As our politicians ready themselves for a general election with new manifestos for a better future, what does the vote mean for earlier promises and, in particular, Defra’s delayed 25-year Environment Plan?

The government set out its aims for the plan in its 2015 Conservative manifesto to ensure the next generation inherits a better environment than the one we live in today, with cleaner air, water and seas, healthier wildlife, a low carbon economy and greater resource efficiency. The plan was due for release in December, with the Environmental Audit Committee stating that it was essential that the government consults on and publishes its intentions “as soon as possible to inform negotiations to leave the EU”. The environment minister has repeatedly stated that the launch will be “soon”. However, it was widely reported in the media earlier this month that the plan is delayed and may be published later this year, with some sceptical that it will be published at all. In addition, the journalists and non-government organisations (NGO) that have seen the plan admire the aspiration, but have criticised the document for lacking in policies and practical solutions for environmental improvement.

So, even before the framework has been published, this already feels like old news, with the prime minister calling for a general election on 8 June which will presumably provide a new Conservative manifesto. Will the promise of a ‘once in a lifetime’ environment plan be carried through to the next manifesto? Sadly, judging by political commentary I have read since the announcement, the environment seems pretty low down the list of priorities (or is completely absent).

It was hoped that the plan would go some way to providing environmental protection in a post-Brexit landscape. The government may be missing an opportunity to provide long-term protection to Britain’s wildlife and environment as we transition from European to national regulations. We are now facing the potential dilution and loss of confidence in the strategy, with the danger that the laws on nature and the environment will not be enforced with as much rigour as they should be, potentially endangering nationally important protected sites and species. In last year’s State of Nature report, the UK was described as having lost significantly more nature over the long-term than the global average, and we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Reports such as this provide evidence for informing the plan and hopefully strengthening domestic regulation through the Brexit process.

The intention to provide a long-term view was new and refreshing and would have embedded natural capital approaches, which is a means of accounting for the value of environmental benefits, including protected species and habitats. The delay has the potential to damage momentum and investment that has already been gained in embedding natural capital approaches into environmental management. The general feeling amongst practitioners is that we know what needs to be done and the plan would have laid down a marker for environmental protection and helped to guide future statute.

Whilst we await the new manifesto and (hopefully) the government’s Environment Plan, any major landowner or industry that is dependent upon natural resources should be getting to grips with natural capital - the wide ranging benefits that we derive from nature, including air and water - as a matter of urgency. Even without this framework, landowners and corporates may soon be required to speak the language of natural capital to allow them access to funding, demonstrate their value to the public, reduce impacts and realise efficiencies.