Updated: Jul 19
As part of the by-election on July 20th Somerset Wildlife Trust and Somerset Local Nature Partnership has sent the following letter to all 8 candidates and we will publish the responses when they arrive. As at Mon July 17th we had replies from 3 of the candidates which are published in full below.
Somerset, Politics, Climate and Nature
During this important by-election I am asking what you would do to tackle the climate and nature emergency in Somerton and Frome if elected on 20th July?
As you know, no issue is more important than tackling the linked emergencies facing our climate and natural environment. It is encouraging to see the greater focus on this during recent election campaigns, most notably the recent Somerset Council election. With this in mind and to encourage debate we will publish this letter on the Somerset Wildlife Trust website and your response on the Somerset Local Nature Partnership website so that voters can see what their candidates thoughts and outline plans are on this vital issue.
The UK State of Nature 2019 report showed that biodiversity in the UK continues to decline. The UK is now one of the most nature-depleted places on earth. This is not about conservation but restoration of our natural environment and on a very large scale.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that one million species are at risk of extinction due to 5 human activities: land use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and the spread of invasive species. The report stated:
“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” Not only is biodiversity decline in part caused by climate change, it is also true that restoring biodiversity at scale can contribute natural solutions to climate mitigation and adaptation.
I am currently leading the Natural Environment Climate Emergency workstream for Somerset Council, and Somerset’s Local Nature Partnership, working towards a natural environment restored as a resilient, connected biodiverse network which provides significant and measurable natural solutions including carbon sequestration, natural flood management, and improved wellbeing for Somerset’s residents.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that we have now barely 7 years to take far reaching and fundamental action to tackle climate change in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees. In reality, this means initiating urgent policy action now to ensure we are finally on the right trajectory to meet this essential target.
We all depend on our natural environment. It is in all of our interests to work together to tackle these crises that are affecting the natural world. If elected, I would be very keen to arrange a meeting with you so we can discuss our shared environmental priorities, and your approach to the key issues that are affecting Somerset right now.
Somerset Wildlife Trust is a membership organisation with over 20,000 members, the largest environmental organisation in the county. All of these 20,000 members want to see stronger environmental protections. We work everyday to protect and improve the fabulous natural landscapes of Somerset and restore the species that call these landscapes home. We work with communities, landowners, and farmers to find ways to protect our county.
I look forward to hearing how you would tackle this emergency and especially how you can create opportunity for Somerton and Frome in a nature restored landscape if elected.
Georgia Stokes, Chief Executive Officer, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Chair of Somerset Local Nature Partnership
The first response is from Martin Dimery, Green Party.
"If elected, I would wish to expand the work I already have been engaged in as a Somerset Green Councillor and Chair of the Climate and Place committee. It is important that MPs not only try to influence government policy but look to support issues in their local constituencies.
Amongst the large number of matters we are dealing with in Somerset is phosphate pollution of our rivers due to water companies not having adequate infrastructure. This is most felt on the Somerset Wetlands, an area of enormous bio-diversity. Water companies have to put the service before profit. The Green Party policy is to re-nationalise the industry.
I would like to see stronger laws on peat extraction- peat being an essential resource for carbon capture. This would greatly affect Somerset. The development of ethical farming and community farms is something I'd also like to see encouraged at the highest level, ensuring essential and local food production with respect of biodiversity.
We also need not only to protect trees and green spaces but plant much more. Somerset has a low coverage of trees compared to other counties and this needs to be redressed. Urban trees are often readily cut down at the behest of insurance companies who do not want to pay for more expensive work that would prevent houses being undermined.
I would wish to see further restrictions on trail hunting, at the very least on public land, and more protections for the badger population.
Protecting our wildlife and natural habitats in turn enables the biodiversity that will ensure all of us to sustain human existence on the planet. The two are inextricably linked.
The above are just some of the priorities I'd like to pursue. There is so much else that needs to be done. Green Party polices on all matters are always informed by environmental considerations."
Secondly here is the response from Sarah Dyke, Liberal Democrats.
Thank you very much for your letter.
Having up to very recently served as the Lead Member for Environment and Climate Change on Somerset Council, my role was to ensure that environment and sustainability was integrated across all the council’s services and was at the heart of decision making within the council.
I have a strong track record of delivery in my role and have been able to bring about some real successes, for example:
· I led the "Recycle More" initiative enabling you to increase the amount of plastic that you can now recycle in your blue bags;
· I led the development of the Somerset Climate Strategy, recognised as the best Local Authority Climate Strategy across the Country;
· I also declared an Ecological Emergency;
· And led the adoption of a Tree Strategy for the county.
· I am also the Vice-Chair of the Somerset Local Nature Partnership.
The Liberal Democrats were elected to lead Somerset Council in 2022 on an ambitious manifesto with the environment and ecology at its core and responding to the ecological emergency, we face a number for significant challenges, but also a great deal of opportunity. We have pledged to protect our ecology and enhance biodiversity, such as:
· To plant 150,000 trees per year over the 5 year period
· To work with partners to bring an end to peat extraction and restore these peatlands to act as a carbon sink
· To work with partners to raise the water quality levels across the county
By contrast, I am hugely disappointed at this Conservative government’s track record on
the environment and climate change. We’ve recently seen their Climate Change Minister in the Lords resign saying that Rishi Sunak doesn’t care about the environment. We have also seen first hand the negative effects of their attitude here in Somerset, as water companies continue to make massive profits whilst pumping foul sewage into rivers.
Somerset is a great, diverse county, which is what makes it so special. So if elected, I will be a strong voice on climate and environmental issues facing us here in Somerton and Frome and I will promote the efforts of the Liberal Democrats to be ambitious for nature recovery, to protect our environment, invest in renewable energy solutions, to make the country food secure and not reliant upon carbon intensive imports, to mitigate flood risk and the possible need to future managed retreat and to support a transition to electric cars and protection of our landscape from polluting companies.
And here is the response from Faye Purbrick, Conservative.
"Dear Somerset Wildlife Trust members,
Thank you for the invitation to respond regarding “what you would do to tackle the climate and nature emergency in Somerton and Frome if elected on 20th July?”
My starting point as your MP would be to work with government to continue to deliver on the 10 points outlined in the Environmental Improvement Plan:
· Thriving plants and wildlife
· Clean air
· Clean and plentiful water
· Managing exposure to chemicals and pesticides
· Maximise our resources, minimise our waste
· Using resources from nature sustainably
· Mitigating and adapting to climate change
· Reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards
· Enhancing biosecurity
· Enhanced beauty, heritage, and engagement with the natural environment
I have a track record of delivery for our environment and taking steps to improve our local area. As a county councillor, I supported votes regarding the climate emergency and the ecological emergency and have taken steps to put into action the plans that address the challenges ahead. As a county council cabinet member for 5 years, I led on the move to take the council paper free – reducing paper use by over 1 million pages in the first year and removing unnecessary costs for the council – whilst ensuring those without access to digital methods can still contact the services they need. I led the move of our school build programme towards more sustainable building practises including insulation and solar panels (to also decrease running costs for our schools), and through modern methods of construction, which offer a great opportunity to maximize build quality, minimize costs and reduce construction waste. I also started the process to build Somerset’s first Passivhaus (carbon neutral) school.
On biodiversity and food security, I welcome the approach to boosting our natural environment supporting pollinators, birds, and increasing hedgerows through our countryside stewardship scheme. Additionally, I am keen to maximize the potential of the new Environment Stewardship scheme that goes beyond past schemes in it’s reach to wider landowners and managers to deliver landscape recovery. Our farmers are essential to both food security and effectively managing our environment and I am committed to working with them to deliver what is needed and to make sure all the investment and legislation in this area is working with, not against them.
I would also champion the use of roofs for solar panels across our industrial parks and farm buildings rather than on agricultural land that could be better used for food production, animal grazing or for restoring wildlife habitats. I’ve already been speaking to the energy secretary about permitted development rules to enable more solar energy production on appropriate buildings and speeding up connectivity to the grid so this power can be used where it is needed.
As the MP for Somerton and Frome I will have the ear of government to hit the ground running and champion schemes that are working, stand up for changes that may be needed in the future, and be a strong voice for our unique and diverse environment and wildlife. Most importantly, I will be listening to local residents, businesses, farmers, and organisations like the Somerset Wildlife Trust and speaking out for what you all tell me that our area wants and needs.
Conservative candidate for Somerton and Frome"
And here is the reply from Neil Guild, Labour candidate
Very many thanks for your letter and for the opportunity to present my ‘plan for nature’ to Somerset Wildlife Trust members. Can I start by saying how much I appreciate the work of SWT in promoting and demonstrating how nature recovery can be achieved in our region. The Honeygar Farm project, in particular, is a fine example of peatland management. And will serve as an exemplar for new approaches to agriculture, such as paludiculture (commercial crops from wetlands).
My personal commitment to nature recovery is rooted in the principles of agroecology, bringing together food justice, economic democracy and nature restoration. I don’t see Somerton and Frome in isolation from the rest of the county or, indeed the region. And I’m a strong advocate for landscape scale nature recovery. The wildlife trusts ’30 by 30’ strategy provides a clear target. And, if elected, I would be focusing on how we can support achievement of that goal, in conjunction with delivering food security and a vibrant rural economy.
There are some great initiatives already underway and I am a strong advocate for the Integrated Local Delivery framework developed by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG SW). This was successfully trialled in Gloucestershire and I would be advocating for its adoption in Somerset and will be encouraging our Shadow Ministers to promote such schemes at national level.
With sincere thanks for all that you and the SWT members do,