My glorious Somerset constituency, Taunton Deane, is always at the forefront of my endeavours in Westminster whether it be calling for funding for road schemes, lobbying for better broadband, pushing for a new Surgical Centre at Musgrove Park Hospital and much more. However, I have also been working on an additional agenda in Parliament, which impacts on all our lives both locally and nationally and that is ‘the environment’.
Having specialised in this area in my working life prior to Parliament, in the field for the NFU and for many years as a journalist and broadcaster before latterly running my own business, I was determined to use this knowledge and expertise on the wider stage in Westminster. So, from day one I focused on related issues including calling for a ban on microbeads in cosmetics and care products, for better protection for our precious ancient woodland and for soil to be given the recognition it deserves as an ecosystem in its own right. I am delighted that this Government has acted on all these areas. Indeed it is a very exciting time to be part of the Department for Environment, Food, Farming and Rural Affairs, where I am a Parliamentary Private Secretary because so much positive work is now coming through on this agenda and with the launch of the 25 Year Environment Plan and the Agriculture Command Paper, the ambition to leave the environment in a better place than we found it in can be realised, particularly through grasping the opportunity to re-think our land use as we leave the EU and with it the Common Agricultural Policy.
I’m also working to link health and well-being to nature and the outdoors through the health department, pushing for gardening projects to be expanded within the prison reform system, working on the Clean Growth strategy where renewable energy is playing an increasingly important role and calling for housing to be good quality and sustainable.
I was touched to be awarded the Green Heart Hero Award recently from the Climate Coalition for being the Greenest New MP (since 2015.) Not surprisingly people are interested in my home life and whether I live by my principles. Well I have certainly endeavoured to for all of my married life. My family will vouch that we have always used re-cycled loo rolls for example as well as recycled kitchen roll and tissues. They’ve put up with my mantra that there’s no point in recycling products unless we buy things actually made out of the recycled material. . Rubbish bin and food waste bin liners are biodegradable in our household and where practicable almost all of our household cleaning products are eco-friendly and Fairtrade which includes washing up liquid and washing powder and I tend to buy in bulk and top up my containers.
Ever since I was HTV’s Environment Correspondent visiting both water works and sewage works in the course of my job (such glamour) I have been conscious of what we pour down the drain or flush down the loo. Whatever goes down has to be removed before the water can be re-used, and if products can’t be removed they end up in the rivers and ultimately the sea which destroys these beautiful habitats. My children have grown up with my diatribe about not throwing tampons down the loo. But guess what? I’ve recently caught my daughter reiterating the same words to her friends, so perhaps my efforts did not fall on deaf ears (I’m secretly very proud of her.)
We’ve always had milk delivered to the doorstep, for a whole range of reasons: it helps keep the milkman in a job, the bottles are re-usable and the tops can be re-cycled and it means there is always something in the fridge if only for a cup of cocoa. Cardboard, tea leaves, veg peelings all go into making compost which ultimately makes a free, nutritious product to spread onto the veg patch. We grow a range of veg and fruits and for many years have pressed the apples to make sumptuous fruit juice joining with villagers in this community activity. I have a passion for gardening, leaning towards organic methods (many learned through the Channel 4 organic gardening series I much enjoyed presenting called ‘Loads More Muck and Magic’) and I aim to garden for wildlife which necessitates not cutting back borders until the spring in order to leave cover for overwintering insects and seeds heads and berries for the birds. It’s a pretty easy method of low maintenance gardening too, so great if time is at a premium.
Solar panels line my office roof linking into the grid and my next ambition is for some kind of ground source heat system. I am annoyed that when I swapped my car last time it was for a diesel one, but that was before all the evidence filtered out about diesel’s harmful NOX emissions, so next time I’m going electric or hybrid as this market has moved on apace and makes good sense now.
I mustn’t leave out my trusty Somerset wicker basket. I obtained this 30 years ago and have used it ever since instead of carrier bags where possible. It’s amazing how much can be packed into it and its ideal for loose veg and fruit (mostly bought at the wonderful shop in St James Street in Taunton.) Aside from negating the need for carrier bags, Somerset wicker baskets tick many other boxes – they keep a traditional craft going, the industry is a tourist attraction bringing money into the local economy (at the Somerset Willows and Wetland Centre for example) and the willow plant, being the fastest growing in the northern hemisphere is doing its bit to combat climate change.
Coming from a long line of Somerset farmers and auctioneers on both sides of the family, wherever possible, I buy local produce particularly meat and in this respect I prefer grass-fed meat as keeping livestock in this way has a beneficial impact on the landscape promotes carbon capture and water holding functions of the soil. I have over the years kept hens (foxes permitting), sheep, and my son kept pigs. My London life now however, means these activities have had to go on hold (I do still crave collecting a freshly laid egg for breakfast.)
I’m certainly not whiter than white on this environmental agenda, or perhaps I should say greener than green but my aim is always to try and do what I can, within reason, to live as sustainable a life as possible. There is much more to do both personally and in terms of policy. I was delighted to be recognised through the Green Heart Awards and would like to thank all those who both nominated me and voted for me and rest assured I shall continue in this vein not least through holding my popular Environment Forums in the constituency.