What will the new Labour government do for wildlife?

With a new UK government elected, Born Free looks at what promises have been made, and what work needs to be done.

A propped up sign reading 'polling station' in front of a sandstone building

The campaigning is done, the hustings are over, and the results are finally in. 

The outcome is very much as predicted, with the Labour party forming the new Government having won a majority of the Parliamentary seats by a landslide. 

The question now is what will this mean for wildlife protection and the welfare of both free-living and captive wild animals? 

The recently departed Conservative administration introduced some important legislation, including the Environment Act of 2021, and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act in 2022. It also published some ambitious legislative plans in its 2021 Action Plan for Animal Welfare. However, it failed to follow up with the bold action required to effectively implement the wildlife protection elements of the Environment Act, and many of its wider plans ended up being abandoned, watered down, or relegated to precarious Private Members Bills, most of which did not come to fruition. 

There is also unfinished business left over from the previous administration. This includes implementing the long-promised extension of the ban on domestic elephant ivory trade to other ivory-bearing species including hippos, narwhals, sperm whales and orcas; and introducing the secondary legislation needed to bring effect to the Animals (Low Welfare Activities Abroad) Act, which passed through parliament in September last year, but is toothless until the activities that it will be illegal to advertise or sell here in the UK have been set out in the relevant Schedule to the Act.   

Previous Labour administrations have a legacy of introducing important animal protection legislation. The Labour administration which governed from May 1997 to May 2010 introduced the Hunting Act of 2004, and the Animal Welfare Act of 2006, both of which we broadly welcomed at the time. However, both are now in need of an upgrade.  

In its election manifesto, the Labour party made commitments to protect landscapes and wildlife, promote nature recovery, meet the targets in the Environment Act, build sustainable homes that support biodiversity, and improve access to nature. It included plans to establish nine new National River Walks and three new National Forests in England, expand nature-rich habitats such as wetlands, peat bogs and forests, and move towards a circular economy, while emphasising the need for coordinated global action to address the climate and nature crisis. 

Labour also committed to ban trail hunting (a loophole in the Hunting Act which is used by many hunts as a front to continue hunting foxes with dogs), to work with farmers and scientists on measures to eradicate Bovine TB so that the ineffective badger cull could be brought to an end, and to introduce the long-anticipated ban on the import of hunting trophies (an unfulfilled commitment of the previous government). 

However, in many cases these commitments lack important clarity or detail, and many of Born Free’s priorities, including those concerning the continuing exploitation of wild animals for captive purposes in zoos, as exotic pets, and for exhibition and performance, were conspicuous by their absence.  

There has also been confusion about Labour’s stance on the badger cull. While recognising that the culls are ‘ineffective’ in their manifesto, Labour’s Environment Spokesman, Steve Reed, recently indicated on Farming Today that a Labour government wouldn’t cancel existing culling licenses, which could see tens of thousands more badgers killed for no reason. This apparent contradiction needs to be clarified. 

Of course, there is nothing to stop governing political parties from introducing additional legislation or policy that wasn’t in their manifesto. Conversely, political parties have a habit of not always fulfilling their manifesto commitments once they come to power. 

But our wildlife is in crisis, countless animals continue to suffer, and the need for real, effective protection has never been more urgent. The job now for wildlife groups like Born Free is to hold the new Government to account for its stated commitments, and to push it to go further. Much further. 

We will be seeking early meetings with members of the new Ministerial team and MPs to shore up the wildlife commitments in the Government’s manifesto and seek clarification on how and when those commitments will become a reality, as well as encouraging the Government to tackle the unfinished business from the previous administration.  

We will also be pushing for the wider priorities contained in our own UK Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Manifesto, that so many of our supporters sent to their prospective parliamentary candidates during the election campaign, urging them to commit to taking action for wild animals. And we will be calling for the creation of a Nature Security Council, and an Animal Welfare Commissioner, to ensure the new Government prioritises nature protection and animal welfare and makes good on its promises.  

We will never give up being a voice to the voiceless, and calling for wild animals to be properly protected where they belong – in the wild. 

Watch out for further information on how you can help Born Free achieve our shared ambitions for a better, kinder, more compassionate natural world. 

A badger in a meadow of green grass. It is looking up to the sky

Will you help Born Free stand up for wild animals?

Regardless of which UK government is in power, Born Free will never stop fighting for the legislation needed to protect nature and wildlife, in the UK and abroad - but we can only do it with your support.

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