It surely won’t have escaped your attention that just over a week ago now, the Labour party released what they have branded as a plan for the future of animal welfare under a Labour government.
Based on the response of conservationists, campaigners and various online commentators, it appears said plan has gone down rather well. And it is not at all surprising that, given the damage dealt to the conservative party at the last election due to their affiliation with fox hunting, that Labour has opted (once again) to politicise the issues of animal rights and welfare. As we have seen with fox hunting, the badger cull and the use of animals in circuses, it is clear that animals are capable of spurring a large portion of the populace into action; thus the publication of this document is likely a master-stroke on behalf of the opposition. Born of political manoeuvring yet sure to appeal to a great many people who share one common trait: a love and appreciation of animal life.
Having read the document from cover to cover, it was the section on wild animals that, as a conservationist, held my attention the longest. Not because I am ignorant of the plight of domestic stock and pets, but because of my own, personal interests. Referring this segment, in particular, I can safely say I am feeling quite positive about the path Labour have chosen to take. Sure, their plan is actually more of a vague list of goals and ambitions lacking any detail on method and forgoing a great deal of substance, but they at least appear to have the correct bases covered. I like it, truth be told – despite writing positively of certain Tory policies of late – and with the battle lines drawn, it is going to be interesting to see how things play out in the future.
Where does Labour win points? Well, their promise to end the current government-led badger cull is a step in the right direction, albeit a predictable one. As is their focus on strengthing the laws encapsulated within the Hunting Act. Better still is their new-found fixation on wildlife crime, with Labour promising to increase sentences for criminal behaviour and (and this is the pièce de résistance, in my opinion) improve prosecution rates for bird of prey persecution. This needs to be implemented, fast and is one area in which the Tory party – forever linked to the industries responsible for the suppression of Peregrine, Hen Harrier and eagle populations – seriously falls short. Sure, I would have liked to see more information about the ins and outs of how Labour intends to do this, but the issues mention here at least shows promise. A stark testament to the diligent work of the various campaigners, bloggers, journalists and field conservationists who have dedicated so much time to dragging this issue, at times screaming, into the public eye.
The idea of a Blue Belt surrounding the UK and her overseas territories is a marvellous one. Now, more than ever, the public know of the threats faced by marine wildlife – whether through plastic pollution, bycatch or overfishing – and of all the positive aspects of Labours plan, this is perhaps the one I feel is worthy of the greatest emphasis. Their mention of a consultation on the creation of Marine National Parks is likewise promising, in theory; though I will not hold my breath for its implementation should Corbyn win at the next election. We know from the vacuous (yet positive) promises of the Tories that it is best not to be suckered in on this issue until this decisive action is taken.
While I seldom dabble in more traditional welfare-related topics, kudos to Labour for also including a promise to ban the intensive rearing of game birds for shooting purposes. This will surely prove to be the most controversial aspect of the whole plan and it is little wonder that its inclusion here has immediately put groups such as the Countryside Alliance on the defensive. Still, while I do not, in fact, disagree in principle with the act of shooting (when it is sporting and sustainable), no one likes to see birds – or any animal – reared in squalor, as we know many of the birds destined for shoots are. Should Labour successfully implement this, they will not only boost the welfare of game birds but may also alleviate some of the other pressures facing the environment as a result of hunting intensification. Fewer pheasants, for example, may result in the resurgence of botanical and invertebrate populations in some areas – never a bad thing.
Now, the aforementioned plan is far from perfect. Mention of farming practices and their impact on wildlife, for example, is noteworthy yet lacking anything that vaguely resembles detail. I would have liked to see a much greater focus on terribly important issues such as this (which threaten a multitude of species with extinction in Britain) as opposed to issues such as fur trading. This, however, is just my opinion and I am sure many people – Britain is, after all, a nation of animal lovers – will disagree. Still, Labour has omitted an awful lot from their plan and have failed entirely to touch upon many issues which, as a conservationist, would have easily swung my vote. Perhaps I am breathing too much into this, however – this being an animal welfare plan, as opposed to an environmental one. I do hope that, for comparison’s sake, Labour choose to publish something to rival the Conservative 25-year Environment Plan broadcast widely earlier this year.
Surprisingly for a Labour voter, I actually find myself drawing greater hope from the Conservative environmental plan: which while similarly inexact, focused to a greater level on what I see as the more pressing environmental issues. It would, however, be ignorant to disregard to promise and potential of the Labour plan (more of a vision, really) and I am sure, given the track record of the current reigning party and the strong emotions surrounding animal welfare issues, Labour will benefit from their latest venture. Should Labour delve deeper into the world of climate change, farming policy, marine plastics, biosecurity and physical, on the ground conservation, they may well win my vote at the next election – whenever that may be.
Whichever side of the political fence you find yourself occupying, one thing is for sure. The increased emphasis on environmental issues shown by both main parties of late should give considerable hope. Hope that nature will no longer be overlooked by decision makers and hope that finally, our politicians have released that we, the Great British public, value our environment, and the species with whom we share it, greatly.