With a General Election in the offing (you may have heard) and promises and accusations flying around, we trawl through the manifestos to look at what the main parties are offering from our niche perspective of the outdoors.
Headline proposals for the outdoor environment include: the creation of new National Parks in England (up to 10 from Labour), pledges to speed up re-forestation (an additional 75,000 acres of trees a year by the end of the next Parliament from the Tories, vs 300 million trees in the first term of a Labour administration and something similar from the SNP and Lib Dems).
In terms of public access in England, from the Tories it's a case of giving with one hand while leaving open the possibility of taking back with the other, as they pledge to turn the Coast to Coast route across northern England into an official National Trail, while simultaneously offering to make trespass a criminal offence - a coercive measure targeted at the traveller community, but which is easy to envisage having unfortunate side effects for public access in general.
The Greens, by contrast, promise to introduce a Scottish-style legal right to roam in England and Wales, and to regain lost footpaths.
From many parties there's talk of habitat restoration and re-wilding, measures that have the potential to transform our upland ecology and enrich days out walking and climbing. It seems likely in the next Parliament that more trees will be coming to a hillside near you - and not before time.
While a full environmental audit of the parties is beyond our remit, and definitely our expertise, it's worth noting that Greenpeace have analysed the manifestos and other relevant commitments published by the main parties, and graded each on how well its promises match up to key things that they think need to be done in four important areas to tackle the twin threats of the climate crisis and the breakdown of nature. Here's a handy graphic:
Make trespass a criminal offence [presumably just in England]
We will tackle unauthorised traveller camps. We will give the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments, in order to protect our communities. We will make intentional trespass a criminal offence, and we will also give councils greater powers within the planning system.
Comment: Should climbers and walkers be worried? At present trespass in England is a civil matter, only becoming a criminal offence in some narrowly defined circumstances (on railways etc). Setting aside the morality of a measure aimed at the traveller community, could criminalising trespass have knock-on consequences on walking, climbing and wild camping? We asked the Ramblers:
"Criminalising trespass would be a major change in the law," Gemma Cantelo, Head of Policy and Advocacy for the Ramblers, told us.
"It is crucial that proposals to strengthen police powers to deal with unauthorised encampments do not restrict people's ability to get outdoors and enjoy the countryside. The Ramblers will be responding to the Home Office consultation on these proposals to make sure there is not a detrimental impact for walkers."
To find out more about what the Ramblers are calling on the next Government to do to enable more people to walk and be in contact with nature, as a response to climate emergency, catastrophic nature loss, rising obesity levels, a mental health crisis and widening health inequalities, see here.
Looking after the green belt
We will protect and enhance the Green Belt. We will improve poor quality land, increase biodiversity and make our beautiful countryside more accessible for local community use. In order to safeguard our green spaces, we will continue to prioritise brownfield development, particularly for the regeneration of our cities and towns.
Comment: makes more sense than paving over fields, where there's an alternative...
Post-Brexit deal for farming
Once we have got Brexit done, we will free our farmers from the bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy and move to a system based on 'public money for public goods'. In return for funding, they must farm in a way that protects and enhances our natural environment, as well as safeguarding high standards of animal welfare.
Comment: Questions have been raised concerning the extent to which environmental and food standards, hitherto protected by our EU membership, may be open to negotiation in post-Brexit US trade talks. Although Britain's exit from the Common Agricultural Policy might in theory open exciting possibilities in terms of the land use and farming practises we want to encourage as a nation, there's no detailed analysis of what these might be in the Conservative manifesto.
Here's an idea of what could be done, with political will:
In addition, it's debatable how much public money will be available for public goods in the event of a hard Brexit, an outcome the Tory party is more than willing to countenance.
We welcome the Glover Review and will create new National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as making our most loved landscapes greener, happier, healthier and open to all. We will make the coast to coast path across the most beautiful areas of the North a National Trail.
Comment: A number of parties are placing more emphasis on National Parks. But is 'welcoming' the Glover Review the same as actually promising to implement its recommendations?
See our recent article on the Glover Review here:
Our Environment Bill will guarantee that we will protect and restore our natural environment after leaving the EU.
- We will set up a new independent Office For Environmental Protection and introduce our own legal targets, including for air quality.
- We will invest in nature, helping us to reach our Net Zero target with a £640 million new Nature for Climate fund. Building on our support for creating a Great Northumberland Forest, we will reach an additional 75,000 acres of trees a year by the end of the next Parliament, as well as restoring our peatland.
Comment: How many trees is that? 75,000 acres equates to about 30,000 hectares. Estimates we've seen put tree density at 1000-2500 per hectare. That works out at 30-75 million trees a year, while Labour, Lib Dems and SNP all seem to be coalescing at around 60 million. Are these Tory trees new trees, or existing ones that would otherwise have left the profession? If a party is unable to give a straight answer on numbers of new nurses, perhaps we're entitled to treat other of their figures with scepticism.
We will continue to lead the world in tackling plastics pollution, both in the UK and internationally, and will introduce a new levy to increase the proportion of recyclable plastics in packaging. We will introduce extended producer responsibility, so that producers pay the full costs of dealing with the waste they produce, and boost domestic recycling. We will ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, consulting with industry, NGOs and local councils on the date by which this should be achieved.
We will crack down on the waste and carelessness that destroys our natural environment and kills marine life. We will increase penalties for fly-tipping, make those on community sentences clean up their parks and streets, and introduce a deposit return scheme to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass.
We will make no changes to the Hunting Act.
For more info see the Tory manifesto
- Our Plan for Nature will set legally binding targets to drive the restoration of species and habitats.
- We will embark on an ambitious programme of tree planting, with both forestry and native woodland species.
- We will fully fund the Environment Agency and other frontline environment agencies, and improve upstream river management.
- We will create new National Parks alongside a revised system of other protected area designations, which will guard existing wildlife sites and join up important habitats, while also ensuring more people can enjoy living closer to nature.
- We will establish a new environmental tribunal to ensure that administrative decisions are consistent with environmental and nature-recovery obligations.
Creation of 10 new National Parks
On Thursday 28th November, Jeremy Corbyn pledged that:
"A Labour government will create ten brand new national parks, increasing the total size of our national parks by 50% meaning three-quarters of people will live within 30 minutes of a national park.
"We will consult widely on the exact locations of the parks but obvious candidates include: the Cotswolds, the Chilterns, the North and South Pennines, Coastal Suffolk, Coastal Dorset, and the Lincolnshire Wolds.
"A new authority will be tasked with ensuring the parks help tackle the climate crisis and restore nature but they will also be for leisure and for beauty. When Labour created the first national parks in the wake of world war two it was part of a radical plan to open up the best of our nation to everyone, from all walks of life. That's the spirit that a Labour government will take forward as we create ten more parks ... giving people access to the green spaces so vital for our collective wellbeing and mental health.
"Our country is defined by its beautiful landscapes its rolling hills rugged coastlines and idyllic woodlands. Travelling around Britain by train as I do, I am so often in awe of the beauty that exists right here at home. A Labour government will protect that landscape which is so precious to us all.
Comment: Labour brought us the original National Parks, and though all is not perfect in terms of their management, it's clear that we are a lot better off with them than we would have been without. More would seem an unqualified good thing. May we suggest the Devon and Cornwall Coast, Forest of Dean and the Shropshire hills?
Target to plant 2 billion trees over the next 20 years
...starting with 300 million in their first term.
"We'll plant trees in national parks, we'll plant them in the national forest, which we'll look to extend to Sherwood Forest" said Corbyn.
"We'll plant a million new trees on land owned by the health service, creating an NHS forest and we'll work with communities to plant trees in towns and cities too. These will be mixed native species creating wildlife-rich woodlands."
Comment: That's a lot of trees. Can it be done? While sceptics seem to be struggling to see the wood for the trees, it's worth pointing to projects such as the Carrifran Wildwood in Scotland, where a small charity managed to plant over half a million trees in one glen alone in a ten-year period. The Guardian have concluded that Labour's target is "ambitious but not out of sync with expert thinking".
Animal welfare and wildlife crime
In England, we will introduce an animal welfare commissioner, prohibit the sale of snares and glue traps, end the badger cull and ban the keeping of primates as pets. We will work internationally to end commercial whaling, ban the importation of hunting trophies of threatened species, and boost police resources to tackle rural and wildlife crime.
Comment: If it reduces raptor persecution on grouse shooting estates, then this police boost can't come soon enough - though it's worth noting that nothing more radical is being offered in terms of a crackdown on poor grouse moor management generally.
Here's an opinion piece on the issue:
Land is a public good, but it is not a common asset. In 1979, 20% of land was owned by the public sector. Today, that has halved. Green Belts protect one tenth of our land and offer conservation of some of our natural environment. Introduced by Labour in 1947 to provide access to the countryside, they are threatened by developments.
Comment: We're not clear if that implies a desire to return a percentage of land to public ownership. Nor is it obvious from this statement alone what they're intending to do about Green Belt development.
A Labour government will maintain agricultural and rural structural funds but repurpose them to support environmental land management and sustainable methods of food production.
Green industrial revolution
The climate crisis ties us all into a common fate. This election is our best hope to protect future generations from an uninhabitable planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said we need to cut global emissions in half by 2030 to have a chance of keeping global heating within safe limits – that means acting now, and acting decisively.
We will build:
- 7,000 new offshore wind turbines
- 2,000 new onshore wind turbines
- Enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches
- New nuclear power needed for energy security
Comment: A big boost in renewable energy is on the cards, and clearly not before time. The bulk of new wind turbines will be offshore, and most of them should be fairly uncontroversial from a landscape amenity perspective. However, 2000 onshore wind turbines will have to go somewhere, and the hills are our windiest places. Expect more upland wind farms, and more dilemmas between the aesthetics of landscape conservation versus the need to meet the climate challenge.
For more info see the Labour manifesto
We will press for an increase in new woodland creation, working towards a target of 60 million trees planted annually in the UK by 2025, with 30 million of these in Scotland to help tackle the Climate Emergency and to support biodiversity and rural employment. We will share Scotland's success in this area in an effort to drive up planting rates across the UK.
Comment: Great! This echoes Labour's commitment to plant 300 million trees over the course of its first 5-year term, though in the SNP case it's a target figure for five years hence, rather than hitting the ground running at that rate. Scotland already plants more trees than any other part of the UK (albeit much of it commercial forestry with limited biodiversity benefit).
Wind power output in Scotland hit a record high in the first half of 2019, producing almost double the amount of energy required to power all homes in Scotland. SNP MPs will press the case for more support for the critical renewables industry by proposing a Green Energy Deal that will:
- ensure green energy projects get the long-term certainty needed to support investment,
- allow onshore wind to compete for 'contracts for difference' support – the UK Government's main mechanism to support low-carbon electricity generation,
- reform the punitive transmission charging regime that discourages investment in Scotland,
- set a clear timescale for the delivery of the interconnectors to Scotland's islands.
Comment: It looks like more new onshore wind farms in Scotland. In terms of minimising impact on core wild land, rarely the Scottish Government's first concern, much of the low hanging fruit must already have been picked. Some new upland windfarm locations could be controversial among conservation groups and at least some walkers and climbers.
In 2013 the UK was given extra money from the EU to increase farm payments in Scotland, but instead the Tories chose to spend it across the UK, giving Scottish farmers only a fraction of what they were due. The SNP has ensured that £80 million has now been handed over by the Westminster government – and we will keep up the pressure until every penny of the £160 million owed to Scottish farming and crofting comes to Scotland.
Leading the world on aviation
We all know that aviation contributes to climate change. But we also know that many of Scotland's remote and rural communities rely on flights. We do not believe that aviation can simply be the preserve of the better off. We believe we must find solutions that allow all of Scotland's communities to flourish.
That's why we are committed to making the Highlands and Islands the world's first net zero aviation region by 2040, with trials of low or zero emission flights, including electric planes, starting in 2021.
The SNP believes aviation emissions should be counted within national emissions and targets. Aviation emissions in Scotland count towards our carbon reduction targets and the same approach should be taken across the UK.
Comment: It's good to see the often-ignored issue of aviation getting a look-in; the SNP also has things to say about improving bus services and encouraging electric vehicle use - both need to be promoted as alternatives to driving to the hills in your CO2-belching car.
Since the SNP's remit is, by definition, Scotland, it might also have been nice to know what they intend to do about various Scottish hill-related issues, albeit that a number of these are devolved matters unlikely to feature prominently in a UK General Election:
For more info see the SNP manifesto
Saving nature and the countryside
A healthy natural environment, where people breathe clean air, drink clean water and enjoy the beauty of the natural world, lies at the heart of the society and the economy Liberal Democrats want to create. Yet nature is under threat: unsustainable farming practices are depleting the soil and, together with air and water pollution, contributing to a rapid decline in the numbers of insects, birds and other animals. One in seven UK species are at risk of extinction.
We will protect the natural environment and reverse biodiversity loss at the same time as combating climate change. We will support farmers to protect and restore the natural environment alongside their critical roles in producing food, providing employment and promoting tourism, leisure and health and wellbeing. We will:
- Introduce a Nature Act to restore the natural environment through setting legally binding near-term and long-term targets for improving water, air, soil and biodiversity, and supported by funding streams of at least £18 billion over five years.
- Combat climate change, and benefit nature and people by coordinating the planting of 60 million trees a year and introducing requirements for the greater use of sustainably harvested wood in construction.
Comment: A figure of 60 million trees a year looks like it's becoming a consensus among The Lib Dems, SNP and Labour. It's ambitious, say The Guardian, but in accordance with much expert opinion.
- Invest in large scale restoration of peatlands, heathland, native woodlands, saltmarshes, wetlands and coastal waters, helping to absorb carbon, protect against floods, improve water quality and protect habitats, including through piloting 'rewilding' approaches.
- Reduce basic agricultural support payments to the larger recipients and redeploy the savings to support the public goods that come from effective land management, including restoring nature and protecting the countryside, preventing flooding and combating climate change through measures to increase soil carbon and expand native woodland.
Comment: Most walkers and climbers will look positively on proposals like this. Re-wilding seems to be coming of age, and is set to enrich our countryside and denuded uplands. There's a lot more to be said for it than just making more attractive and interesting places to walk and climb, but that's a good start...
- Significantly increase the amount of accessible green space, including protecting up to a million acres, completing the coastal path, exploring a 'right to roam' for waterways and creating a new designation of National Nature Parks.
Comment: Bring it on!
- Give the Local Green Space designation the force of law.
- Protect and restore England's lakes, rivers and wetlands, including through reform of water management and higher water efficiency standards, and establish a 'blue belt' of marine protected areas covering at least 50 per cent of UK waters by 2030, in partnership with UK overseas territories.
- Increase the budget for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ensuring that agencies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency are properly funded.
For more info see the Lib Dem manifesto
Restoring our nature and countryside
Our countryside is a precious resource – a home for people and wildlife, a source of employment, a place of enjoyment for those who visit its wealth of landscapes. It is vital for our common health, prosperity and wellbeing. Yet this national treasury is under threat. The amount of farmland, woodland and forest destroyed by development has grown by nearly 60% in recent years, whilst over 10,000 miles of footpaths have been blocked, built over or allowed to fall out of use. Nature is under attack from industrial farming, over fishing, hunting and shooting – with devastating impacts for wildlife species and their habitats, from farmland to the hills to the coast. It's time for an approach that recovers, rebuilds, restores, regenerates and reinstates nature and the health of our countryside. We have a plan to transform and reconnect with the countryside, which will:
- Create a new 'ecocide' law to prevent crimes against the natural environment.
- Strengthen Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest protections, with development in these areas only being permitted in exceptional circumstances.
- Ban mineral extraction, road building and military training from all National Parks. We will give local communities a say in National Park governance, though creating new democratically elected positions on National Park boards.
- Open up car-free access to the National Parks with new cycling, walking and bus links.
- Encourage applications from communities for new Green Belt, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Park designations.
- Increase funding for the Environment Agency and Natural England, to support the vital work they do to protect our environment.
- Invest in peatland restoration and end both the burning of peatlands and use of peat in compost in horticulture. We will advocate an emergency international agreement to conserve and enhance carbon sinks and reservoirs including forests, peat fields and coastal and estuarine areas.
- Restore access to the countryside by re-opening lost public rights of way and creating new ones. We will grant to people in England and Wales the same right to roam over all landscapes as people in Scotland currently enjoy. We will protect and enhance access to inland waterways.
- Invest in ecotourism and associated schemes such as rewilding, habitat recovery and species reintroduction, creating new job opportunities.
Comment: This is an ambitious raft of measures, which have the potential to radically improve our experience of the countryside. More accountable governance of National Parks would go some way to meeting common criticism of the way Park Authorities are run. New National Parks and other protected areas would clearly be a boon to the nation. Better public transport in National Parks is sorely needed. A right to roam for England and Wales would be a major improvement in principle on the rather bitty status quo, although in upland areas already designated for open access it may make little practical difference on the ground. And the restoration of lost rights of way would undo damage that's been accelerating under the current Government (though, to quibble the wording, do 'rights of way' mean much if there's a right of access everywhere?).
Green New Deal for energy
The Green New Deal for energy will revolutionise the way we produce and use energy.
- Enable communities to develop their own renewable energy projects, so that the benefits of locally generated energy can stay local.
- Introduce new support and incentives to directly accelerate wind energy development, paving the way for wind to provide around 70% of the UK's electricity by 2030.
- Introduce new support for solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro and other renewable energies to provide much of the remainder of the UK's energy supply by 2030.
- Transform the planning system so that it works to support a massive increase in wind power and other renewable generation.
- Work with the Crown Estate, which which owns much of the UK's coastline, to open up more coastal waters for offshore wind and marine energy.
Comment: Does this imply more small-scale hydro in the hills (the benefits of which can be outweighed by their local ecological harm)? How about more onshore windfarms in the uplands? It's hard to argue with a general increase in renewables, but a radical transformation of the planning system to favour development might not strike all outdoor enthusiasts, rural communities and conservation organisations as an unmitigated good thing. The devil would be in the detail.
The Greens would like to:
Ban advertising for flights, and introduce a Frequent Flyer Levy to reduce the impact of the 15% of people who take 70% of flights. This Frequent Flyer Levy only applies to people who take more than one (return) flight a year, discouraging excessive flying.
Comment: We all know we shouldn't fly. This sounds draconian, but anything that prompts a change in our damaging habit is welcome. Sunny sport climbing trips might become a rare treat, but if we holiday closer to home, and favour the train over the plane (or car) on climbing or walking trips, then we'd be helping to address the inconvenient paradox that our passion for the outdoors doesn't always do the planet a lot of good.
The Green New Deal for food, farming and forestry
The Green New Deal will transform our relationship with the land. It will increase space for nature through the restoration of natural landscapes, habitats and species in urban, suburban and countryside environments. We want to increase the opportunities for food growing, for greening our landscape and improving our health. Through reforestation, rewilding and regenerative farming, we will reduce carbon emissions and realise the land's ability to absorb carbon. ...we will:
- Plant 700 million new trees and aim for 50% of all farms to be engaged in agroforestry by 2030. We will encourage the planting of more trees in more towns and cities, including apple, nut and other crop trees than can produce food. The new woodland, when fully grown, will store carbon, provide home-grown timber and create new wildlife-rich environments. We will support farmers to diversify their incomes through new forest management.
Comment: more trees are an easy sell, and 700 million is an impressive number, beaten as a headline figure only by Labour's 2 billion.
- Encourage, through changes to the planning system, the 'rewilding' of spaces to provide new habitats for wildlife. An ecological crisis is happening – we must tackle it by restoring, expanding and joining up the wild spaces nature needs to thrive.
- Deploy environmentally friendly flood management measures to protect communities from flooding. These measures, which include tree planning and soil restoration in upland catchment areas to tackle excess water at source, are cheaper and more effective than the traditional approach of simply covering river banks in concrete.
Comment: The restoration of river catchment areas is the elephant in the room of the UK's frequent flooding events. Degraded peat bogs, treeless hills and the heather deserts promoted by the grouse shooting industry will all need to be addressed if we are to improve the uplands' ability to hold excess rainfall. The benefit to downstream communities is obvious; the knock on benefit to us will be richer and more attractive environments to walk and climb in.
Here's an opinion piece about our peatland habitat:
For more info see the Green Party manifesto
A green new deal
Plaid Cymru understands that climate change is the defining challenge of our time. Climate crisis, destruction of nature and overuse of resources threaten the foundations of our well-being and wealth – even our security. With declining biodiversity, polluted air and accelerating climate crisis, the time to act is now. This is not an issue that Wales can tackle alone, that is why we must work with other actors within the EU and with other international institutions to reach agreement and commit to bold action against climate change and promoting decarbonisation.
To complement our work in the European Parliament, a Plaid Cymru government will act through ensuring that we become self-sufficient in renewable electricity. We will do this through investing in the acquisition and development of new large scale generating and storage capacity projects and providing support for community energy initiatives. Plaid Cymru will commission a national inventory of green energy potential in Wales - an "Energy Atlas for Wales" - and seek to use European Investment Bank funding for green and renewables projects.
Comment: As with the Green proposals, does this imply the possibility of more small-scale hydro schemes in the hills? Many of these are controversial ventures of debatable environmental benefit. In terms of major projects, more big upland wind farms seem likely, as does the possibility of new pumped storage schemes. A general increase in renewables is welcome, but there's an obvious potential for a clash with landscape conservation, especially in a relatively small country like Wales.
Here's an article on why small scale hydro isn't always all it's cracked up to be:
We want to promote Wales as a top quality, sustainable tourism destination with activities and experiences based on our natural resources, our produce, our unique coastline and landscape and our language, culture and heritage. Currently, the tourism industry is throttled by unfair taxes and a Government that is failing to promote Wales as a global tourist destination. Plaid Cymru want to see tourism VAT cut to put Wales ahead in the international tourism market and launch a Celebrate Wales year to stimulate tourism across the country.
- Help achieve our environmental goals through making public transport more affordable and attractive, introducing additional public electricity charging points across Wales, starting the transition towards a wholly electric fleet of public sector vehicles and supporting active travel.
- Invest in transport solutions that work for rural Wales and its demographic and geographic challenges.
Food, agriculture and fishing
Farming is the backbone of many rural communities across Wales and agriculture is an all-important sector in terms of the broader Welsh economy. Currently, an average of 80% of a farmer's income comes from the direct payments they receive through the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. Direct payments provide stability and security to farmers and are crucial in ensuring the vitality of Welsh farms and the wider rural economy. The Welsh Labour Government intend phasing out direct payments if we leave the EU, which would have a devastating impact on the rural economy and the fabric of rural communities. A Plaid Cymru government will retain a direct payment. We can also protect this funding and Welsh farmers by remaining in the EU.
Comment: Hill farming defines the Welsh hill landscape, but it's a marginal business at the best of times. Post-Brexit, how are hill farms going to be supported? It's no good saying Wales will do so by staying in the EU when under some likely scenarios it's about to leave along with the rest of the UK (an outcome that a majority in Wales actually voted for).
Wildlife species in Wales are at risk of disappearing, with loss of biodiversity a threat to our natural environment. We will update and consolidate Welsh wildlife legislation, creating a new Wildlife Act for Wales.
For more info see the Plaid Cymru manifesto
The Brexit Party have re-branded their manifesto a 'contract with the people', perhaps safe in the knowledge that it will never need to be redeemed. Environmental policy is thin on the ground.
We pledge to:
- Invest in the Environment: in addition to planting millions of trees to capture CO2 we will promote a global initiative at the UN.
- Simplify planning consents for Brownfield sites.
Comment: You don't have to lack a sense of environmental urgency, and to offer only a threadbare vision for the future, in order to believe in Brexit... but it clearly helps.
For what it's worth see the Brexit Party contract