With the UK General Election just over a week away, people will soon be voting on which government they would prefer to see running the country. Most of the general public will probably be more concerned about economy, national security, education and the NHS, but my primary focus will be on where five of the major political parties (Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and UKIP) stand on wildlife issues, both native and further afield.
We’ll start by looking at the Conservative Party and their view on what has proven to be one of the biggest and most controversial UK wildlife issues of the past five years – the spread of bovine tuberculosis and the role our badger population have played in it. It was the current government who proposed a widespread cull of badgers in the UK, although thankfully, due to limited successes in pilot trials, a country-wide cull has not yet been instigated. It has been my belief for quite some time now that not only is a cull inhumane and wholly unnecessary, but it might actually make the problem even worse (see a post I wrote some time ago for my views on this and alternative solutions to it).
The Conservatives seem to have a different view on the matter, though. Despite poor success in their trials, high economic cost, unmonitored implementation, and a widespread support for an alternative solution, the Conservatives have stated that they will continue with badger culling in areas where bTB is rife, and may even extend it to other areas of the country.
And that isn’t the only thing that has failed to impress me. The Conservatives are also willing to give the House of Commons a free vote on whether the Hunting Act 2004 should be repealed, which, if successful, would make fox, deer and hare hunting legal again. They have also not given a firm response as to whether they are for or against the reintroduction of extinct native species to the British Isles, such as wolves and lynx, saying that it might upset the ‘delicate balance of the countryside’. I would argue that the population explosions of large herbivores such as deer, who lost their main predators hundreds of years ago, are a main cause of this delicate balance.
That’s not to say the Conservative Party is completely against British wildlife, of course. On the plus side, they support the regulation of pesticides to protect UK invertebrates, are keen to protect the marine environment, and consider the illegal persecution of birds of prey by grouse shooters to be one of their major wildlife crimes.
Wildlife Friendly Score: 4/10
The Conservatives haven’t fared too well, so how does their arch rival, the Labour Party, score? Fortunately, they are at odds with the Conservatives on many accounts. Firstly, they have stated that they disagree with the badger cull and hope to work with wildlife groups and farmers to develop vaccines for the disease. However, one has to wonder whether this is less to do with actual concern for the animals involved, and more to do with proving that the current government has made an enormous error.
Labour were the ones who introduced the Hunting Act and do not wish for the ban to be repealed. But again, when they were asked about this topic, they couldn’t help but have a sly dig at the Conservatives, stating, ‘It says everything about the Conservatives that, at a time when there are a million people dependent on food banks in our country, their priority is to bring back hunting.’
Labour also supports the reintroduction of extinct species, providing that suitable research is conducted beforehand to ensure that a habitat could support a sustainable population and whether they would impact other native species.
Wildlife Friendly Score: 6/10
With a name like the Green Party, you would expect this political party to be focused on conserving the countryside, promoting renewable energy, and abolishing animal cruelty. And, indeed, they have succeeded in that respect on almost all accounts.
The Green Party opposes the killing of animals in the name of sport or leisure, so they will not repeal the Hunting Act. They are opposed to factory farming and animal experimentation, and consider the badger cull to be unscientific and inhumane. They want to focus more on a vaccination for bTB, more frequent testing of cattle, and cattle movements being more thoroughly controlled. The Greens also fully support the reintroduction of former native species and hope that these plans can be developed in co-operation with landowners and farmers in the future.
Wildlife Friendly Score: 9/10
The answers that the Lib Dems have given to questions concerning wildlife matters should they be part of the new government have been rather bland and vague. They seem to be a case study in avoiding answers one way or the other, and sit firmly on just about every fence on offer. For example, although they have said they have no plans to repeal the hunting ban or to reintroduce native extinct species to Britain, they did add that they are open to the ideas if they are widely approved and welcomed by the people. Concerning the bTB situation, they have once again gone down the middle, saying that culls in some areas will proceed, while vaccines will also be invested in.
Wildlife Friendly Score: 5/10 (but that could easily change if they enter another coalition government and decide to go with the other party’s beliefs)
The final political party I will be looking at also happens to be the most controversial. Even if we ignore some of their other questionable policies, the outlook would be bad for wildlife if they were part of the next government, for in many cases they are particularly unfriendly, if not downright hostile, to the environment. In a recent vote in the European Parliament, MEPs were asked to say whether they approved a proposal to improve the fight against wildlife crime across the world. Just seven UK MEPs voted against better wildlife crime resolution; six of those seven MEPs were UKIP members.
UKIP has also vowed not to follow the demands of pressure groups and wish to continue evaluating the badger cull, believing it to be ‘promising’. They are very much against the idea of reintroducing extinct native species to our country, calling the idea ‘mad’ and an ‘irresponsible proposal’. They say that there isn’t enough room on our island for further introductions and that unwary humans would be ‘easy prey’ for large carnivores such as wolves. At least they have no plans to repeal the national ban on hunting…
Perhaps most crucially, though, UKIP remains skeptical about human-caused climate change. Hard facts state that the climate is getting warmer and that we are releasing more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than ever before. The problem arises because it cannot be conclusively proven that the changing climate is being caused by our actions, since the Earth’s atmosphere has naturally warmer and cooled several times throughout the planet’s four billion year existence. However, the accumulated evidence points to it being overwhelmingly likely that humans have either caused this change in climate, or are at least making it significantly worse.
And yet UKIP plans on repealing the Climate Change Act and banning the teaching of global warming in schools. UKIP spokesman Derek Clark has been quoted as saying, ‘We will ban Al Gore’s video for use in schools if I’ve got anything to do with it. […] All teaching of global warming being caused in any way by carbon dioxide emissions must also be banned. It just is not happening.’ In my opinion, there are few things more dangerous than the prospect of a future government that denies anthropogenic climate change.
Wildlife Friendly Score: 2/10