Reviewing party manifestos: Liberal Democrats

Welcome to the first of our analyses of party manifestos ahead of the General Election on 4 July. We’ll be responding to the manifestos of all the main political parties as they are published.  Our response to the Liberal Democrats nature announcement on 8 June: The Liberal Democrats made a separate announcement to create three new national parks on 8 June, which we responded to here:

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View looking up into the leafy tree canopy in a UK woodland

Liberal Democrat manifesto: our view

On Monday 10 June, the Liberal Democrats launched their 2024 General Election manifesto, called For a Fair Deal. Our policy experts have scrutinised it from a nature and climate perspective.   

The big picture 

In general, there’s a lot to like in this manifesto as it recognises the importance of tackling the nature and climate emergency. However, we need to see more detail on how they plan to fulfil many of the commitments made, particularly when it comes to timescales. After all, Nature Can’t Wait.  

Legally binding targets for nature 

We’re really pleased that the Liberal Democrats have committed to setting meaningful and, crucially, binding targets to stop the decline of the natural environment, and ‘double nature’ by 2050. This includes doubling: the Protected Area network (which includes sites legally protected for nature, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest); the area of the most important wildlife habitats; the abundance of species; and the woodland cover.  

They’ve also committed to protecting at least 30% of land and sea areas by 2030, which will help the recovery of nature.  We talk about the importance of this here

It's unclear, though, whether this means they’ve also committed to halting declines in wildlife by 2030, which is enshrined in current law. Also, just doubling the size of the Protected Area network isn’t enough on its own – these areas also need to be managed correctly to work harder for nature. Currently, just 43–51% of the Protected Area network is well-managed for nature.   

Nature doesn’t know borders, so collaborating with neighbouring countries, for example by applying to join the European Environment Agency, and working with countries to protect important habitats for our shared migratory birds will help to tackle the nature and climate emergency together. 

Helping people to thrive through nature

We welcome their proposed new Environmental Rights Act, which recognises everyone’s human right to a healthy environment.  

Nature is vital for wellbeing, so we support their plans at a practical level to give people more access to a healthy natural environment, regardless of where they live. They have committed to significantly increasing the amount of accessible green space, including protecting up to a million acres of land; completing the coastal path; exploring a ‘right to roam’ of waterways, and creating a new designation of National Nature Parks.  

Putting nature at the heart of planning 

We’re pleased to see they’ve committed to net gain for nature from new developments, but we would like more details on how this would work, so that housing developments are planned with space for nature in mind.  

We support the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to strengthen the Office for Environmental Protection, and provide more funding to the Environment Agency and Natural England to help protect our environment and enforce environmental laws. We all need well-funded independent regulators ensure these laws are regulated and enforced properly, so that nature benefits.  

Helping business become nature-friendly 

As 71% of the UK is farmed, we know that farming is key to the recovery of nature. We welcome the recognition of the importance of providing ‘public money for public goods’ – rewarding farmers for giving services that benefit the whole of the UK, such as plentiful wildlife and clean water – and crucially, the need to properly fund it. It’s also good to see recognition of the importance of providing advice, so that farmers can do all they can for nature.  

This means that farmers who want to work harder for nature will have the public funding and the relevant advice to do so.  

The nature and climate emergency is everyone’s business, so we support the fact they plan to hold business to account, by giving them a duty to protect the environment. We’d love more details on how this would work, though, so it is meaningful for nature and enshrined in law, and not just ‘greenwashing.’  

Although the manifesto shows a commitment to a nature-positive economy, one where nature is accounted for in all business and policy decisions, there is more work to do here. We will need to see a robust green finance plan to achieve this.  

Mitigating the effects of climate change 

We’re pleased to see the inclusion of nature-based solutions to climate change in the manifesto although would like to see more detail on the mechanisms of how to implement them. Nature is a critical tool in helping mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as helping us adapt to its impacts. These include restoring our peatlands, banning horticultural peat, and working internationally to fight deforestation. Peat can lock an enormous amount of carbon, but currently much of our peatlands are in poor condition. If they are restored, they could be significant in the fight against climate change.  

Our seabirds are in trouble. According to 2023’s Seabirds Count, almost half of seabird species in the UK have seen a decrease in their numbers in the past 20 years. There are elements of the Liberal Democrat manifesto that will help with this, which include creating a real network of marine protected areas and ensuring they’re fully protected from damaging and destructive activities. How we manage our fisheries is also vital to helping seabirds thrive, so it’s a good sign they want to ensure that sustainability is central to policy around fisheries. However, these policies must address the needs of the whole ecosystem, for nature to recover.   

In a nutshell

The comprehensive nature of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto,shows ambition for nature. However, some points are vague in the detail around how these will be achieved. Substantial funding and robust enforcement measures are a must.  

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