Monday, 23 July 2012

on the doorsteps

The sun came out finally, and I spent Saturday morning canvassing in Norfolk for a by-election.  It was extremely positive, with most of the people I met saying yes they would vote, and for us.  However at last door the owner said he would vote UKIP.

"We need a referendum, my sons and daughters have never had a referendum" he said. I agreed.

"We should have had one of that last treaty" he said.  I agreed.

"We cant afford to keep giving Europe our money".  Again I agreed, telling him that I have never voted for an EU budget, and have always argued that it should be much smaller with much less waste.

"And the accounts haven't been signed off for years".  Yes, yet again I agreed that this was unacceptable and told him I have never voted to "discharge" the accounts.

"And there is too much EU law"  Absolutely I agree, thats just why I spend hours and hours and many late nights writing amendments and trying to delete laws,  something my UKIP colleagues seem not to bother even attempting.

"And there are no TV cameras in the European Parliament so we can't see what you are saying"  Here I disagreed, and told him to google me.  All the speeches I have ever given are available on line, and the vast majority of committee meetings too... ok the EP website is a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare - but it is all there.

In fact the only thing that we disagreed about is that the voter would like to take the unilateral disarmament option and just exit from the EU and the single market without having negotiated its new relationship first.  I'm not comfortable with our current relationship with the EU, it needs to be fundamentally changed.   But I would like to know more about what our "out"deal would look like before hitting a final exit button.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

On zoos, farms banks and harmony

I hope that other MEPS are spending time away from Brussels, Banks and Bailout discussions.  I got home at midnight last night after a  dinner in London, hosted by the Lord Mayor.   I believe he, and some others,  really want to find  a way to mend the wound that has grown between the financial services community and the rest of the UK.  If no solution is found both the UK and the financial services community will suffer - but many in that community are not listening, 

I spent a very precious afternoon with Gary Batters, Director of Conservation and Education at Banham zoo in Norfolk.  He reminded me of the vital work that international networks small local zoos are doing to preserve and breed often very, very endangered and near extinct species.  And then, where possible, work with local populations to re-introduce them back into the wild.   

Gary explained that one can keep a species safe from extinction even if numbers have dropped very low.   If only 500 members of a species can be rescued they can be sustained.   A small family of lemurs, leopards or even certain giraffes in our local zoos, when wisely exchanged with others can make all the difference.  

Zoo standards differ, some, in some countries and in some organisations then will no doubt fall short.   But locally we should support the work of those who are really trying to weave together very slim threads in global conservations. 

This morning I was with the Elveden Estate in Suffolk.   The Common Agricultural Policy is up for its 7 year review and, quite apart from my own opinion that they whole thing is fundamentally flawed, I also suspect that the top down approach being taken by Brussels on environmental issues wont help  food prices, the environment or conservation   I had asked the National Farmers Union to explain to me what it takes to be given a "Entry level Scheme" for environmental work on farms and a "Higher level Scheme".      

I saw just how important, and how expensive, water storage is for our food supply.   I learnt how vital it is to a farm to have long term contracts from buyers like Walker Crisps for their Potatoes.  We discussed crop rotation, pesticide control and farm diversification.  

The nearby town is wanting to grow, build some houses and space for businesses,  but is being stopped by environmental legislation.   This farm, like so many others really care about the environment,    Armed with binoculars I see a pair of their very precious Stone Curlews.   They then explain the almost one to one love they are putting into helping each nesting pair escape predators and how much more successfully the birds breed on an onion field than their SSSI highly protected heath upland next door.  

These farmers really understand the pros and cons of the EU Habitats and Birds directive -  They don't want to lose environmental legislation altogether, they actually want farmers across the continent to work equally hard.   But they don't think the EU legislation works in the detail of understanding either their local protected species or allowing local communities or local businesses to grow in harmony with  local nature.

On the upside I bought some local gammon and local cheese from the farm shop make sandwiches for my "by local" cricket tea.  cakes are all baked (using "silver spoon" British sugar from local beet), and eggs from numerous garden gate sales. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Water, Birds and buy local challenge

Yesterday was the first day it stopped raining for weeks - I met up with the Environment Agency to discuss the work they are coordinating to improve our rivers, a requirement of Europe's Water Framework Directive.   As a fisherwoman I have to declare an interest here!  At Byron's Pool in Granchester we were greeted by the flashing blue of a kingfisher, before inspecting the new fish pass which allows up to 12 species of native fish to swim up and down stream by-passing the weir.  The new pathways and foot bridges have made this stretch of the river into  a much visited reserve too.   Then in Cambridge City Centre I was shown how a small patch of new reedbed   is not only improving water quality but also a natural catchment for rainfall run-off thus reducing flood risk.   The Agency are working with water companies, landowners, farmers, businesses, local councils, communities on a multitude of projects all across East Anglia, but even then will find the directive's targets difficult to achieve.  They want to check that all countries are working equally and whether there are other ideas from other countries which they could try out locally.

Then I went to visit the RSPB at their headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire.   It is a huge organisation.   We discussed many different bits of environmental legislation; the birds and habitats directive, CAP reform.  I often get complaints from local councils and businesses about the rigidity and inflexibility of these directives, huge amounts of money being spent on protecting individual creatures on individual sites when perhaps that investment could have made a much greater impact on biodiversity is spent on for example alternative habitats.  I hope that the RSPB might be able to find more flexible structures - especially as money for supporting biodiversity is likely to be under great pressure so I want to make sure  any funds are well spent.   We ended a series of meetings with a long walk around their nature reserve, seeing only a magpie and one woodpecker, perhaps it was just a bad day for them!

After that I rushed down to the village of Abridge in South Essex to speak at a Conservative Dinner.  They have had really bad flooding down there this summer.

In between meetings as part of this weeks buy local challenge, I bought a yummy local pork pie for lunch from Burwash Manor Barns - and extremely creative and popular group of small traders based on a farm site just off the M11.  I could have bought so many free range eggs this week from garden gate sales but not a lot else so far.

I've been putting the finishing touches on my latest In Touch and will be offering a prize draw for a bottle of prize winning Chilford Hundred sparkling wine (paid for by me not the tax payer).  Chilford Hall was the victim of a terrible arson attack last month and it will be good to support them.

I'm off to a set of meetings in London now but will be with the NFU and Banham Zoo tomorrow... great week.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Understanding Genetics - and supporting local businesses

I had a fascinating morning learning about cutting edge studies into genetics at the Sanger Institute just outside Cambridge.  

It was particularly interesting to learn about their part in a global project mapping out how breast cancer affects different gene types and how this will lead to personalised therapies in the future.  Also I learnt about latest studies on Malaria and how again genetics is helping to understand the disease better and find cures.  It was very helpful to listen to the researcher who co-ordinates this type of multi-centered cross-boarder research projects and to understand some of her bureaucratic problems.

The Sanger Institute is largely funded by the Wellcome trust and the European Bioinformatics Institute is located on the same site.  We also discussed the growing need for vast quantities of data processing as more and more information of genetics becomes available.  Sanger have contributed some write ups of case studies for a booklet we are writing on international collaboration in science and innovation.  We hope these will be published to share at party conference in the autumn.

Day three of my "buy local" pledge has had upsides and downsides.  The local post office sorted me out with bread, papers and drycleaning (but no shoe polish). Yesterdays roast chicken from the local butcher was delicious and I had hoped to add locally bought vegetables to the remaining stock to make soup for supper.  However the first "farm shop" I passed in a garden centre was rather disappointing with mostly imported fruit and veg, just some Lincolnshire carrots.  Cambridge market yielded up some local peas in pods, spring onions  and strawberries (mine have gone rotten due to the wet) - but then I got home to find that the stock had been thrown away in a well intended kitchen clean up.  So its lamb chops from the butcher instead.

Seriously I've had a very worrying email about diseases which appear to be spreading through our wheat crop due to the wet weather.  Around the world wheat harvests have been very poor, it will be very expensive for consumers and dreadful for farmers if our own crop fails.  

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The European Parliament broke up for the summer on Thursday.  I had a particularly hectic end of term tabling amendments on Offshore Oil Safety, the Common Agricultural Policy (apparently there are in total over 5000 amendments) and lengthy somewhat circular negotiations on banking laws. 

I have been asked by the Federation of Small Businesses from Norfolk to take part in the buy local challenge for a week.   This means not shopping in supermarkets for a week but instead supporting smaller retailers and farm gate sales.  I think this will be fun.  I have meetings in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Essex and Norfolk.  Where I see interesting food retail opportunities I will stop off en route. 

For this week I will try to go back to blogging more regularly, telling readers what I have been doing and tweeting.

I've just loaded up with eggs, cream, chicken and lamb chops from my local butchers shop. bought a birthday present (new gloves) for each of my nieces and dog food from the local pet and outdoor suppliers, these are wrapped and will go off via my local post office on Monday morning.  Although many people think this part of East Anglia is quite accessible, actually my own village on the Essex/Suffolk/Cambridge boarder is 10 miles from the nearest bank.  The local shop and post office is a vital lifeline, especially for older people.

We will also eat from the garden, as despite the rain and lack of tending my veg plot is full of potatoes, salads, sugar snaps and strawberries.   I have sausages, pork chops and joints in the freezer as every so often a friend and I share a pig together direct from a Norfolk farmer.  This is an extremely cost-effective way of feeding the family.  I'm really lucky to have a local dairy, and a milkman who delivers daily.  

I don't regularly go to just one Supermarket.   I am usually away from home 3 nights a week and with such a large region to cover as MEP means that I often pick up groceries in many different locations.  Recently we have taken to getting Ocado to deliver our basics (they are based in Hertfordshire and I visited their amazing warehouse a few months ago as their MEP).  Apparently their deliver to the door grocery model is much more fuel efficient than traditional supermarkets.  

As I am away so often I don't get a chance to volunteer much in my own local community.  But I have put myself on the cricket tea rota for Saturday. So the Ford family will need to produce sandwiches, cakes and buns for 40.   That will be a challenge!