With copy deadlines for this January edition earlier than usual, I cannot use this column to write about the main issue dominating the political landscape, since events are too fast moving. This may well be a relief to many readers.
So I wish to write about the sense of renewal, and renewed purpose, which comes with each New Year as a chance to reflect on the importance of our natural environment.
I have always been an environmentalist. We cannot live in our part of the world and not develop a sense of wonder at nature and love for our countryside. But my return to the backbenches a year ago has enabled me to focus on our environment in a more direct way – particularly through the Environmental Audit Committee.
There are many significant developments going on right now that will impact on our environment for years to come. At a global level, the UN COP24 climate change conference took place in Poland before Christmas setting the global ambition to reduce emissions.
Nationally I recently signed a letter to the PM pressing for more progress in moving towards zero net emissions.
Of particular relevance to South Shropshire is the national review being led by Julian Glover into England’s 10 National Parks and 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), examining how they meet the nation’s needs in the 21st century and whether there is scope for the current network to expand.
51% of the Ludlow Constituency is covered by the Shropshire Hills AONB, so the impact of this review will certainly affect our area. Some have suggested applying for the Shropshire Hills AONB to become a National Park, but I remain to be convinced. National Parks have a significant impact on local policy, particularly through adding a layer of planning bureaucracy, so this would be a big step.
I have invited Julian Glover to visit Shropshire in the Spring, to give him a greater understanding of the relevance of the AONB to South Shropshire, for local people, the environment and the economy.
The Forestry Commission is also currently consulting on its five year plan for Mortimer Forest, on the southern border of the Ludlow Constituency, which I hope will boost community access without compromising the protection of the forest. Just before Christmas I met Sir Harry Studholme, Chairman of the Forestry Commission, in Ludlow to discuss options for this plan.
I also recently met Shropshire Wildlife Trust and separately the National Trust at Carding Mill Valley, to discuss plans to develop wildlife corridors through the Wilder Marches project.
I have been sitting on the Agriculture Bill committee, helping shape the legislation which will establish the new support system for farming post Brexit. This will have a profound effect on the way farmers are funded to maintain and enhance our rural environment.
The Environmental Audit Committee will have another busy year ahead. In the past 12 months we have covered green finance; heatwaves; sustainability in fashion; hand car washes; the Arctic; reducing nitrate pollution; the government’s 25 year plan for the environment; chemicals regulation; environmental sustainability; air quality; disposable packing; and recycling of plastic bottles. I have no doubt our work will continue at the same pace this year!
As ever, if you wish to raise an issue with me this year, please do get in contact via email on email@example.com or write to me at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. I will be holding my regular advice surgeries around the constituency. Dates and times are available on my website www.philipdunne.com, and can be booked via my constituency office on 01584 872187.