Nature, biodiversity and tackling water pollution are key issues that could swing environmentally-conscious voters at the next general election, new polling from the Wildlife Trusts has revealed.
The Wildlife Trusts is an organisation made up of 46 wildlife trusts covering the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney, and looks after more than 2,300 nature reserves. Its membership sits at almost a million.
The organisation polled 1,138 of its members and supporters about their environmental priorities and voting intentions.
A majority said they either will or might change who they vote for: twenty per cent of the Wildlife Trusts’ supporters and members plan to switch their vote to another party at the next election as opposed to 2019. A further 42 per cent said they might change their vote at the next election.
Overall, two thirds said tackling climate change was their top priority (66 per cent), followed by cleaning up pollution from rivers and seas (51 per cent) and making more space for nature (32 per cent).
The polling also reveals that 61 per cent of the Wildlife Trusts' members and supporters plan to vote based on candidates’ environmental policies, and a further 32 per cent are considering whether to do the same. The charity said this suggests that if a party were to make a “strong pitch on the environment this could sway wavering voters”.
Around four in five of the Trusts' Conservative-voting members said they were dissatisfied with the current government’s approach to nature and climate.
On environmental policy priorities, nearly three quarters of Labour-voting Trust members said that cleaning up pollution from rivers and seas is their top priority (74 per cent) with more than half of Conservative-voting members agreeing (57 per cent). However, fewer Labour-voting members (49 per cent) said tackling climate change was a top priority than Conservative-voting members (56 per cent).
In comparison, tackling climate change is a top environmental priority for a high percentage of Green-voting members and Liberal Democrat voting members. More than three quarters (77 per cent) of Liberal Democrat voting members said tackling climate change was a top priority, with 69 per cent of Green voting members saying the same.
Speaking exclusively to New Statesman Spotlight, Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts said, “membership of the Wildlife Trusts seems to broadly match the British electorate in terms of how they voted in the last election”.
That 90 per cent of the Trusts' members either said they will vote, or are considering voting, based on parties’ environmental policies at the next election indicates that environmental policies could potentially swing a lot of voters.
“We’ve never really seen a political party at a general election go for the environment vote,” Bennett told Spotlight. He explained that ahead of the next general election – which has been touted to take place in 2024 – all major parties should consider ironing out their environmental offering to voters.
“It’s there for the taking for any of the policies that really have a clear, authentic, bold narrative on tackling the nature and climate crisis,” Bennett said.
What has been missing from previous and current environmental policy, he said, is an authentic narrative around how protecting nature and enhancing biodiversity can be “integrated into delivering on the things we want in society”.
He pointed to a report published by the Wildlife Trusts earlier this year – A Natural Health Service – which outlined the ways in which nature can be used in preventative healthcare such as in combatting loneliness among older people, and anxiety in the wider population. The research showed that natural schemes could save the NHS £600m a year.
“I’d like to see parties go a lot further on the ability for policies to properly integrate the environment agenda with the education agenda, with the economy, with health, with jobs, with skills,” Bennett told Spotlight.
When asked why nature has occasionally fallen behind climate on the list of government priorities, Bennett said it can often prove difficult to set targets for nature and biodiversity. He explained that while this is beginning to change – the Global Biodiversity Framework (which was agreed at the UN's Biodiversity Conference, or Cop15, last year) has now emerged to improve accountability on nature restoration – we’re not there yet.
“It has fallen behind and it needs really clear attention,” Bennett said. He explained that in recent years, the pandemic has really put the “spotlight on nature”.
“We should never forget that Covid-19 almost certainly will prove to have been something caused by the global ecological crisis,” Bennett said, “so I think we have started to finally realise how important nature is to our lives.”[See also: “Don’t get left behind”: understanding the finance sector’s reliance on nature]