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General Election - Cutting Through the Blurb to Make Your Vote Count for Animals

20/04/2015 22:23 BST | Updated 20/06/2015 10:59 BST

So all the major parties have now released their manifestos and in them are a whole load of promises on issues big and small - from 'Right to Buy' to inheritance tax to GM foods - it's all in there if you're willing to dig deep enough.

Despite the hard work of each party's design teams to put everything into palatable, 'man on the street'-type speak, it is still pretty hard sometimes to digest even one whole manifesto let alone all of them, and it isn't always easy to compare like for like on specific topics, like for example animal welfare, but we got stuck in.

Animals on the agenda

One thing notable about this election, more than ever before, is that it seems that animals and animal welfare are being considered as a real vote winner (or loser, depending on your level of cynicism). So, with that in mind, here's a top-line summary for people that want to make their vote count for animals on 7 May.

Wildlife at home

It's been a tough few years for British wildlife - the extraordinarily controversial pilot badger cull started, is still ongoing and is planned to restart once again later this year. There's also been an attempt at a back door repeal of the Hunting Act, and things such as licensing of killing buzzards to protect pheasant shooting interests have proved far from popular. So, what will the future hold for our native wildlife?

Labour is pledging to defend the ban on hunting with dogs and to end the Government's 'ineffective and inhumane badger culls'. The Conservatives remain committed to implementing their '25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB', which includes badger culling. The Conservatives make no bones about promising to 'protect hunting, shooting and fishing' and to 'give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote'. The Liberal Democrats pledge to 'only support extending the existing [badger] cull pilots if they are shown to be effective, humane and safe' and recognise the importance of vaccination in TB control.

The Green Party goes as far as to say that they would further strengthen the Hunting Act, extend it to all animals and put an end the badger cull. Labour and the Greens go further in other areas too - with Labour pledging to review snaring and shooting and the Greens wanting an outright ban on both.

Although the Scottish National Party manifesto wasn't out at the time of writing, they have told us directly that the SNP opposes hunting as 'an inhumane practice with no place in modern Scotland' (although as the Hunting Act applies to England and Wales only, they would abstain on a vote on repeal if it came to Parliament). Likewise, as Scotland is TB free, they told us they wouldn't get involved with the politics of the badger cull.

Action overseas

Less controversial and certainly less divisive is the recognition of all parties to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. Although weak on wildlife protection at home, the Conservatives have led the way with this overseas, particularly in their last term, and others are now naturally looking to follow their path.

The Conservative manifesto pledges commitment to continuing their work in the battle to combat the illegal wildlife trade, with a default strong focus on elephants (both African and Asian) and rhinos - species that get closer to the brink daily.

Labour has included the importance of fighting wildlife cybercrime, a campaign led by IFAW globally, and the Lib Dems and Greens want to increase penalties so that wildlife crime does not pay. The Green Party also promises to provide funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and a focus on reducing consumer demand for animals and their parts through education.

In the sea

Although it is estimated that less than 5% of the UK's population lives by the coast, our island mentality means that voters still care deeply about marine issues. This is another area where most parties agree on what needs to be done.

The Lib Dems and the Conservatives want to see the creation of a 'blue belt' of protected marine habitat, and Labour and the Greens also want greater marine protection. The issue of commercial whaling has been flagged by both Labour and the Conservatives who pledge to stamp their feet in defiance of any country that wants to continue (so, that's Norway, Iceland and Japan) or indeed start, commercial whaling.

Anything else...

In other issues, the main parties have delved into animal welfare at different levels. By far the most robust pledges are from the Green Party - with a phenomenal list of asks including ending factory farming, a review of horse racing and lots on animal experimentation.

Labour has also dug deep with a separate animal manifesto including lots on breeding legislation and sales of cats and dogs, and banning the use of great apes in animal experimentation.

The UK Independence Party has committed to tripling the maximum sentencing for animal abusers and has a strong focus on animal slaughter. Plaid Cymru is supporting the introduction of a European-wide Animal Welfare Commissioner.

Now I guess the obvious question to ask me is - how would I vote? Well, that isn't something I'm allowed to share. But as head of IFAW in the UK, I'm pleased to say that more than ever before animals are on the radar and as an animal-loving voter my needs in this area are being increasingly recognised by all parties, which has got to be a good thing.

Find out your candidates' views on animal welfare

If you want to find out where your local candidates stand on key animal issues, you can click here, enter your postcode and get the facts. You can learn more about IFAW's Manifesto for Animals and all the issues at www.IFAW.org.

Whatever you do though, make your vote count!