As a vegetarian of over 40 years, I’m a very strong supporter of action to protect our creatures great and small. As a former Environment Secretary, who introduced the Climate Change Bill, steered through the Marine and Coastal Access Act, established the South Downs National Park and set up the Lawton Review, the issues you raise are dear to my heart.

According to the 2016 State of Nature report by leading conservation organisations, the UK is now “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world,” having lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average. Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of species declined, with intensive management of agricultural land the main factor, and this trend is continuing. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee Biodiversity Indicators 2018 measured deterioration in almost all bird species and pollinating insects while a study from Germany has found that insect populations have plummeted 75% in just three decades. This is not just bad news for wildlife, but also indicates serious problems with the most fundamental elements of a food system on which we all depend. That is why I take the issue of biodiversity decline seriously.

Parts of the UK are among the most densely populated areas in Europe, and there are many competing claims on land which have to be balanced responsibly. At the same time, the UK and even parts of England, are home to some of the least populated areas of Europe, and so farm animal welfare should be managed in a way that enables rich and complex ecosystems to thrive. Healthy soils, oceans and woodland are vital for our food security, for mitigating and preventing flooding, supporting pollinators and biodiversity more broadly, and storing carbon. They are also important in their own right.

Labour has set out a series of commitments on animal welfare more generally, which we will implement if we are successful at the general election. We will introduce an animal welfare commissioner, prohibit the sale of snares and glue traps and ban the keeping of primate as pets. We will work internationally to end commercial whaling, ban the importation of hunting trophies of threatened species and boost police resourced to tackle rural and wildlife crime.

We will also:

Reconfigure funds for farming and fishing to support sustainable practices, smaller traders, local economies and community benefits

Embed and enhance in policy the responsibility for farmers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals, and encourage the growth of wildflowers.

Establish a science innovation fund to promote the most sustainable forms of farming and fishing, with support earmarked for our small-scale fishing fleet

Review the allocation of UK fishing quota to promote the most sustainable fishing practices, in a way that benefits coastal communities and the small-scale fishing fleet.

Protect habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding the United Kingdom and its overseas territories, and consult on the creation of National Marine Parks around the UK.

Enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act, end the badger cull, make illegal hunting and all wildlife crime a reportable offence, and improve enforcement and prosecution rates for the persecution of birds of prey.

Initiate a large tree planting programme, working with farmers and foresters to promote biodiversity and better flood prevention.

End rotational heather burning and launch an independent review into the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting.

Hilary Benn – Labour Candidate for Leeds Central

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