Thursday, 29 July 2021

Green Recovery Challenge Fund

This week we have announced the outcome of the 2nd round of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The Fund was established late last year to help kickstart our green recovery and increase access to nature by creating and retaining thousands of green jobs in areas including tree planting, environmental education and the restoration of damaged habitats, such as peatlands and wetlands.

This additional funding will help support even more environmental projects to help tackle the nature and climate crisis. There are 90 innovative projects, which will each receive a share of £40 million, spanning over 600 sites from North Northumberland to the tip of Cornwall. The successful projects range from new ‘insect pathways’ in our countryside and towns, to tree planting projects in deprived urban areas – contributing towards the Government’s commitment to treble tree planting rates across England by the end of this Parliament. 


Locally, two projects have been successful in Cornwall. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust is set to receive over £618,000 to support building a greener Cornwall through jobs and nature’s recovery. Furthermore, South West Lakes Trust is using its share of over £160,000 to launch an ‘It’s Your Outdoors’ campaign which will support communities connecting with their blue and green space.


In the first round of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the Cornwall Seals Research Trust received over £75,000 to help support their work protecting seals. Since receiving the funding the trust used the funding to expand their work and hire more staff to grow the size of their operation. The UK is home to 38% of the entire world’s population of grey seals and 30% of the European subspecies of common seals, yet these precious mammals face an extensive list of threats including climate change, toxic pollution, entanglement, collisions with vessels, plastics and other marine debris. Of these threats, disturbance from human interaction is a significant and growing problem. The funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund has allowed the trust to expand their ‘give seals space campaign and prevent more decline in the Cornish Grey Seal population through education and conservationism. 


One of the things that we have valued more during this pandemic is the ability to have access to the natural world and outdoor spaces. With all of the restrictions in place and three lockdowns which have required us to stay at home, the ability to get out and exercise, and form a connection with the natural world has been important. Once this pandemic is over, we will have an opportunity through our new policies to protect our wildlife and leave the environment in a better state for future generations - turning the tide on the decline that we have seen in recent decades.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Lockdown, Sport and Mental Health

 On the 19th of July, we reached the 4th step of the Roadmap out of lockdown, which the Prime Minister laid out back in February. This is a cautious, but considerable step forward toward normality. While we may not fully understand both the physical and economic impacts of lockdown for some time, it is clear that spending months locked inside being unable to socialise and relax properly puts an added strain on our mental health.

Young people, in particular, have been severely impacted by the lockdown restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The decision to close schools earlier in the year did not just have the obvious effects around disruption to exams and teaching.  It is much more profound than that.  Children in both primary schools and secondary have been separated from friends.  Children’s birthday parties can’t happen as they normally would and should.  School sports events are not happening.  We humans are social creatures.  Friendships and the company of others are important.  Forming those bonds and friendships is a really important part of growing up, whether it is in the formative early years as children start their first years as infants at primary school, or whether it is in those tricky teenage years as young people wrestle with all the insecurities and concerns that accompany that stage of life.

Recently, the Government’s Mental Health in Education Action Group committed to making mental health and wellbeing a central part of education recovery plans in education settings across England. Since its launch earlier this year, members of the group have taken feedback on areas to improve support for pupils and students as well as staff working in all areas of education, reflecting on the main challenges facing them including the increase in eating disorders and self-harm among young people and how to help staff manage their own mental wellbeing. 

In practice, this means the Government has committed £7 million for the Department for Education’s Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, to facilitate training and resources for staff in schools and colleges. We have also created resources for students in higher education, collating the guidance, tools, and services available to support their mental health, raising awareness of the support available and empowering individuals to seek help.

In addition to this, I welcome the launch of The Terry Pryor Trust that will be taking place on August 21st. The Trust’s purpose is to provide opportunities for young people in the Redruth community and beyond to participate in and benefit from the social, physical and developmental aspects of rugby union. Terry’s contribution to not only Redruth Rugby club in particular, but also to Cornish rugby, in general, was substantial. He had a career spanning over 50 years as a player and coach making 55 appearances for Cornwall.

Sadly, Terry Pryor passed away in March 2020 leaving a huge hole in our community. However, because of Covid restrictions, it was not possible to properly plan and recognise his achievements in the game, until now. On Saturday, August 21st Redruth RFC will be hosting ‘The Terry Pryor Day’, which will include a Redruth versus Cornish Pirates training game that will get underway at 3pm. Admission to the Recreation Ground will cost £10 and 50% of gate money will go to The Terry Pryor Trust and support young people’s mental health. I am certain it will be a great day and a fitting tribute to a remarkable sportsman. 


Thursday, 15 July 2021

The Fourth Step of the Roadmap: Cautious Reopening

This week the Prime Minister announced that we would move the fourth and final step of the roadmap out of the lockdown restrictions.  It means that from the 19 July, the remaining legal restrictions introduced to help tackle the Covid pandemic will be removed.  This includes legal requirements on social distancing, mask wearing and final legal restrictions on the numbers of people allowed to meet in groups.   
It is important that we exercise caution in order to try to dampen the spread of the virus over the next couple of months.  We know that infection rates are rising sharply at the moment, especially among the young who have not been vaccinated but we also know that they are least affected and rarely develop any serious symptoms.  The confidence to move to this final step comes from the fact that the vaccination programme has been a huge success and this has almost (but not quite) broken the link between infection rates and hospitalisation.  If we can’t remove the legal restrictions now in the summer when the schools are on holiday, it is harder to see when we ever could.  However, not everyone was vaccinated and the vaccine is not 100 percent effective so there will still be an increase in hospital admissions over the next eight weeks. 
The move to Step four was delayed by four weeks to ensure that the maximum possible number of people could be vaccinated.  Nearly 7 million vaccines have already been administered during this delay. By 19th July, over two thirds of adults will have received two doses and every adult will have been offered a first dose. All adults should take up the offer of two vaccine doses, to protect themselves and others against Covid-19. Thanks to the continued success of our historic vaccination programme, the link between infections and hospitalisations has been severely weakened, with an estimated 8.5 million infections and 30,000 deaths prevented in England alone.
Data from Public Health England suggests that one dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 80% effective against hospitalisations with the Delta variant, increasing to 96% after two doses. The vaccination programme will continue, and all adults will be offered two doses by mid-September. Dependent on final JCVI advice the booster programme will begin from September, offering additional protection to the most vulnerable. 
The change next week will be a huge relief to many, particularly those in the hospitality sector who can begin to return to more normal levels of service. From the 19th of July, all remaining closed businesses, and venues such as nightclubs will be able to reopen. All capacity limits at sporting, entertainment, or business events will be lifted.  Venues such as pubs, restaurants and bars will no longer be required to provide table service or follow other social distancing rules.
While there are reasons to be cautious, there are also reasons to be hopeful and optimistic too.  While the Government’s approach will remain vigilant as we seek to control the rate of infection, we will continue to take steps that can help get people back closer to life as normal as swiftly as possible.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Devon County Show

Normally around this time of year, I and many other local people would be attending the Royal Cornwall Show. Sadly this year, due to the pandemic it has been cancelled. I have many childhood memories of the Royal Cornwall show. When I was growing up my father was one of the many volunteer stewards who gave up his time each year to make the event possible so it was a shame we were all unable to attend this year.

However, while the Royal Cornwall show was sadly cancelled, It was great to return to the Devon County Show last week. We’ve learnt a lot from Zoom, but I’m glad to be rid of it. Farming is real, it happens outdoors, and demonstration projects that you can see in action on the ground are so important. 

It is an exciting time for agriculture here in the South West. We are developing our future agricultural policy and in doing so we want to support the choices that individual farm enterprises make. That is why we have already announced plans for an exit scheme to help farmers who want to leave the industry to do so, and it is why we are developing new grants to support farmers who want to invest in their business, reduce their costs and improve their profitability.  

Last week, we published details of the first options under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will open to farmers in spring next year. We’ve decided to start with soil health since that is where everything connected with successful farming starts. Enhancing the natural health and fertility of our soils is one of the most important things we can do to start making our farming more profitable and sustainable. 

In recent years, we’ve seen a renewed interest in ancient knowledge - the knowledge around what makes healthy, fertile soil. Farmers instinctively understand this - we know that soil is more than a growing medium, we know that soils are alive, and farmers know that the extent to which they have humus and organic matters in the soil is key to plant health.

Through our soils standards under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, we could save as much as 60,000 tonnes of CO2 each year from 2023 to 2027, increasing to 800,000 tonnes per year by 2037. Our initial sustainable farming incentive offer will also include a Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard designed to help us assess the condition of the moorlands and work out how best to invest in their restoration through sustainable farming practices.

To incentivise a high take up of the new scheme, we are adopting a new approach to payments that is more generous than the old EU schemes so we can get the levels of uptake we need to achieve our environmental goals. We have also reviewed payments in Countryside Stewardship so that we can increase the number of farmers providing environmental outcomes as we move towards the rollout of our new offers.

I have said many times that we want the move from the old system to the new to be an evolution, not a revolution. We recognise the dependency on area payments that the old EU schemes created and the distortions it caused on land rents and input costs, so we will unwind those distortions with care over seven years. However, it is also my hope that farmers who embrace these new schemes will discover that healthy soils and healthy livestock lead to higher profitability.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Protecting the Our Seals

Recently I visited Mutton Cove at Godrevy to meet with the leaders of the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust- a multi-award winning, marine conservation charity- to hear about their extensive work on seal conservation. The Trust supports a large network of active citizen scientists across South-West communities, who routinely survey seals on their local areas and help conserve local Seal populations. It was great to see them benefit recently from the Government’s Green Challenge Fund that has helped the Trust expand their work and hire more staff to grow the size of their operation. 
Nationally, there has been significant work being undertaken on seal conservation. At many different points around the UK coast, there has been a lot of effort going into reducing the disturbance of seals with new information boards for the public. Earlier this year, The Seal Alliance launched a new government-backed campaign to ‘Give Seals Space’ and reduce the shocking impact that human disturbance can have on these vulnerable marine mammals. 
The UK is home to 38% of the entire world’s population of grey seals and 30% of the European subspecies of common seals, yet these precious mammals face an extensive list of threats including climate change, toxic pollution, entanglement, collisions with vessels, plastics and other marine debris. Of these threats, disturbance from human interaction is a significant and growing problem.
In order to help protect marine mammals, such as seals, Government has ambitious plans for a ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protected areas around the UK’s seas. Following our exit from the European Union, we have new powers to implement evidenced-based marine management measures that will help ensure our seas are managed sustainably, protecting both the long-term future of the fishing industry and our precious wildlife and habitats.
One of the things that we have valued more during this pandemic is the ability to have access to the natural world and outdoor spaces. With all of the restrictions in place and three lockdowns which have required us to stay at home, the ability to get out and exercise, and form a connection with the natural world has been important. Once this pandemic is over, we will have an opportunity through our new policies to protect our wildlife and leave the environment in a better state for future generations - turning the tide on the decline that we have seen in recent decades.

Vaccination Rollout Update:

It is great to see that nearly 80 million Vaccine doses have been given throughout the UK with nearly 85% of all adults having their first dose and 63% getting the protection of the second dose. If you live around Camborne you can protect yourself against COVID-19 by grabbing a jab from a pop-up vaccination clinic this Saturday, 3rd July. Anyone who’s older than 18 and has not yet been vaccinated can get a dose of Pfizer from the Dolcoath Council office car park, from 10am to 6pm. You don’t need to book an appointment – just turn up, get vaccinated, and get back on with your day. Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic and are ensuring we are on track to end all restrictions, so if you have not had yours’ yet, I encourage you to come forward and get your vaccine.