Protecting the Amazon

I am sure that I am not the only reader who is horrified by the scenes of the Amazon rainforest burning.  We cannot escape the reality of the damage that humans are inflicting on the natural world.  The planet faces two immense threats: climate change and biodiversity loss. These are two sides of the same coin – it is impossible to solve one challenge without fixing the other. We cannot stop climate change without protecting the natural environment and we cannot restore global nature without tackling climate change.

On Monday the Government made £10 million immediately available to help step up efforts to protect and restore the Amazon rainforest in Brazil – including in areas affected by the current fires.

£10 million will be invested through the Partnerships for Forests programme, alongside funding already invested in projects across Brazil, Colombia and Peru to support communities and businesses now and in the longer term to help to protect the Amazon. The new funding builds on support to restore the rainforest in Brazil and neighbouring countries, and will help to safeguard the huge biodiversity of animal and plant species found in the Amazon.

The Amazon produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and is home to 10% of the known species in the world. The number of forest fires in Brazil since January (more than 74,000) has increased by 83% compared with the same period last year.

I am a founder member of the Conservative Environment Network and I am pleased that the Prime Minister supports our manifesto. On Monday, at a meeting of the leaders of the largest economies, the PM demanded that new, international targets to restore the natural environment are far more ambitious than the existing Aichi biodiversity targets – which expire in 2020.

Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. And scientists have warned that even a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures would further devastate nature and humanity. The world’s animal populations have declined by 60% in the last 50 years, with around 1 million species facing extinction. Every year 1 million birds and 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The amount of plastic in the sea is set to treble in the next decade.

Protecting nature will help tackle climate change by supporting ecosystems – like the world’s oceans – that soak up carbon from the atmosphere, and by preserving natural barriers such as mangroves which act as flood defences.

Working globally is essential and the PM announced a doubling of the U.K. contribution to Green Climate Fund (GCF) – £1.44 billion over the next four years.

The GCF supports a number of programmes to preserve natural habitats around the world – including to tackle deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. It’s estimated that existing GCF projects will take the equivalent of 1.5bn tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere – the same as taking 300 million cars off the road for a whole year or every plane out of the sky for 18 months.

First published in the West Briton 28/08/19

Welcoming investment in Cornwall’s voluntary services

This week some of Cornwall’s voluntary sector organisations, including Job Centre Plus, have been given a cash boost to roll out more of their innovative work. 

More young people across Cornwall will benefit from new mental health support including counselling, mentoring and arts programmes in their communities. This will be backed by a multi-million pound government investment this year. 

As part of the government’s commitment to transforming mental health care – backed by an extra £2.3 billion a year through the NHS Long Term Plan – £3.3 million was announced for 23 local community projects across England, with Young People Cornwall receiving £65,243. 

Young People Cornwall will expand their ‘Hear Our Voice’ project, set up in 1997, which provides children and young people (CYP) aged 11-25 experiencing difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing with access to support through a range of interventions in non-clinical, school & community settings. Their expansion will employ two additional Well-being Practitioners (WP) who will be able to work with children and young people aged 8-10 years, supporting them at an earlier stage, before emerging mental health issues escalate or reach a point where statutory services must intervene. 

Earlier this year the government pledged to overhaul society’s approach to mental illness through better access to education, training and support. This included a commitment to train all teachers to spot the signs of mental illness in children. 

The funding will come from the Health and Wellbeing Fund, part of a programme of government investment in the voluntary sector. 

Mental health services are being transformed through the NHS Long Term Plan so that 345,000 more children and young people have access to mental health support by 2024, including via mental health support teams in and around schools. This will significantly improve early intervention and prevention. 

We know children and young people face many pressures at home and in their social and academic lives. Giving them easily accessible mental health support, providing them with the tools to manage their own mental health at an early age can help them thrive later in life. 

It’s only right that children and young people are able to access mental health support, not only through the NHS, but in the heart of their communities, schools and homes where they spend the majority of their time. 

A project pioneered by work coaches in Job Centres across Cornwall will have access to £100,000 more funding to continue referring people with mental health conditions to specialist one to one support, without the need for a GP or clinical assessment. Some people – for whatever reason – don’t want to be assessed in a clinical setting. 

The results of the pilot so far prove without a doubt that this approach works, with people supported by their work coaches and specialist support before their mental health spirals downwards. 

It’s good to see more local people receiving support to enable them to manage their mental health and get their lives back on track. 

First published in the West Briton 22/08/19

Celebrating the hard work of our Parish Councils

I have had a really interesting series of meetings with some of our local parish councils, listening to the excellent work that is going on. We are fortunate to have active local councils here and many of them do so much to support our local communities. While we may notice the beautiful parks and new play equipment, much of this work goes unnoticed, so I am pleased to be able to shine a light of some of the excellent work I have seen. 

Since 2010, parish councils have had the opportunity to take on new responsibilities. Many have responded with determination and creativity to Cornwall Council proposals to cut essential services such a public toilets and libraries. Through new partnership working, not only with Cornwall Council, but with local businesses, the provision of these services is often transferred from Cornwall Council to the local councils and are often described to me by local residents as ‘better than they were before’.  

Parish councillors are volunteers and are supported by professional staff. While some local precepts (taxes that pay for the services provided by the parishes) have risen and some quite steeply, from my experience this is to pay for the new services that are excellent value for money. It’s common sense really. They are small organisations with less layers of management to pay for. Their decision making and delivery of services is closer to the community that they serve, with connections to other local people and organisations in their parish working together, they are more able to ‘get things done’.  

Perranzabuloe Parish Council is a good example of partnership working. The Parish Council provide a wide range of services, from beach patrols to Library services, with their staff working from the same Parish owned building as the two Perranporth Police Officers and the new Tri Service Officer. There is also a new Community Navigator who liaises with a wide range of community groups, the local NHS and care services. Together this dynamic team provide a wide range of support for people living, working and visiting Perranporth. They draw in considerable support from the business community and voluntary organisations of the area and help make Perranporth the great place that it is. 

Feock Council has been undertaking really important work with local GPs on social prescribing. I was pleased to learn that they plan to continue this work as it has proven so valuable. Again, this is a commonsense approach where GPs can refer patients to a dedicated member of the Parish team, who can help that person to connect with the help, support and fun that is available in the local community. That could be a local walking or craft group or help with financial advice. No two people are the same, so the social prescription is tailored to the individual with the sole purpose of improving their wellbeing. 

Thank you to our Parish Councils who work so hard.

First published in the West Briton 15/08/19

Twelveheads Play Park – Pocket Parks Plus Project – Sarah Newton MP Visits

The culmination of close on 6 months hard graft down at Twelveheads came to fruition on the 31st July as our local MP, Sarah Newton and Cornwall Councillor John Dyer MBE paid a visit to see what we had been up to. A lovely sunny day which saw a number of local residents turn out and enjoy a good chat with Sarah, John and some of those who had driven this project through, in her own words our MP said:

“This is exactly what the Pocket Parks Plus initiative was aimed at providing and this is indeed a terrific example of what can be achieved by a few committed individuals from across the community – you have done a fabulous job. It is thoughtful, inspiring, has both the environment and residents at its heart, I am most impressed by the imagination of those who have made this happen. It is something for everyone and I note in particular just how much material has been recycled to make such artistic play equipment. May I therefore, on all your behalves, just say a huge thank you to everyone involved in refurbishing this area, which has so much potential.”

In truth, the project itself is not quite complete yet as we have a couple more weeks in which to build the rustic Drum Kit, repair the roof to the Community Shed, finalise the Bike Rack behind the bus shelter, screen off the area between the Shed and Toilet block and may be even install a few wooden animals behind the chain link fencing – in order to keep an eye on things! We are nearly there now though and so will be celebrating the site in all its glory with a Free Community BBQ event at 4.00pm on Saturday the 7th September. So, come along then and enjoy this space.

First published in What’s On in Chacewater.

Welcoming investment in new maternity services at Treliske

The summer recess of Parliament provides a great opportunity to spend more time visiting local organisations and listening to local people. Over the past week, I have visited local businesses, charities and Treliske.  

Yesterday, I was delighted to sit in on the monthly ‘team talk’ of RCHT staff and had the pleasure of handing out certificates to staff nominated for the NHS Parliamentary Awards. These are prestigious annual awards, judged by senior NHS clinicians as well as the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens.  Linzi Lancaster and her team were SW regional winners and I was pleased to learn more about their important work while I was at Treliske. It is always a pleasure to recognise the brilliant staff in our local NHS. 

It was good to hear the really positive feedback from staff following this week’s news of a major investment of just under £100 million pounds into new facilities at Treliske. This, I was told, was the largest single investment in the hospital since it was built. This new funding will enable the building of a new Women and Children’s hospital as well as creating a new entrance.  It follows the good news in December of just under £35 million investment into Haematology, MRI and Oncology services. The building work for this investment needs to be completed before the work on the Women’s and Children’s hospital can start.  

Yesterday, I visited the staff on the wards currently providing these services to learn more about the plans. While enormous effort is being made to deliver high quality, safe care in the current wards there is no doubt that the new facilities are much needed. As the population of Cornwall grows, and medicine and treatments evolve, more space is needed. There is also the opportunity for the specialist teams at RCHT to offer more services in the community, with new clinics in other health care settings across Cornwall as well as in people’s homes. 

I also followed the pathway which patients take when coming into A&E. It was good to see at first hand how changes have been made to improve patients’ experience. Of course, there remain huge challenges, especially around partnership working with other parts of the health and care system in Cornwall.  It was sad to see how the lack of mental health service professionals on the night shift, a service provided by CFT, had affected people’s experience of A&E as well as Trust’s staff.  I very much hope that the 24 hour service is up and running again very soon.  Mental health is just as important as physical health and we would not tolerate a lack of health care professionals to treat a person experiencing a stroke or heart attack.  

I am looking forward to visiting some local GPs and Public Health staff at Cornwall Council. While funding for our NHS increases each year, we know there is more to do, especially with our community hospitals and adult social care and Cornwall’s MPs will continue to work together. 

First published in the West Briton 08/08/19

Supporting farming and nature

As the crops in the fields are ripened and harvested, it’s a good time to think about how important our local farmers, food and drink producers are to our local environment, economy, community and wellbeing.

It may surprise you that Cornwall Council’s Farm Estate is made up of more than 10,800 acres, or approximately 1.5% of Cornwall’s land area, and lets 91 farm units to tenant farmers, employing around 11,000 people.

Last year the Council launched a review and inquiry into the future of the estate taking evidence from 39 witnesses and made recommendations for a new Council Farms Strategy. Cllr Martyn Alvey did a great job. Residents, farmers and businesses have recently been asked their views on the plans through a public consultation.

The draft Cornwall Council Farms Strategy 2019 – 2039: Farming with Cornwall’s Nature has been developed around four key ambitions to: increase business opportunities for tenant farmers, contribute to environmental growth, provide more countryside opportunities and support people’s health and wellbeing while creating a more sustainable estate.

The strategy outlines the ways in which the Farms Estate will provide more opportunities for new entrants to farming to start their careers and support them to build their businesses.

It pledges to encourage tenant farmers using diversification methods by helping them develop their farm products to be more competitive.

To boost environmental growth the Estate plans to give greater support to tenants in expanding wildlife habitats, protecting heritage assets, managing regenerated soils, improving water quality, planting more trees and increasing sustainable energy.

It also wants to increase job and business opportunities in the countryside, encourage more people to get out into the natural world and provide supported agriculture schemes for residents and community groups to develop growing opportunities.

To help businesses’ financial and environmental sustainability, the Estate will introduce the Whole Farm Plan to set out agreements between landlord and tenant on the expected performance of farms.

We know that farming practices which benefit nature can also be highly productive for food production and support local ecosystems in our unique Cornish landscape.

I am delighted that Cornwall Council has undertaken this important work and that the strategy recognised that their Farms Estate can act as a catalyst for positive change within the farming sector to produce food for the nation and to play a part in the transition to low carbon agriculture which is critical if we are to tackle climate change.

I am pleased that the strategy recognises the importance of enabling more people and communities to get involved with growing food and enhancing and developing new ecosystems.

In addition to allotments and gardening clubs, there are many great examples of community groups such as Chyan Community Field in Penryn and the newly established Community Garden at All Saints Church in Mylor Bridge. Each provide opportunities for people to learn from each other about how to grow plants and enjoy the fruits of their labours. Each provide a beautiful haven for wildlife and humans to enjoy together. Spending time with nature is good for our health and wellbeing.

While there is funding to develop existing parks and green spaces, as well as creating new ones such as the Pocket Parks Scheme and Plastic Bag Levy, it is vital that Cornwall Council helps more groups with their expertise too.

Planting more trees is a great way to improve our natural environment, improve air quality and reduce carbon dioxide. The Woodland Trust makes free trees available to a wide range of organisations from schools and colleges, from nurseries to universities. Also, to community groups such as sports clubs, parish councils, the guides and scouts. Packs of trees are available for a range of purposes from creating a copse to planting a hedge. There is a great deal of information on their website and now is the time to think about what you might do. Trees can be ordered now for delivering and planting in November.

As a result of our historical industries of mining, wooden ship building and farming, we have fewer trees than most parts of England so a great opportunity exists for planting and restoring a canopy of trees over Cornwall.

We can all play out part in supporting our gorgeous natural environment and it is good to see this strategy and others providing opportunities for one and all.

The draft Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy 2019 – 2039 and Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy – Consultation Summary along with the actual survey can be found by visiting: http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/farmstrategy

First published in the Falmouth Wave August edition

Plastic Free Conference

I am grateful to Professor Peter Hopkinson, Director of the Centre for Circular Economy at the University of Exeter’s Business School, and his team for working with me on an event at the Penryn campus last Friday. 

The event brought together a group of people that included Government policy makers, local businesses, community organisations and volunteers and discussed how the south west can lead the way on transforming our approach to plastics. 

Professor Peter Hopkinson is also the lead for the Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub (ExeMPLaR) which received £1 million of Government funding to become one of the leading centres to reduce the devastating impact plastic pollution can have on the environment. 

The ExeMPLaR project is about creating a network of organisations to revolutionise the way we produce, recycle and utilise plastics. The global rate of plastic production and waste is accelerating at a time when we need to take radical action to reduce, reuse and recycle if we are to tackle the rising problem of plastic pollution.  

The scale of the problem was laid bare by Kevin Gaston, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Exeter, who talked about the eye-watering global volumes of plastic waste from areas such as plastic packaging, construction and textiles. Kevin gave the simple, single example of the plastic pen of which around 30 billion are produced each year and 1.6 billion thrown away in the United States alone. 

Joel Murray from the Defra Resources, Waste and Plastics Strategy Policy Team spoke about the UK Government’s ambitions to tackle plastic pollution and the aim that all plastic packaging placed on the UK market will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and all avoidable plastic waste will be eliminated by 2042. Joel was keen to impress that the government cannot achieve these goals alone and that communities and organisations need to work together to make an impact. There was a similar message from Cornwall Council which has just produced the county’s first Plastic Free Cornwall Manifesto.   

The ExeMPLaR project is about redesigning the whole plastics system. The project aims to discover a set of actions that can be taken to drive practical changes that will make the greatest difference. 

The event came about following a meeting I organised earlier this year with Kirstie Edwards of Plastic Free Falmouth involving representatives of the many people in Cornwall who are involved with litter picking and beach cleaning. I want government policy to be shaped by evidence and action of what works and, here in Cornwall, the ExeMPLaR project is leading the way in redesigning the system to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic – for the benefit of our environment and our local economy. 

The ExeMPLaR project is still in the early stages but it is building a network of people across the south west who can transform the plastics system. To find out more visit the Centre for the Circular Economy: http://business-school.exeter.ac.uk/research/centres/circular/research/ 

First published in the West Briton 01/08/19