Labour: protecting animals

photoThe Labour Party has published a rather brief pamphlet on ‘Protecting animals‘ whose focus is very much animal welfare and not nature conservation. It sometimes seems as though Labour sees the environment as climate change, and animals as welfare – which may leave nature conservation falling through a rather big hole in the middle!

I’m very motivated by climate change so I am glad the the Labour Party takes that seriously, and moderately motivated by animal welfare issue (so I am glad they take those seriously too), but I am very very motivated by nature conservation issues and so I am always looking to Labour for more on that subject – there were crumbs of comfort in this document, but certainly no feast.

There are six areas briefly discussed:

  1. Keep the hunting ban
  2. Ban wild animals in circuses
  3. End badger killing and replace with stricter cattle movement regulations and vaccination of badgers and cattle
  4. Improve protection of dogs and cats
  5. Reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates (where the Hen Harrier gets a mention – but just that, a mention)
  6. Lead global fight against animal cruelty including whaling, use of great apes in experiments and seal products.

On number 5, the Labour Party promises an independent review on how to end the illegal persecution of birds of prey (here’s one idea), preventing non-target animals being caught in snares and ensuring the humane treatment of game birds. All these are good things, but they amount to setting up a committee. Still, as an opening salvo in the general election campaign as it pertains to nature conservation this is a fairly well-aimed sighting shot.

But I would rate it as ‘adequate’ rather than in any way exciting or attention-grabbing. Still, I guess ‘adequate’ is adequate.

What do you think?


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31 Replies to “Labour: protecting animals”

  1. The only thing that springs to mind Mark, is that in nature there is no such thing as animal welfare (red in tooth and claw cares little as to welfare of its prey..) This, as the list shows, only applies to where humans have influence over, or interact with wild animals or those livestock being farmed.

    They duck an obvious one; the killing of farm animals is something of a hot religious topic at the moment: whereas humane treatment of a goose prior to slaughter for this oh-so-desirable ‘traceable’ Patagonia down jacket is something we probably don’t wish to know too much about…..

    With a battered membership card that old, it’s only a matter of time before we see Lord Avery in ‘traceable’ ermine.


    1. Of course the more wild animals you have the more suffering you will have. The ultimate welfare friendly solution would be a completely sterile universe with no life whatsoever or at least no sentient life.

      One could say that is the antithesis of good nature conservation.

  2. For all our efforts trying to make our viewpoints known on social media and elsewhere, the Labour Party don’t seem to rank policies on nature conservation as being much of a vote winner.

  3. Some time ago I wrote to my MP (Chi Onwurah, Lab.) and also to the Lib-Dem’s parliamentary candidate in my constituency (the other main parties had not publicly nominated candidates as far as I could tell) asking them to outline their parties’ policies with respect to the protection of wildlife in the UK. Sadly, I have not heard back from either.
    I can only assume that this reflects the fact that neither of them can have very much to offer me on the subject and the Labour Party pamphlet you describe would seem to back this up. Signed by the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but nothing to say on the continued downward slide of birds such as turtle doves, corn buntings and cuckoos, of insects such as butterflies, moths and bumble bees or on the disappearance of wildflowers from our countryside. No comment on a planning system that is far too ready to prioritise commerce and development over wild animals or plants and nothing to say about marine conservation zones or the need to protect our marine wildlife more effectively. It is not adequate in my view and it does seem that the political parties really do not ‘get’ wildlife.

    (P.S. to be fair to Ms Onwurah, when I have written to her in her capacity as MP she has generally been conscientious in responding but this has generally taken the form of passing on my concerns to the relevant minister and relaying his or her response back to me rather than really taking up the cudgels in defence of wildlife).

  4. Good points to flag Mark.

    I would rate that list as fine from a welfare perspective, but severely lacking from a conservation perspective. Animal welfare is important, but I will stick my neck out and say it simply cannot be seen as important as conservation: the simple fact being that climate change and ecological degradation threaten every living species on the planet – including humans.

    1. For many of us, conservation is part of our concern for the welfare of all animals.
      Because we advocate a less anthropocentric perspective, we support campaigns to protect the rare hen harrier as much as those which speak up for the billions of our fellow creatures cruelly farmed to be eaten.

      The hen harrier petition will have been signed by many AW/R people – that’s what we do!

  5. For me the jury’s out on Labour’s green credentials but they’re still miles ahead of the Tories. A shame because Labour is the only credible opposition to another Tory or Tory / Lib Dem Government. I will be lobbying my own Labour MP to be more robust on Conservation matters.

  6. Still don’t understand why all those RSPB members (except those few of us who have already done so), don’t sign that petition.. it isn’t as if, unfortunately, it’s likely to become law, but….

  7. I agree with Mak’s comments. Labour is to be congratulated for taking animal welfare seriously and has a good record on that. I haven’t seen any launch of environmental policy as yet so maybe they will address nature conservation in more detail. They made reversing the decline in farmland bird a target for Defra and pioneered the application of cross compliance measures to the CAP limited as they were. I really don’t see any other party with a decent record on wildlife matter particularly the ‘greenest government ever. Labour also embraced the idea of restoring natural features like flood meadows and salt marsh as flood defence measures. Maybe better than we think!

  8. Funny how nobody ever mentions all the millions of wild birds and animals dying painfully and horribly on the killing fields of Britain’s roads. (See p158 of Clive Phillips ‘The Welfare of Animals’ on Google Books for facts and figures). I remember even when it was less hectic and dangerous than it is nowadays, cycling around places and being constantly heartbroken seeing all the broken bodies crushed by busy, heedless motorists; swallows, blackbirds, thrushes, hedgehogs, badgers, all mown down and left to die.

    But do all Britain’s animal lovers care? It seems not. Those who are drivers carry on regardless.

  9. Is this the best they can do? A bizarre document clearly drawn up in a Kentish Town, sorry Dartmouth Park, drawing room. OK so this is clearly about animal welfare not about nature conservation, but doesn’t it rather obviously miss the elephant in the barn of farm animal welfare? I’m not really up on these things but are there not more animals on farms than in circuses? Or might talking about abbatoir practices upset people?

    I would love to say that I await Labour’s manifesto statements on the environment and on conservation with enthusiasm, but – given the opportunity of a Conservative party with such a dreadful record – I fear they will completely miss the opportunity. More metropolitan dinner party conversations made policy to come, seems the likely outcome.

  10. Conservation simply isn’t a vote winner.
    Not even for the greens (as much as it should be) .

    The election will be won/lost on such subjects as Europe (but along straight bananas and immigration lines rather than environmental protection), the economy (REAL jobs and wage security) & such things as the NHS and schooling.

    The fates of dormice and swifts simply aren’t important enough to your average voter, whether you and I consider them to be or not. I can (at least) understand why that seems to be the case.
    I think we’re getting better (thanks perhaps to TV docs, Springwatch etc?) but we still have a very low appreciation for the wildlife of our isles on the whole.
    It’s out of sight, out of mind for the millions.
    Would it make a REAL difference to many peoples’ lives if swifts became extinct in Britain?
    I’d suggest no. I’d perhaps go as far as saying of course not. They’d not even realise the fact unless they were told.
    Would it make a difference to my life (and many readers of your blog Mark)?
    Yes. Of course.

    Like I say, I do think (hope) we’re (as a nation) getting better at this, and your constant battles with “the enemy” Mark must be helping. So battle on we must.

    But right now… no… dormice don’t vote. And not enough people think about dormice when they DO vote (rightly or wrongly). They (understandably I think) consider jobs, money, health and education firstly.
    So to include dormice and swifts etc in a manifesto right now might be seen as a waste of time for the main political parties.
    They are (after all) soley interested in gaining this “power” that they bleat on about. And that comes from voters main concerns being met.
    Those voters main concerns simply don’t include wildcats let alone the less glamorous, invisible microfauna (and flora) such as the threatened “plymouth horrid spider”, recently in the news.

    Personally speaking I’d hope for more on conservation in party manifestos. But would I expect more? Nope. Not at all.

    Sorry Mark. As for your question “What do you think?”: I think that list from labour is about as much as I could expect from any main party right now. At least as adequate as you describe, for one of the big two.

    Where I might expect MUCH more is from the Green Party, who should be shouting from the rooftops on all matters conservation.
    Not adequate enough from them I’d say… and that’s a real shame.

    1. Doug, I think your analysis is broadly correct – voters’ concerns are largely based around issues such as jobs, the economy and the supposed threat to these from hordes of Romanians, so that’s what the political parties focus on. But the animal welfare issue shows that that is not the whole picture. Labour recognises that many people do care enough about cruelty to animals for it to affect their voting and clearly animal welfare issues such as the badger cull can act as hot buttons to provoke large numbers of people into action. The decline of species abundance and diversity doesn’t seem to have the same capacity to fire people up and perhaps its just an inherent feature of human nature that we get more agitated by an ill-treated puppy than by the slow decline towards extinction of the Turtle Dove, say. Somehow conservationists need to provoke a stronger, more emotional response to the plight of wildlife but sadly I don’t think the RSPB’s “Vote for Bob” campaign will achieve that.

      1. Thanks, Jonathan – Wholly agree with your last sentence especially.

        If it were not for the word ‘Vote’, I would have thought Bob and his family was a concept thought up to appeal to kids.

  11. To be quite frank I find this Labour Statement rather disappointing. For a start it muddles up animal welfare and protection with conservation issues. They are obviously related but I think they should be addressed separately. I fully applaud their policy points concening animal welfare and cruelty, these are excellent.
    However, and I have noticed this before, they seem very poorly informed on conservation matters and how they need to be tackled.
    For a start, we absolutely do NOT need another independent committee review on the issues of shooting and driven grouse moors. That approach would give the shooters years of “business as usual” before such a committee reported and before any action beased on its report was taken, if it ever was. Additionaly we have just had a Law Commission report on these and related issues. What is clearly needed straight after the Election, is much tougher legislation related to those who break widlife protection laws, vicarious liability for land owners and all this within a frame work of the licensing of grouse moors. This should be coupled with the threat of a complete ban on driven grouse moors if such an arrangement does not work.
    The Labour statement makes no reference to any of these points that is why I would describe it as good on animal welfare but very unsatisfactory concerning conservation. I don’t think I could describe it overall as adequate Mark.

  12. Doug,brilliant a absolutely perfect summary.
    Those of us who would like to think wildlife etc are important are a minute minority who also have to vote on the main issues that the majority see as the important ones.

  13. So, let’s say there was a consortium of wildlife conservation bodies (make up your own acronym).

    What would be the 5, 10, 20 or 50 commitments that they would expect any party handed responsibility for the country’s govenment to make and which your voter who is interested in wildlife issues could use as a benchmark to encourage improvement by the party they object to least.

    What impact have the Nature and Wellbeing Bill proposals had so far? And how can you, I or bloggers of this parish help ensure they have more influence on the policies and commitments of those who would rule?

  14. British political parties and conservation………hmm let’s take a look at the movers and shakers in our main political parties. Let’s look at their current business interests, their family history in such and then we may realise why conservation does not really figure in any manifesto.

    The businesses and individuals that made this small island one of the worlds biggest economic and political powers did so with scant regard for our environment and are continuing in a similar vein. So lack of regard for our flora and fauna is nothing new and seems set to continue.

    Change will only come from “the likes of you and I ” ( to quote a song who’s first verse seems very apposite. The Levellers btw)

  15. Some of the comments on this blog set a better example than the “drivers” of our conservation movement… some of whom inexplicably support Labour and other mainstream parties. If more of them were more public in their support of the Greens, instead of sitting so long on the fence that they must permanently walk funny, or if they stopped worrying about what not supporting their local MP might result in, we might see changing attitudes start to spread…

  16. Well, it’s hard to disagree with Doug but let me give it a go. I think we should expect much better of Labour. The reason is that for all the positioning, the main parties are probably closer together now on policy than ever. For a set of reasons, on the economy, defence and foreign policy, education, health and immigration, if we voted only with our heads and not our hearts we would struggle to distinguish them especially given that in government any differences will quickly be confounded by “events dear boy, events”. And on Europe, the public generally don’t care much. Which is not to say that the issues don’t matter or to do a Russell Brand on them. But surely for all the sound and fury over ‘main’ policy issues, Labour would benefit if it were clearly able to differentiate itself in an area that the current Tory party would struggle to follow them on. And protecting our natural environment is something that would appeal to millions, not just conservationists, is potentialy such an area.

    But I fear that Labour may not take this course not because there are reasons for them deciding not to (I can think of a few) but because their leadership don’t notice it’s there. But let’s see what they (and the Greens) come up with.

    Of course it’s quite hard to persuade people that (a) voting matters but that (b) if you want better mangement of the economy, foreign policy etc you might as well toss a coin and therefore (c) your voting decision should be on something where there is a clear difference. But that’s what Bob’s about and I’m voting for him.

  17. I read Brian May about this in the western daily press – it’s good he is supporting legal hunting but bad he claimed farmland birds have declined 50% in five years (ie over the period of the coalition) – bad he said that because it isn’t true. Decline in bird populations is very important but we must stick to the facts not politically motivated hyperbole.

      1. I remember him saying most dead badgers on the roads were killed by farmers – do you think he got that wrong too? Surely if this were true people would be PMing them and finding out. You can tell a shot badger from a run over one I would have thought?

        & accident or not I hope he will correct it – but doubt he will.

        1. The deer culling thing was interesting – he now opposes culling and wants to set up video cameras round his estates IMO that’s bonkers – even if practicable for a rich rock star it isn’t for the country as a whole.

          However individual landowners should be allowed to find and use non lethal means of management if they are humane. So why then am I criminalised for doing just that?

  18. Surely we should celebrate this announcement from Labour, just a little. After all the months of silence from all political parties any move in the right direction must be a good thing. Our voices are slowly being heard. From little acorns…… and all that.

    1. Stewart – that’s a very charitable view. More so than my own. And I have been criticised privately (I am not complaining about that) for being far too charitable myself on this issue.

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