Reviewing party manifestos: Reform UK

Here’s the fifth of our analyses of party manifestos ahead of the General Election on 4 July. We’re responding to the manifestos of the top five political parties by vote share as they are published. Where political parties make nature announcements separately from their manifestos, we are responding to those elsewhere on our website – for example, Labour’s nature announcement on 6 June.

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Reform UK manifesto: our view

On Monday 17 June, Reform UK launched their 2024 General Election manifesto, called ‘Our contract with you’. Our policy experts have scrutinised it from a nature and climate perspective. 

The big picture

Nature is almost entirely absent from the Reform UK manifesto. There are no plans to address the climate change and nature crises. The commitment to drop the retained EU laws, including those covering the environment, is extremely concerning. This would include the Habitats Regulations which provide vital protection for our most important species and habitats. It includes some limited wording on making our fisheries more sustainable, but much more detail is needed. 

On land

The UK Government has made legally binding commitments to protect 30% of our lands and seas by 2030. There’s no specific mention of this commitment within the Reform UK manifesto, and no proposed actions to look after our currently protected sites or create new protected landscapes.  

 With 71% of the UK farmed, we know that the way we farm is key to the recovery of nature. The pledge to scrap climate-related subsidies and current nature-friendly schemes and return to direct payments to farmers would be a huge backward step. Farmers need support to transition to more nature-friendly farming methods. They also need easily accessible funding so they can use some land to provide environmental services that we increasingly need, such as natural flood defences and locking away carbon that will build resilience in a changing climate. Going back to direct payments would lock farmers into a broken food system which is increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and a loss of nature.  

 The proposal to stop Natural England taking any actions to protect threatened nature sites would give free reign to those who want to pollute or exploit our precious natural spaces, including our protected sites and rivers. As well as being a disaster for nature, it would be unfair to the many farmers who want to protect the natural environment and undermine their efforts to farm in nature-friendly ways.   
On planning, it is not clear what’s meant by the reference to 'loose fit' planning in the manifesto. Robust planning laws help protect the environment and ensure fairness. ‘Loose fit' is imprecise wording which threatens to create new risks to nature. The manifesto does say it will incentivise innovation and new construction technology. This is something to be welcomed if done well as it could include ways to include nature-positive features in housing developments.  

At sea

The manifesto includes a number of ideas on our fisheries which could be beneficial if done well. The commitment to guarantee sustainable fish stocks could be welcome but it’s not clear what is meant by this, and we need to see more details to make sure environmental sustainability, including the health of our marine environment, lies at the heart of the policy.   

There’s no mention of blue carbon, offshore wind or nature positive marine spatial planning in the manifesto, or any marine spatial planning at all. Also, there’s no mention of marine protected areas. Their absence, considering the part they could play in tackling the nature and climate crisis, is concerning.

Combating the nature and climate emergency

We’re alarmed about the proposals in this manifesto to scrap net zero and the expansion plans for oil and gas. This would be in direct conflict with tackling the nature and climate emergencies and a rejection of the science and evidence.  
Fast-tracking and expanding oil and gas licensing in the North Sea would not only move us in the wrong direction for net zero, but also risk damaging our marine ecosystems. We should be moving to protect and restore these precious places by 30% by 2030.  

While the manifesto states that we can protect the environment with tree planting, recycling and less single-use plastics, these actions alone would not be enough to tackle the climate and nature crises. Recognised scientific evidence demonstrates that far greater action is needed in many different areas if we want to protect and restore the natural world  

Specifically, dealing with climate change is vital for saving nature, we’re already seeing the effects of unpredictable and more extreme weather on our seabirds and species such as butterflies. Embracing the transition to net zero also means we will have cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy in the future.   

Access to nature

It’s disappointing to see no mention of increasing access to nature in the manifesto. Nature is vital for the wellbeing of all of us, with increasing evidence that it boosts our health and happiness. We need to see more spaces for nature in urban and suburban areas and plans for good quality green space in all new housing developments.  

The economic picture

The manifesto fails to recognise the critical role that the recovery of nature can play in delivering a more sustainable economy. The Green Finance Institute say that the continued decline in nature could have an impact on the scale of the global financial crisis or Covid-19. It is only by becoming nature positive that we can prevent such an economic shock.    

It’s alarming that the manifesto says net zero is ‘crippling our economy’.  By working toward net zero and investing in doing so, the UK can make sure that it addresses climate change and avoids the massive costs that doing nothing would bring our way in the future. 

In a nutshell

Reform UK’s manifesto makes hardly any space for nature, with no details on how they would address the crisis our wildlife and wild spaces are in. It includes some encouraging wording on making our fisheries more sustainable, but much more detail is needed. The pledge to remove funding for nature-friendly farming and the commitment to axe retained EU laws, including those covering the environment, would both worsen the nature crisis rather than help reverse it.  

Proposals to drop net zero and increase oil and gas expansion would be a high-risk backward step. Climate change is not a distant threat, we’re already seeing the increasing impact of extreme weather on our wildlife, our food production and our economy as well as the health and wellbeing of all of us.  

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