Labour – hopeless on the natural environment

I received an email from Angela Eagle over 10 days ago, as a Labour Party member, excitedly telling me that the party had published eight policy papers ‘that will provide the foundation of our One Nation manifesto’.  I have until 13 June to respond and ‘make sure Labour’s election manifesto reflects your views, beliefs and aspirations for Britain’.

The paper on Living Standards and Sustainability Policy has two paragraphs headed the ‘Natural Environment’.  Neither says anything wrong, but neither says anything exciting or inspirational. Neither actually says much at all. Here they are;

‘The current Government has set back efforts to protect Britain’s wildlife and natural environment, and sought to undermine Labour achievements in office on animal welfare. They have threatened a vote on the repeal of the hunting ban, made a shameful attempt to sell off the nation’s forests, and questioned environmental legislation which has given us cleaner beaches, better air quality, and protected our wildlife.
The last Labour government committed to introducing fundamental change in environment policy. Instead of focussing on individual species or habitats we aspired to take an approach based upon whole ecosystems. We commissioned the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment which has established that 30 per cent of the UK’s ecosystems are in decline and many others only just holding their own against an increasingly hostile background of rising population, consumption and pollution. We will protect Britain’s natural environment, right to roam and wildlife for future generations.



16 Replies to “Labour – hopeless on the natural environment”

  1. This is not surprising. The roots of the problem stem from the fact that the establishment, including the political parties, supposedly adopted the green agenda, as long ago as the time of Margaret Thatcher, and green measures are now being seen and promoted by the establishment, as a drain on economic expansion and so on.

    The best hope I can imagine, is that a young vibrant generation may yet reject the emptiness of aspects of the society that pervades the UK and so much of the western world.

    For now I must try to draft some sort of letter to post to our local parties, but somehow I can’t see such effort making a difference to the present order.

  2. If Labour [Other +/- equally useful political parties are available] were inclined to listen, I would expect them to be talking with (and listening to) the Natural Capital Committee, Wildlife & Countryside Link & the representatives of the assorted national agencies about what would constitute an effective way forward.

    And if we’re to have anything like an effective way forward then I would expect Link members, the NCC, all those biodiversity/ecology academics, journos, bloggers et al to be doing as much as possible – in a joined up way – to identify what any future government should be prioritising, addressing and enabling. Something that will influence party manifestos and actions in government in a positive way that is reinforced by local policies, actions and decision making and the incentives to business and local government.

    Now, how can we achieve that? Surely, it can’t be left to 38 degrees et al.

    In Australia there are mutterings about bringing class actions against the Government for pursing policies that caused environmental damage. Personally, I’d rather see effort here go into better policies that will actually have a positive effect. Hardly very promising so far.

    [Do I detect a sequence of ‘Party X – Hopeless on the Environment’ blogs. Perhaps this could be followed up with a series on NGOs, academics, journalists and, ahem, bloggers – ‘Utterly ineffectual at influencing positive action for the Environment’ – But perhaps there are exceptions to inspire others that could be given airtime].

    OK, you can go back to talking about reintroducing wolves and biodiversity offsetting now…

  3. At least their analysis of the Labour Party’s achievements for wildlife when in office are fairly honest:-

    “Instead of focussing on individual species or habitats we aspired to take an approach based upon whole ecosystems.”

    They did lose focus on what is happening to species and habitats which resulted in a lot of good work stopping, and a continuing slump in government activity, and they did not manage to achieve anything significant for whole ecosystems.

    Hilary Benn once said that “We value nature, not the components of nature”. It would be a bit like the CEO of Rolls Royce saying we value our cars but not our engines.


  4. who was it who argued that instead of fighting each case where nature is being damaged (cf. the Sanctuary), we should try to get legal ‘standing’ for nature, so that there would always be an a priori case for saying it should not be harmed? Would that be the best way to ‘stand up for nature’, as we’re all trying to do?

  5. Mark, have you had a reply to the pheasants letter yet? I wrote a similar one to yours my MP – no reply so far!

    1. Wendy – not yet, but I have seen a reply to another reader of this blog so am expecting something soon.

  6. Its clearly the case that the statement is pretty wanting but is it not a consultation doc that gives you as a Labour member chance to influence what goes in the manifesto. You have laid out some sound ideas and principles in your ‘fighting for birds book’ and dare I say as a high profile nature conservationist may be they will take some notice.
    All parties are all ‘hopeless’ in the eyes of most of us concerned about the environment. However, when considering Labour’s track record they have introduced and strengthened core legislation such as the WCA (then CRoW), whilst hardly perfect, ain’t bad for starters.
    I’m not a member but was, and the reason was partly the general disillusionment I had with issues such as the environment. What is better, to have a say as member or carping from the sidelines. Who gets listened to most? Members with sound views or lobbyists? Bloggers, tweeters etc, focus groups? I’d kind of like to know.

  7. Labour adopted the Birds Directive but Conservatives passed Wildlife and Countryside Act (also Biodiversity Convention and Habitats Directive)

    1. Matt – and the Conservatives brought in the Protection of Birds Act too. It is difficult to see Cameron or Osborne doing anything remotely similar though.

      1. Indeed. No regulation, no incentives and slashed budgets = less wildlife. Conservative dream that all landowners will become dedicated and knowledgeable ecological guardians is just that a dream.

    2. It is true that the Tories passed the WCA in 1981, but it was originally brought forward as a Wildlife Bill by the Labour Govt. If we want to get political we can then thank the Tory land-owning grandees for significantly watering down that legislation. It was then the sterling efforts of David Clarke (Lab) that pushed through the first amendment to strengthen the WCA followed by CRow in 2000 under Labour.
      My argument is about making wildlife and environmental laws better. Most of the responses here haven’t really argued for that.
      Lets hope that the NGO sector can do a bit better on the run up to the next election. I do remember how the Wildlife Trust climbed into bed with the Greenest govt ever last time round, to be rewarded with badger culling, watered down Marine Bill and weakening of planning controls.

  8. Was it Meacher who in 1997 instructed the erstwhile guardians of the natural environment or English Nature as they were then to review their decision to denotify considerable swathes of Thorne & Hatfield Moors as SSSIs?

    Then in 2002 the Government bought out the extant peat extraction consents on Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI (South Yorkshire) as well as those at Wedholme Flow in Cumbria for £17.3m with an additional £1.32m for Scotts UK Ltd assistance with restoration mangement for a year or so.

    So, now we have a cash strapped (?) Natural England keen to secure revenue from selling access to commercial developers (wind farms) whilst objecting to the application at Public Inquiries. More recently dedicating NNRs as Open Access without consultation or open transparent compliance to the Habitats Directive.

    Politics, internal and external are clearly not good for the beleagured natural environment! The staff at grassroots must be in a daze with all the internal politics and pandering to political pressure?

    Thankfully as well as Mark’s endeavours to shake up politics there are also other campaigns, see

    Keep on reminding politicians of all colours that they have an obligation to the future as well as their ‘parties’.

  9. Dear M Parry – while inclining to agree with you, we couldn’t just sit around and let the council take over The Sanctuary could we? What I think we learned from the ‘campaign’ we fought and (again all the odds) won was:
    a/ if all the various NGOs, small and large, learn to work FOR and with each other, much more can be achieved (currently this doesn’t happen often).
    As a result of this campaign, a new coalition is being forged in the county to try to deal with another pressing problem, and one very dear to Mark A’s heart…more on this later.
    b/ that the only way to make councils sit up and take notice is to hit them hard and constantly and to be brave (and inventive) in so doing.
    c/ that we can draw together groups and individuals (eg green activists) who each can work to their often very different strengths.
    c/ that having waged this battle, the city council will be less likely to follow through on developments it has in mind for other LNRs in this city…and there is at least one!
    d/ that LNRs elsewhere in the county should be a lot safer now and people trying to defend them have a case study to learn from (not that we did everything right – far from it!).
    e/ That we now have a focus on the imperfections of Judicial Review (see Carol Day’s guest blog) – as well as the threats to it.
    What is vital is that this ‘campaign’ be written up as a case study such that both we and others can learn from it and fight better ones next time around….not just for specific sites but pro-actively to change the planning laws and ‘culture’ that makes it so difficult to start from an a priori position where the value of nature and sites where nature is the main concern are of paramount importance.

    1. It would be great if Nick Bee’s aspirations were to become a regular feature of community campaigning but sadly there seem few of the ‘usual NGOs’ with sufficient infrastructure, resources or capacity or the will to support local community campaigns at grassroots. It used to be the norm, that’s how many attracted membership but now it’s more about projects than growing capacity or creating community campaigners, or at least that’s the situation I’ve witnessed over the last five or six years certainly. A shame because oaks from acorns …. Obviously if and when they choose a campaign and which they are the ‘lead’ then that’s a different scenario.

      Carry on campaigning all, and long live nimbys?

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