Writing to my MP – 1

I’ve been telling people that they should write to their MPs as I travel around the country giving talks.  Politics is at the heart of almost all solutions to environmental problems.

So, I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I wouldn’t do it myself, so here is the first of monthly letters that I will send to my MP, Andy Sawford (Lab, Corby) between now and the general election on 7 May 2015 (when he will almost certainly get my vote).

You can find your MP here.  And you can email them any time you like!

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Dear Andy

It’s just over a year since you were elected to parliament – I hope you are enjoying your time there. Congratulations on becoming a junior Shadow Minister.

And thank you for the weekly email updates on your activities in Westminster.

I am writing to you as a constituent, and I shall be posting this letter on my blog (which I know you occasionally read).  When you reply, as I’m sure you will, please let me know whether you are happy for me to post your reply on my blog too.  And I should warn you that I plan to write to you every month between now and the General Election on environmental issues.

The subject of this letter is the decline in common birds of the countryside – birds like Grey Partridges, Corn Buntings, Turtle Doves etc.  These all used to be much commoner in the Northamptonshire countryside than they are now. Although I didn’t grow up here in Northamptonshire I can remember these birds being much commoner in my youth in Somerset than they are now.  But I do know that they used to be commoner here too because last week I attended the launch of a very authoritative book (by the British Trust for Ornithology and others) on changes in bird distributions over the past 40 years.

I’m a birdwatcher and I helped to collect some of the data that went into this work of science by doing bird counts in the countryside around Raunds, Hargrave, Chelveston, Ringstead etc. 

I don’t expect you ever to pick up the Bird Atlas 2007-11 but let me give you a few indications,  Since 1968 Corn Buntings (the name gives away their preferred habitat) have been lost from over half of their UK range.  Northamptonshire is one of the areas where they are disappearing fast.  I used to see them on the fence wires between Raunds and Hargrave but I’ve not seen them there for several years.

Turtle Doves, as recently as the early 2000s, were familiar birds on my regular walks at Stanwick Lakes, but I haven’t seen them there for some years.  They have been lost from more than half of their sites over the last 40 years – and Northamptonshire is now hardly within their range which is shrinking towards the southeast all the time.  This bird is the one whose purring song  is referred to in the Bible, in the Song of Solomon, as the ‘song of the turtle is heard in the land’.  It’s not heard in the land of your constituency much these days.

My view is that my governments over the years, many of them Labour governments, should have done a much better job to protect the plants and insects and birds and mammals in the countryside, It doesn’t feel like progress to me when wildlife is bleeding from the countryside that produces some of our food.

We spend £3.3bn as subsidies and grants to farmers in the UK every year. Ask a few of your less well-off Corby town constituents whether they would like their money back and they’ll probably say yes, please.  I’d say that I am happy for farmers to get handouts from the taxpayer but only if they deliver public goods with that money – and the song of the Skylark, and the song of the ‘turtle’ is a public ‘good’ which I’d like more of, please.

So, I’d like to ask you to do two things please:

1.       Write to Owen Paterson at Defra and ask whether he can assure you and me that Turtle Doves and Corn Buntings will be seen in the Northamptonshire countryside in increasing numbers before the next general election. What level would he want the Farmland bird index to reach by 2020 if, God forbid, a Conservative government rretained power through that period?

2.       Ask your Shadow ministerial colleagues who hold the Defra brief to ensure that they include measures on improving the public value of CAP spending in the next Labour manifesto.  There are many rural Labour supporters, some in marginal seats like yours, who feel that Labour should have a much stronger rural and countryside agenda.

Yours sincerely 

Dr Mark Avery

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13 Replies to “Writing to my MP – 1”

  1. I find that my MP serves his own interests and those he reports to in Government rather than giving any indication that he serves his constituants and has any opinion of his own.
    He fails to answer questions put to him but ticks the box by sending a response to all letters and emails I send to him although those letters don't actually mean very much as they don't address points being raised

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    1. Rob - write to him about declining farmland birds and I'll post your letter and his reply on here if you like. You'd better tell him that is what is happening in your letter though if you decide to do it.

      Let us shine a light on MPs who don't respond appropriately to their constituents. there is time before the general election to produce a blacklist of non-green MPs.

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  2. I wrote to my MP recently and he did not even have the decency to reply [Rory Stewart]. When I first approached him he agreed with what i was saying which was about the planting of the uplands. He now loves his sheep and at a recent meeting at RSPB Haweswater was told about the problems of sediment running into the reservoir and why sheep needed to be removed. He only came back and wrote a piece in the local paper saying sheep should be increased in the uplands!! My latest piece to him was about the decline of Swifts and I certainly did not get a 'swift' response!

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    1. John - that's a bit poor isn't it? Maybe we should keep a list of MPs who fail to respond to their constituents on environmental matters... Hmmm - an idea begins to form in my head...

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  3. I, like you Mark, live in Northamptonshire, in a marginal constituency too, so our MP is really quite attentive, and which is useful leverage to an extent.

    Having a few decades experience of writing to many MPs in the past I find that they are very, very good when it comes to sorting out personal issues like, say, some government body giving unfair or bad treatment to you (a quick email from an MP does wonders in putting a rocket up bureaucratic backside), but they are very poor on responding to policy matters; if they are in government they just parrot the Government line back to you, if they're not, they parrot their Party line back at you together with a lament about how they're not in government but if they were they would address the issue so Vote For Us!

    I'm a member of Plantlife, so when I discovered that Northamptonshire has one of the highest loss rates of wild plants of any county in England I contemplated writing to the MP to query them about that and make a few positive suggestions, but before I got round to that another issue intervened and it doesn't do to badger them too often or they only stereotype you as a serial complainer and "usual suspect" as the decision-maker-lingo has it.

    Your letter looks excellent, just the right kind of tone to get people listening, imo. The more proactive we can be the better, and ideas around public sharing information on how to lobby MPs and decision-makers are a very important starting point too, although a "black-list" on its own sounds a bit too pejorative, maybe we need also to encourage the better MPs and the borderline waiverers as well by being nice to them, they generally respond quite enthusiastically to being invited along to events by local community groups for example - it's got to be Carrot & Stick to really work well.

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  4. Great stuff Mark,

    What I find is a good tactic is to enclose a letter to a government minister and ask your MP to copy it to the minister and forward the reply to you.

    This makes it very easy for him to do.

    There is a convention that government ministers have to reply to MPs questions and they do.

    I used to write to Labour Ministers and obviously never got a reply until I used this tactic. When they don't answer your question - as they invariably won't you can ask your MP to copy a further letter pointing out how they haven't answered and asking them to. Can be fun and at least keeps their minds occupied in dreaming up convoluted ways in which not to answer.

    I've also got my MP to copy letters to opposition Ministers. When they refuse to reply this also indicate that you've hit a sore spot.

    Also I tend to put include a one sentence question in large bold type which is as clear as possible so they can't be evasive by missing the question/point of the letter like this:

    What do you think?

    I hope that helps.

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  5. This is a great letter Mark, but it is geared towards a Northamptonshire Labour MP.

    Do you have anything more general that the busy/lazy amongst us can cut and paste?

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  6. Most M.Ps have little or no interest in the environment after all the current "Chancer"
    of the Exchequer has reportedly referred to birds as "feathered pests" or words to
    that effect, so it gives us an idea what we are up against. There are some good M.Ps
    out there but they are in a minority. It will take a lot more than politicians to bring
    change for the better but it is a start.

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    1. Oliver - welcome and thank you. All I'd say is that everything is a minority interest - opera, football, learning science at school, ballet. Everything. Those who are enthusiasts need to make the case - and particularly for the natural world where it actually matters to everyone even if they don't realise it.

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