Guardian article: “Britain’s natural landscape is in ruins – thanks to the Tories. Here’s how Labour will restore it”

Guardian opinion article [25/04/24] 

We must not be the last generation to have the opportunity to marvel at nature.

When I was growing up, I took for granted the excitement of climbing trees in the local woods at the end of our road, sleeping under the stars at Scout camp, and exploring the micro-worlds of seaside rockpools on holiday in Cornwall. Our children and grandchildren deserve to be astounded by the magnificence of our landscapes and coastlines, mesmerised by the beauty of a robin’s song, and to splash about in the local river.

Nature is under threat. The Conservatives have left Britain one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Almost half of our bird species and a quarter of our mammal species are at risk of extinction. Precious landscapes in our national parks are in decline. And our rivers, lakes and seas are awash with record levels of toxic sewage.

We feel this destruction of nature wherever we live. Fewer birds in the garden, more of our land under water, our kids getting sick after swimming in the sea. Parents worry their children and grandchildren may never experience the beauty of the natural world as every previous generation has.

The Conservatives have irresponsibly positioned themselves against nature. They let water companies profit from filling our rivers with sewage and tried to weaken environmental laws on new housing developments that risked irreparable damage to our waterways.

It’s time to change course. The next Labour government will fully commit to restoring and protecting nature. Labour are the conservers, not the Conservatives.

We will clean up our rivers, putting the water companies under special measures and making law-breaking water bosses personally criminally liable if they refuse to stop illegal sewage dumping. We will attract private investment to fix our crumbling sewage infrastructure by establishing strong, consistent and effective regulation.

Better public transport and speeding up the switch from petrol to electric vehicles will clean up our air. Building natural flood defences and planting more trees will reduce the damage caused by severe rainstorms. Nurturing nature-rich habitats, including wetlands, forests and peat bogs, will capture and store carbon. Introducing a land-use framework will ensure we steward the land responsibly while meeting the many demands we place on it.

But this won’t be enough. The government’s own advisers have admitted the Conservatives are off track to meet their legal obligations to the natural world.

Where the Conservatives have failed, Labour will deliver the Environment Act targets. We will halt the decline of British species by 2030. We will honour our international agreements to protect 30% of our land and seas by the same date.

Labour will do this through a partnership with civil society, communities, business and volunteers to harness their creativity and insights.

We will ensure the existing environmental improvement plan is fit for purpose, and our commitment to devolution and localism will ensure communities get a voice in safeguarding nature in their area.

Nature will be central to each of the missions that will define Keir Starmer’s Labour government. Access to nature promotes wellbeing and tackles poor mental health. Cleaner air cuts hospital admissions. It’s been proven that taking part in nature-based projects can help offenders turn their lives around. Protecting landscapes that capture and store carbon helps us meet our net-zero targets. Training people for new jobs in restoring and protecting the natural world promotes economic growth.

Nature underpins everything, but we stand at a moment in history when nature needs us to defend it. Without nature there is no economy, no food, no health and no society. We human beings are not merely observers of nature, we are an integral part of it, and our future depends on protecting it. Labour will give Britain a government that not only understands that, but acts on it.

Steve Reed MP

Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary


Steven Reed is Labour MP for Croydon North and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In 2018 his private member’s bill on reducing violent mental health restraint became law. In June 2019 he launched Labour’s civil society strategy outlining radical plans to empower citizens and communities.


Steve chairs the Cooperative Councils Innovation Network, co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for London, was Leader of Lambeth Council 2006-12 where he led the council’s children’s services to become best-rated in the country and pioneered the public-health approach to tackling violent youth crime. He worked in publishing for 16 years and was an elected trade union branch secretary.