East Hampshire is one of the United Kingdom’s most beautiful corners. It is also home to some of our rarest and most wonderful plants and creatures. That has been recognised not only by the creation of the South Downs National Park, but also by the designation of many nature reserves, sites of special scientific interest and so on.

East Hampshire’s Wey and Rother river catchments, the Meon and Candover chalk streams, ancient forests, heathland and chalk downland are home to many rare and wonderful plants and creatures. Being surrounded by flourishing nature is good for our own wellbeing too.

So it is no surprise that worries about the environment come up very often when I chat to people on their doorsteps. The catastrophic release of sewage for around 9,000 hours into rivers and streams across East Hampshire last year (judging by the figures published by the Environment Agency) is unsurprisingly people’s top concern at the moment. We need to make the water companies clean up the damage and re-form them as Public Interest Companies to put public health and wildlife ahead of profit or executive bonuses.

The sewage scandal needs addressing urgently, but it is not the only serious problem. The sad fact is that this Conservative Government, which pledged to leave England’s biodiversity in a better state than it found it, is failing in its own commitments to protect the natural environment – just as it has backtracked on sustainable energy.

The official Office for Environmental Protection assessed in 2023 that the Government was “off track” to meet its commitments on “thriving plants and wildlife”, “clean and plentiful water”, and bio-security (i.e. pests, diseases and non-native invasive species). The Wildlife Trusts last November published a list of ten broken Government promises on nature. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was educated at Winchester College, where he was in close proximity to the River Itchen, one of Hampshire's rare chalk streams
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was educated at Winchester College, where he was in close proximity to the River Itchen, one of Hampshire's rare chalk streams (Hugh Chevallier)

This is a part of the country that really cares about nature and the environment. From the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, local Rivers Trusts, the Petersfield and Alton Climate Action Networks PECAN and ACAN, the Sustainability Centre, EcoRotherAction, the Horndean Biodiversity Group and many other village and specialised groups, there is a remarkable network of volunteers supporting the work of countryside managers and professional conservationists.

This is a good news story that continues with farmers are helping wildlife recover, as well as beekeepers, gardeners and allotment holders who are all playing their part.

For an area like East Hampshire where residents are giving up so much time to help nature revive, it is devastating that the current Government has downgraded its ambitions and is doing so poorly on its targets. It is especially disappointing that the environment appears not to be a priority given that the Prime Minister had the good fortune to spend his school years on the banks of the River Itchen, one of Hampshire’s miraculous chalk streams.

Any Government faces competing priorities and finite resources. But to deprioritise nature because it cannot shout out from the Westminster backbenches is to be deaf to the health and well-being of future generations. The environment may not be an electoral priority for the Conservative Party, but it is for the Liberal Democrats and for many, many voters.

Dominic Martin, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for East Hampshire