With Easter upon us, and after last month's cold snap, Spring has well and truly sprung and with it all those things we associate with this time of year - lighter mornings, daffodils and young lambs in the fields. It is a time where the natural beauty of South Shropshire looks at its very best. But it is also a time for those of us who care about the environment to take steps to keep it so.
Last month's remarkable late snowfall stopped many community activities, including several litter picks around South Shropshire. The Great British Spring Clean - a campaign by Keep Britain Tidy - was extended to 25th March to give more people time to get out and help clean up their communities.
But now with milder weather to come, we all have the chance to do our bit and maintain the momentum of the Spring Clean by ensuring our streets, verges and wider countryside are free from litter. There are regular community litter picks in towns across South Shropshire, so consider giving some time if you are able.
Encouragingly, the government is giving appropriate focus to what it can do to help reduce litter and pollution across Britain. Thanks to remarkable programmes like Blue Planet 2 and other widely seen media, there has been an enormous awakening of public awareness and a welcome shift in the approach we take to tackling litter and waste - from a previously reactive solution, to a now much more proactive approach.
This is something I have noticed since taking up my new role as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee in Parliament. In recent months our committee has been undertaking an enquiry into plastics, to help recommend what steps government can take to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics. The plastic bag charge has shown how quickly behaviour can change with an 83% reduction in plastic bag consumption in the first year. So by reducing our consumption of single-use plastic products, we can help stop at source the growing plastic contamination of our oceans and waterways.
Last month I met students from Bishops Castle Community College to talk about this issue, and was inspired by their clear commitment to improve marine health by reducing plastic consumption. These students visited Aberystwyth to clean the beach of litter and collect samples, and I believe are the first school in the country to survey their findings and submit this data to the Marine Conservation Society for their database.
Of course, when protecting marine health, there are limits to what we can achieve in our country without international cooperation. Globally, just 10 rivers carry 90% of the plastic entering oceans, eight of which are in Asia, and two of which are in Africa. But by taking new steps, the UK will demonstrate international leadership, doing more to help developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste, including through UK aid.
Back here in Shropshire, I am confident our rivers will benefit from the new pollutant management rules for farmers introduced from this month. This require good farming practice, so that farmers manage their land both to avoid water pollution, including managing fertilisers and manures, taking reasonable precautions to prevent pollution from runoff or soil erosion, and requiring soil tests at least every 5 years. Farmers have a responsibility to help keep our waterways free of fertilizer and pesticide pollutants - I speak as a tenant farmer myself along the River Clun, taking steps to reduce run-off - so these rules to encourage more widespread adoption are welcome.
Finally, our environment is there for us to enjoy, so I encourage constituents to get outside and make the most of South Shropshire's beautiful surroundings - perhaps by taking in some of the great walks in our local area!
Philip Dunne MP