the election.

So much for web design and prominence of the right words: what about the actual policies? Here are the main points, whittled down to a few each be fair to those parties for which I didn’t look at the full manifesto.

Conservatives

  • Create a ‘blue belt’ to protect marine habitats.
  • Tackle international wildlife crime
  • National Capital Committee to be funded at least through next parliament, to establish a 25 year plan to restore Britain’s biodiversity.
  • ‘Replace locally’ any biodiversity lost in construction of HS2.

Green Party

  • Promote landscape-scale conservation through reform of CAP, improved agri-environment schemes and via the planning system. All farm payments designed (amongst other things) to protect wildlife.
  • Increase amount of protected land under Habitats Directive.
  • Increase MCZ network.
  • Reduce pesticide use to protect bees.

Liberal Democrats

  • Enact a Nature Law, protecting wildlife, green spaces, plants and trees.
  • Put nature at the heart of government decision making. The natural capital committee to be put on permanent footing with legal status and enforceable recommendations.
  • Protect habitats from forests to oceans and the creatures that call them home, from bees to birds.
  • Everybody should have access to nature. Support this through creation of a new public forest body.

Labour

  • Deal with wildlife crime associated with shooting.
  • End the badger cull.

My verdict

Conservatives: I make no secret of the fact that I’m not a natural conservative voter, so I’d have been unlikely to put my cross next to local MP Theresa May’s name anyway. The half-hearted list of policies they offer here don’t make a change of heart very likely. The marine ‘blue belt’ they talk about – how about the MCZ network, which this government has under-implemented and under-funded? A 25 year plan sounds great, but the same principle applies – a good plan is useless if the funding and political will to implement recommendations is not there. Reference to ‘international’ wildlife crime is telling. What about all wildlife crime?

Greens: Though the green party has a reputation for being naive and wishy-washy, this reads like the most practical list of policies – vague pledge to ‘protect bees’ aside (what about other pollinators, and indeed all other insects?). On the whole these are aims I support and have in one way or another campaigned for over the last few years. It’s just a shame they’re buried partway through the manifesto, and not put front and centre. Polls suggest the electorate wishes the parties were talking more about the environment at this election – it’s time for the Green Party to stop hiding their light under a bushel! I’d previously assumed the greens didn’t really ‘get’ wildlife, lumping it into a broader approach to environmental issues, but I really do think their approach has moved forward markedly since the last election.

Liberal Democrat: I very much like the commitment to a new Nature Law, given the fragmented and often confusing state of current wildlife legislation. This is something the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts have been campaigning for in the run up to the election. A promise to put nature at the heart of government decision making is also welcome. You have to ask, however, why they didn’t press harder on these issues whilst in government. Liberal democrat votes helped through some unpopular moves from DEFRA, moves which they didn’t have to support since they didn’t necessarily feature in the 2010 coalition agreement. The pledges are also so vague as to be pretty much useless. Top marks for intent and for placing nature in a prominent place on their website, but low marks for the detail (or lack of).

Labour: In fairness, I suspect – hope! – that there is a little more meat on wildlife conservation issues in the full manifesto. Mark Avery’s blog on the Labour manifesto suggests there is, but that there is not a lot of substance to it. The two commitments I found fairly quickly on their website – so I can only presume these are the Labour parties top conservation priorities – both read like party political statements, in that they’re aimed at a pastime and a hobby which are both linked to the Tories. So Labour will deal with wildlife crime associated with shooting, in other words that associated with ‘tweed clad Tory-voting toffs’ – whilst the Tories will deal with international wildlife crime, in other words not the sort committed by or on behalf of funders and supporters of the party! Unfortunately, whilst tackling domestic wildlife crime and ending the badger cull will satisfy a lot of environmental campaigners in the UK, they won’t do very much at all for the overall state of nature in Britain. We’d still have lots of badgers, which aren’t particularly threatened, and we’d have a few more birds of prey. And that’s about it.

Summary: My ideal outcome would be a combination of Green and Liberal Democrat policy. Increase the coverage of protected areas on land and at sea, use farm payments and the planning system more pro-actively to favour nature conservation, and tie it all together with a big legally binding green ribbon called the Nature and Wellbeing act. I have a feeling I will be disappointed, but I am any closer to knowing who to vote for? Perhaps!

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