How to meet your MP and give wildlife a voice
My tips for fellow campaigners
I was initially a bit worried about talking to my MP, but there is no need to be. They are only human!
With a little preparation you will probably know at least as much (if not more) than them about the Environment Bill. They are our representatives in Parliament and I feel strongly that we should all contribute to the democratic process.
You can always take a friend for moral support.
MPs’ assistants/office managers do the ground work for any follow up from the meeting, so it is worth building a rapport with them too.
You probably won’t get an appointment for 4-6 weeks, so book early – you should have time to prepare before you go.
Without bombarding him/her with facts, it is important to present evidence. Pictures and a few key facts are worth including.
Try to bring local aspects into the discussion too.
Be passionate about your love of wildlife and make sure he/she understands how important your local nature is to you.
Why is it important to meet your MP?
The UK ranked 29th lowest out of 218 countries for 'biodiversity intactness' in an international study. Sadly this was not fake news but yet more evidence about the state of wildlife in the UK in the same vein as the 2016 State of Nature Report for the UK and the 2017 State of Nature in Oxfordshire.
At the same time, we read that people are increasingly disconnected from the natural world despite access to green space and nature being shown to be good for our physical and mental well-being.
It seems to me that government policies have prioritised growth (at whatever cost) over the protection of the natural world. The economic benefits of healthy ecosystems and the advantages to people of having access to green spaces have not featured highly enough for me in government policy making.
I was encouraged, therefore, to see that the 25 Year Plan for the Environment published in 2018 included a proposal for a Nature Recovery Network to reverse the declines in wildlife.
But when the Environment Bill Policy Paper was published on 19 December 2018, there seemed to be no reference to the promised Nature Recovery Networks, merely some vague words about “plotting a course to restore and enhance nature”.
It was time to turn my frustration into action; to lobby my MP and get others to do likewise.
Preparing for my meeting
So, I made an appointment to see my MP. As I would have only 10-15 minutes to get my points across, I needed to prepare carefully.
I brushed up on the key points to remember when meeting my MP which I had previously seen in the RSPB’s Beginner’s Guide to Campaigning and booked myself on a course with the same title run by BBOWT.
Key points for my meeting
First – would my MP know what a Nature Recovery Network is? I might need to explain this to him.
A good source of information was The Wildlife Trusts’ document “A Wilder Britain – Creating a Nature Recovery Network to bring back wildlife to every neighbourhood”.
A Nature Recovery Network is described as “a joined-up network of habitats that allow wildlife and people to thrive”.
Such networks could, and should, be incorporated into central and local government planning and cover a variety of aspects including housing developments, agricultural land use, infrastructure projects and all habitats including coastal and marine.
Second – what about my MP’s interests? What hook would get his attention?
I looked at the Houses of Parliament website which lists MPs, their political interests and memberships of various parliamentary committees and groups. I also consulted “They Work for You” to get a feel for his opinions from his voting history. You could also simply google your MP to see whether they have a blog, a social media presence, a website or a regular newsletter.
From this, I concluded that he is only a moderately keen environmentalist, although I was pleased to learn that he chairs the River Thames All Party Parliamentary Group and lists rural affairs as one of his political interests.
As an MP for a rural constituency, concerned for the local NHS and a keen supporter of Neighbourhood Planning, I needed to point out that Nature Recovery Networks would improve the built environment, people’s access to nature (with physical and mental health benefits) as well as agricultural productivity, apart, of course, from the obvious benefits to wildlife.
These would be my “hooks”.
Third – I needed to plan what to say in a structured and coherent way.
I wanted a dialogue and to avoid a one-way exchange from either of us. What action(s) did I want from him? Would he sign the Greener UK's Charter for the Environment or allow a photo opportunity with The Wildlife Trusts’ poster. I would have to judge this at the time but include it in my plan.
My meeting plan
- Why I am here.
- What is a Nature Recovery Network? I'll link it to Neighbourhood Planning and the proposals for a green network throughout Benson, I'm an active member of the village's local nature group.
- Why we need it in the Environment Bill and link this to my “hooks”.
- What I want him to do:
Let me know whether/why Nature Recovery Networks have been dropped from the proposed legislation.
Write to Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP to ask for them to be included.
- Make him aware of the Green UK Charter for the Environment and the support it commands from the Environmental Sector (I know from a previous meeting he would be unlikely to sign it).
- Get a photo (if appropriate).
- Provide with The Wildlife Trust’s document on Nature Recovery Networks.
- Thank him.
The result of my meeting
It was a good-natured meeting attended by my MP, John Howell, and his assistant, Angie Paterson. They were very approachable and put me at my ease.
He thought Nature Recovery Networks were still in the proposed legislation, but agreed to look into it and let me know. I was encouraged to be told I was “pushing at an open door” but was “ahead of the curve”. I agreed things seemed to be moving in the right direction, but they needed a push that only legislation could provide (note the difference the plastic bag charge has made!).
He knew about the collaboration between Barratt Homes and the RSPB at Kingsbrook (nr Aylesbury) and was interested to hear about the efforts being made by the community in Benson to implement a green network within their Neighbourhood Plan.
He pointed out that green space requirements already applied to developers/planners, but whilst I agreed this was a good thing, it was too fragmented an approach and needed to be more joined-up and ambitious – legislated by central government and implemented locally against standards and targets.
He liked the images in The Wildlife Trusts' document as examples of what a Nature Recovery Network could achieve and was taken aback by the UK’s low ranking in the Biodiversity Intactness Index. He asked me the source of the index.
As expected, he did not sign the Greener UK Charter for the Environment but I gave him a copy of it with the Nature Recovery Network section highlighted, so that he could be aware of what other MPs might be signing, as well as who the 14 major environmental organisations are (including The Wildlife Trusts) who are members of the Greener UK.
However, he did agree to a photo with me and The Wildlife Trusts’ poster with the message “I support every council creating Nature Recovery Networks to improve access to wildlife for everyone”.
He asked where/how the photo was going to be used. I wasn’t sure so needed to find out. (I have since received permission.)
What went right?
He listened carefully.
The documentary evidence of the disconnect between the 25 Year Plan and the Environment Bill Policy showed I had done my research and that the question needed to be answered.
The Wildlife Trusts’ document (from which I selected key parts) was also well received, particularly as I could show it had been prepared for the Westminster government.
The UK’s poor showing in the Biodiversity Intactness Index achieved the impact I wanted.
He agreed to get back to me on my two questions and to have his photo taken with the poster.
What could have gone better?
At the time I arranged the meeting I said I wanted to talk about the Environment Bill. A few days before the meeting his assistant had tried to contact me via e-mail to ask for more detail so they could prepare.
Unfortunately, I never received her e-mail, as a result of which the conversation felt a little one-sided at times.
Embarrassingly, I left my phone on charge at home so did not have a camera for the photo. Fortunately, his assistant used hers and the situation was salvaged!
What would I do differently next time?
Next time I will write pro-actively in advance, once I have made an appointment, to let him know exactly what I want to talk to him about to enable him to prepare and I will take my phone/camera with me!
- Follow up with my MP to thank him for the meeting and answer his questions – namely the source of the Biodiversity Intactness Index and where/how his photo will be used (ie BBOWT would like to use it in a blog and to tweet it.) Ask his permission to use it in this way and use this as an opportunity to remind him of the actions I requested.
- Let BBOWT know how the meeting went and provide them with the response I receive to my questions.
- Write a blog of my experiences. Using social media and other means, encourage friends and associates to write to their MP.
- Put a post in my local nature group’s Facebook page.
- Invite my MP to see the green network in Benson when the project is complete.