Rebecca Pow is MP for Taunton Deane.
Since arriving in Westminster in 2015 I have been struck by the wealth of experience that fellow MPs can bring to the table from the outside world. Harnessing their expertise on diverse subjects, whether it be Johnny Mercer on veteran care, James Cartlidge with his housing expertise or Maria Caulfield with her nursing knowledge, can only benefit politics and therefore the community at large.
Aside from representing Taunton Deane in all I do, with a background relating to the environment I determined that should I get to Westminster I would take every opportunity to work on this agenda, in its widest sense. Being traditionally the party of conservation and stewardship, with achievements such as bringing in the Wildlife & Countryside Act, Marine Blue Belts and phasing out fossil fuels, the Conservatives have a solid background on this. But I felt there was so much more to do that would benefit us all while simultaneously taking care of the planet and all our fellow creatures.
The ‘environment’ affects every single one of us, whether it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, the impacts of climate change, the green spaces we use for our leisure and wellbeing, the soil that produces our food, the energy efficiency of our homes or the sustainability of our businesses.
In my former life I specialised in the environment, farming, food, rural affairs and gardening initially working for the National Farmers Union. For many years I worked as a journalist and broadcaster concerned with these subjects – latterly my own business focused on this sector. When I stood for Parliament I found issues relating to the environment resonated on the doorstep; and correspondence I receive now reinforces this, with bees, elephant ivory and animal welfare issues regularly raised with me.
Having run a campaign calling for a ban on plastic microbeads in the run up to the 2015 election (many organisations including the World Wildlife Fund and the Daily Mail were doing similar) I pushed further on arriving in Westminster, initially on the Environmental Select Committee inquiry into this subject and then with the subsequent follow up this generated.
I am delighted that this Government has now announced a ban on microbeads in cosmetics and care products. Another pet subject of mine is soil, (sparked by life growing up on a livestock farm and my university studies.) This crucial, life giving eco-system deserves more attention; (within a decade it is estimated that half of our arable land in the east may be unproductive due to soil erosion.) I sat on the EAC inquiry into soil, took part in the first ever debate held in Parliament on soil (yes, it’s getting exciting) and was proud to bring together a large group of like-minded soil champions in Westminster recently to launch the Sustainable Soils Alliance.
Needless to say I am delighted that soil has found its way into the recently launched Agricultural Command Paper and the 25 Year Environment Plan, each highlighting the need for better protection of our soils. So too a wider catchment approach to water management is under consideration stimulated by the DEFRA Select Committee inquiry into flood resilience, a highly informative inquiry which I was pleased to take part in as a member of this Select Committee for two years.
Let’s not forget ancient woodland and veteran trees, this rare habitat is the equivalent of our rain forest, but there’s only two per cent left in the UK. Now, thanks to pressure from our all party group set up with the Woodland Trust some protection is being afforded to these trees through the National Planning Policy Framework. Next stop is to get veteran trees included in this protection too.
There’s a groundswell of support for all these issues and more, as the recent #GiveupPlasticsforLent initiative has demonstrated together with the Conservative Environment Network publication I was pleased to work on calling for a holistic approach to environment policy to which many environmentally minded colleagues contributed. And now with the Prime Minister recently committing to leaving the environment in a better place than we found it; and with leaving the EU and of necessity the Common Agricultural Policy presenting an ideal opportunity to rethink our land use and how we deliver public goods from it, this is an exciting moment to be involved in this area and the Conservatives are grabbing the initiative with both hands.
I couldn’t think of a better time to be involved in the Department for Environment, Food, Farming and Rural Affairs, (where I am a PPS) with its ambitious team. Positive announcements have been exuding from this department spearheaded by the indomitable Michael Gove: doubling littering fines to £150, introducing a ban on elephant ivory, tighter regulations for puppy farming; expanding the marine Bluebelt to protect our 150,000 rare seabirds, pledging to eliminate avoid common agrable plastic by 2041, creating a Northern Forest, to mention just a few.
In the light of all this I was touched to be awarded the Green Heart Hero Award recently from the Climate Coalition for being the Greenest New MP (since 2015) and delighted that I have had the chance to work on so many ‘green’ issues in Parliament.
I have been asked by many (including my local press) 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 reusable and the tops can be recycled and it means there is always something in the fridge if only for a cup of cocoa. It’s good news to hear that doorstep milk sales for many of the same reasons are on the up nationally.
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 but I am confident that this Government has got the message is making positive strides in the right direction. There is always more to do but the important thing is having the ambition.
On a personal note I was grateful 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 green vein.