Meeting my MP for #SpeakUp Week of Action on climate change

It’s not a huge secret that my political views are left of centre. Over the years I have met a few MPs about various  issues. But I have always struggled to put my point across effectively to Conservatives. How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t share any of your values? I knew I needed a different approach when meeting my MP for the Speak Up Week of Action on climate change.

My MP is a Tory with all the confidence a 25,000 vote majority gives. My previous attempts at communicating with him have not been massively successful. You can see his voting record on climate change – it didn’t fill me with hope that this was likely to be a productive meeting. But I remember one speaker at an eco church event telling us never to give up on our MP. So I needed to come up with a plan of how to persuade him.

In preparation for the Week of Action, the Climate Coalition organised a webinar focusing on how to talk to MPs from the centre right about climate change. It was massively helpful, emphasising the need to think about what they value, and how tackling climate change relates to that. They also talked about not using language that will automatically put them off.

Inspired by the webinar, I met with John and Roger (fellow Christians with a concern for environmental justice) to discuss our strategy. The plan was that we would all meet the MP together. Each of us would talk about why we care about climate change, using language that would speak to the MP’s values (protecting the landscape of where we live, leaving a positive legacy, and action on climate change making sense financially as well as environmentally). We would then ask him to write to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, calling on him to publish an ambitious low carbon investment plan.

Confident we had a good plan, I emailed  the MP’s researcher to double check the arrangements. It was at that stage I learnt that only I would be allowed to see the MP. This was a blow. Added to the fact that my MP only holds surgeries on a Friday afternoon, meaning that I had to take time off work to meet him, it gave the impression that he’s not terribly keen on meeting his constituents. I felt that this was an attempt to give him the upper hand, making me determined not to be phased.

One of the points the webinar encouraged us to make was that we speak for the ‘silent majority’. People are concerned about climate change, and want the government to act. Now, that’s easy to say, but harder to back up, especially to a sceptical Tory. The turnout at the nature walk was a bit disappointing. Hardly convincing evidence of the strength of feeling in the constituency. Luckily we had another string to our bow. We were able to get almost 100 signatures for the big green heart at church, calling on our MP to take action. That gave me confidence to go into the meeting knowing that I was speaking on behalf of many others.

Another of the top tips the webinar gave was to dress in a way your MP would respect, so I dressed in my smartest work dress, and walked across town carrying the big green heart.

The meeting went as well as could be expected. He listened while I said my bit. I refused to be riled when he said a couple of things that I suspect were meant to provoke me. Generally his body language was quite defensive. The bit of the conversation he really engaged with was when I told him my solar panels were generating more electricity than we use each year.

He didn’t agree to write to the Secretary of State, but said he would forward on a letter if I sent one to him. At the end I asked if he had any message for the people who had signed the heart. He said to tell them that he was “on side”. Time will tell if his voting record on climate change improves. But even if he just looks into getting solar panels on his house, that will at least be some progress.

There’s a parable in the Bible about a widow who gets an unjust judge to give her justice because of her persistence (to shut her up).  Climate change isn’t going away, so perhaps she provides a useful example to follow when dealing with MPs whose actions don’t match the importance of the issue.

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#SpeakUp Week of Action nature walk

Last week was the Climate Coalition’s Week of Action on climate change. People across the country got together to let their MPs know that they care about climate change. As part of it, I organised a nature walk for the Mole Valley constituency.

Organising a walk in October is rather risky, so Roger (who helped me promote the event) and I were both praying hard for good weather. And our prayers were answered: it was lovely and sunny as we gathered, and the rain held off until the end of the walk.

On our nature walk in the Surrey Hills
On our nature walk in the Surrey Hills

One of the ranger team at a nearby National Trust property had volunteered to lead the walk, which was great. Stu told us about the different trees we encountered, and how the rangers plan for the long term, planting trees now to replace those that will die in the next 100 years. I think we all learnt something, as well as having a very pleasant stroll in the beautiful Surrey Hills.

An example of Ash dieback: the top of this tree is dead
An example of Ash dieback – look at the top of this tree

Things I learnt:

 

  • beech trees have very shallow roots
  • stinking iris leaves smell of beef crisps
  • what Ash dieback looks like
  • you need to plan decades ahead when looking after an estate
  • one little pot of Rodda’s clotted cream was enough for my big scone, after all

Our MP wasn’t able to make it, but we knew that in good time, so have a plan. Three of us have an appointment to meet him at his surgery next week. We’ll present him with a big green heart with pictures people have sent me of things they care about that will be affected by climate change. The local Brownies have contributed, as have kids at church. We’ll also include some photos from the walk. We just need to work out what to say to persuade him to vote for action on climate change.

The intrepid walkers with the big green heart
The intrepid walkers with the big green heart

It was quite a lot of work, organising the walk, particularly promoting it to local groups and the local paper. I don’t think it played to my strengths. My efforts weren’t spectacularly successful, but the crucial bit will be meeting the MP.

Dormouse Box Check October 2016: dormouse activity in new areas of the site

After last month’s brilliant box check, I was hopeful that we’d see lots of dormice this month. I was expecting the seven youngsters we found in one box to now have separated and set up their own homes nearby. And I was hoping the pinkies would now be bigger and bouncier.

The first set of boxes we surveyed didn’t show new signs of dormouse activity. But, excitingly, there was the start of a new dormouse nest in one of this year’s boxes, in a new bit of the site. This box is one of four in a clump of hazel on the edge of the woods, and separated from the other boxes by a stretch of un-dormousey woodland – tall trees with little understory. It was a bit of an experiment putting the boxes here – I wanted to see if dormice would use this bit of hazel, given the unpromising habitat between it and the rest of the boxes. So far this year, nothing had used any of these boxes. So it was very exciting to see the start of a dormouse nest here.

The shrew who had taken over the bees nest which had taken over a dormouse nest has finally moved out – not before time – the nest was covered in shrew droppings, and sticky from the bees. The kind Dr C volunteered to clean that one out, which is great as it was a health hazard for any creature that might have ventured in.

There was no sign of any of last month’s young in the boxes near where we found the seven dormice. And the bitey adult male has moved out as well. But we did find a 16g young male in a wren’s nest. As I slid the box lid off, and the perspex over the nest, he clambered to the top of the mossy nest, pressing himself against the perspex. He turned out to be a lively little fellow, so I didn’t take a photo of him – I wanted to get him sexed, weighed and back in the nest before he had time to get too upset. This is the first time we’ve found a dormouse in that particular little section of the site, so more encouragement that they’re not limited to one bit of it. And it’s good that he’s probably big enough already to get through the winter.

No sign of last month’s pinkies – hopefully mum has made a nice natural nest for them.

I’m not sure if that’s the last box check I’ll do this year – if the weather stays mild and there’s still food about, dormice could still be active in a month’s time (particularly this year’s young, as they work on fattening up). But if the weather turns cold, we may not find anything. I’d be a bit sad, if that’s the last check of the year, but, sitting beside my first fire of the season, maybe it is time for hibernation.

Apart from the one dormouse, and signs of new nest building, the other thing of note that we found was this rather fine caterpillar.  Possibly a pale tussock? What do you think?

Catepillar - possibly a pale tussock?
Caterpillar – possibly a pale tussock?

Riversearch September 2016

As usual, I left my Riversearch check for last quarter til the last possible day. When I saw it was raining on the morning I had booked off work to do it,  I had no option other than to waterproof up and get on with it.

The river itself was looking less turbid than usual, and I even managed to spot a fish. The woodland around it is starting to look autumnal. I discovered that conkers make a wonderful plop when they fall from the tree to the river.  It was happening so frequently that I got nervous standing beneath the horse chestnut tree, and only had time to gather a couple of conkers before scurrying away from the risk of being hit on the head by one.

Autumn berries
Autumn berries
Fine fungus
Fine fungus

The stinging nettles were still abundant and high, so I was glad of my intrepid stick.

Someone has clearly had a go at clearing some of the Himalayan Balsam. There were still a couple of stands of it, but for most of the stretch it was just the odd plant here and there.

There wasn’t much wildlife on view – most animals seemed to be keeping hidden in the dry somewhere. And other people were in short supply as well. Very sensible.

The next riversearch check I do will be quite different, with more of the river accessible as the foliage dies down. Let’s hope we can get through this autumn and winter without the floods we had a couple of years ago.