By Pippa Stilwell, Cornwall Federation of WIs Climate Ambassador
I was reminded of why I love being a WI member when I arrived half an hour early to set up our Show the Love for Cornwall event on 15th February, suggested to my passengers (our sponsors from the Sheffield-based charity Hope for the Future or HFTF) that they enjoy the sunshine and go for a walk, and settled down to wait.
Five minutes later, our Federation Chairman Margaret Johnson drew up behind me, also early to make sure of opening our County House without a glitch. She negotiated the codes, keys and alarms without missing a beat, and together we began moving the furniture.
Then members of our Environment & Public Affairs sub-committee started arriving and getting stuck in, bringing biscuits, scones and jam: scoping the problems and solving them, lifting tables and chairs.
Next arrived our Climate Coalition partners from the RSPB, all full of admiration for our beautiful headquarters and its facilities and environmental credentials, bringing projectors, leaflets and displays.
Then members and guests began to arrive. Many had come past County Hall and had seen the children from the Youth4Climate rally: Some had hooted their solidarity and brandished green hearts. Derek Thomas MP (St Ives) and Sarah Newton MP (Truro and Falmouth) arrived, as well as Liz Lane, representing George Eustace MP (Camborne and Redruth). Sue James (Portfolio holder for the Environment) and Colette Beckham (AONB) came from Cornwall Council, and Gus Grand from the Eden Project. Then a reporter and photographer from WI Life.
The meeting began at 1.30 with half an hour for green heart biscuits, tea and conversation. At 2pm Margaret welcomed everyone, and Sarah Robinson from HFTF introduced the speakers and chaired the ensuing panel discussion.
Key points to emerge were:
- Climate change is real, is happening now and is affecting wildlife and communities in Cornwall
- All three Cornwall reserves are coastal, and under threat from sea level rise
- Many of our familiar species will move north as the climate changes, and we can expect the kittiwake and the common tern to be lost to Cornwall within 10 years
- We need to expand our protected areas to create linked habitats for wildlife
- We need to press the Government to keep our environmental protections after Brexit
- We need to act swiftly to reduce our carbon emissions, and this is a huge challenge for us all. The Government needs to act, and we need to change our lifestyles.
- Huge amounts of heat loss result from our poor quality housing, especially in Cornwall, and we need to press the Government for changes to building regulations to tackle this, and we also need to look after those people who are currently living in fuel poverty.
- We need to aim for the UN Sustainable Development targets, notably articles 7, 13 and 15.
There followed a lively question and answer session, covering topics as varied as the need for the grid to be updated to accommodate all the renewable energy generated in Cornwall, The Eden Project scheme to give away 500 intelligent hot water tanks as part of the Pete Project, the Bodmin Moor Peat Project, the use of beavers to divert upland waters, and the Woodland Trust tree planting scheme. Iain Soutar remarked that public policy is about making trade-offs between different interests, and that we need to be a part of those conversations in order to maintain a balance.
Following the panel discussion, we all adjourned for a cream tea, and members had the opportunity of talking to their elected representatives, the speakers, and to each other, to raise their concerns.
It is pretty clear to everyone by now that climate change is happening and we need to tackle it, and the urgency is made all the more poignant by the sight of children marching to protect their future.
This meeting was a step in the right direction, with different organisations working with the WI to raise the alarm and suggest solutions.