Monthly Archives: November 2015

Technology key to unlocking farming’s potential

Technological innovation is the key to unlocking the potential of farming by improving productivity and tackling problems such as pests and disease, Farming Minister George Eustice will say when he addresses today’s annual Northern Farming Conference.

Speaking at the event in Hexham, the minister will say how food and farming is central to the northern economy, employing over 70,000 people. And to help the food and farming industry grow further, and produce even more, the government is investing some of its £160 million Agri-Tech Strategy funding into a range of exciting futuristic food and farming ‘Catalyst’ projects across Northern England.

Farming Minister George Eustice said:

“Although there has been great pressure on farm incomes over the past 12 months, I believe the industry has a good future and technological advances will help British farmers improve their productivity and make the industry more resilient and better placed to deal with pests and diseases.

“Farmers are playing a central role in building a strong economy in the North and I want to support them to grow more and sell more.”

In Sheffield, a group of 40 farmers is trialling a self-driving ‘agribot’ to help them better manage hilly moorland grazing for sheep and cattle. The ‘agribot’, based on a bomb disposal robot, uses a suite of on-board sensors and cameras, coupled with information from OS maps and satellite images, to identify and remove weeds on tricky terrain. If successful, the technology, developed with the assistance of a £182,000m Agri-Tech Catalyst grant, could be used on a commercial scale.

Elsewhere in Yorkshire, a consortium including the Scotch Whisky Research Institute and United Biscuits, supported by a £200,000m Agri-Tech Catalyst grant, is using scientific know-how to identify quality characteristics in soft (gluten-low) wheat in a bid to develop new, higher-quality UK varieties for use in our biscuit and whisky-making.

In addition to the innovative Agri-Tech Catalyst projects, run by Innovate UK, being funded in the North, the Joint Venture between Defra and Capita resulted in the launch of Fera Science Limited – bringing a further £14.5m of new investment, enabling York-based Fera Science Limited to play an even greater role in helping to drive growth in the agri-food industry.

The investment builds upon the £2.7m already committed by the Local Enterprise Partnership to Defra’s National Agri-Food Innovation Campus, where Fera is based.


Rory Stewart MP has joined the worldwide movement marking November as annual Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month (PCAM). It is a major awareness-raising tool about the disease, which is the fifth most common cause of all cancer deaths in the UK with only around 4% of people diagnosed surviving five years or more – a figure which has hardly changed in 40 years. Worryingly, it is predicted that by 2030 pancreatic cancer will overtake breast cancer as the 4th most common cancer killer. This important campaign provides an opportunity for people to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer charities across the UK whilst remembering loved ones who have suffered from the disease.

Rory said: “This annual campaign is one I am pleased to support in honour of those who have been affected, and indeed to support all those currently living with pancreatic cancer, and want to thank the UK’s pancreatic cancer charities for all they are doing in the field of advocacy and campaigning. So much needs to be done to increase funding to awareness and research for this deadly cancer. We also need to encourage our doctors’ surgeries to advertise more about the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, and ensure that the public is aware of the risk factors and just how difficult it is to diagnose this disease, given that the symptoms do not manifest until it is far too late to operate and cure. This is a major battle but I’m really thrilled that public awareness is steadily growing.”


After one of the wettest weekends of the autumn, Rory Stewart MP and Minister for Floods highlighted the Environment Agency’s (EA) Flood Action Campaign 2015 with a visit to the River Roe Catchment Community Water Management Group (RCCWMG) in Stockdalewath on the border of his constituency, where a local community group have come together to work on ways to reduce flooding risk along the River Roe, and to make the area’s properties flood-resilient through a variety of measures.

The group took the opportunity to demonstrate to Rory some of the innovative ways in which they are preparing for flooding, including strategic tree planting, subsoiling, and localised protection such as flood walls and bunds. They were joined by local neighbours, landowners and farmers; Will Cleasby of the Eden Rivers Trust, who demonstrated the key points of the subsoiling exercise; and Iwan Lawton of the Environment Agency, through whom funding under Defra’s Repair and Renew Grant system has been channelled. The RRG was launched in 2014 to provide homes and businesses with up to £5,000 to establish resilience or resistance measures to their property or neighbourhood, with 156 local authorities claiming over £24m. Around 6,000 home and business owners have benefited from the scheme nationally.

Rory was able to see local contractor Jonny Bainbridge perform the subsoiling, and local children planting trees to allow better penetration of water into the soil. The group also presented to Rory the results of the second MSc study which has been completed looking into the catchment area, which is identifying effective interventions.

Rory Stewart MP said: “This is a real model of local river management, and one that I would love to see more of across the county and the country. The key message that the group conveys is that when a local community is truly invested in a project like this, it delivers lasting benefits. It’s great to see adults and children alike coming together in a way that not only creates practical solutions to flooding, but which fosters a real ‘can do’ community spirit, bringing people into contact with each other around a shared cause.”

David Black of Paragon Veterinary Group, who is a key member of the RCCWMG and who hosted the visit together with his wife Sue, said: “We were delighted to welcome Rory and his team to our community project. He spoke with the local community, including farmers and a local agricultural contractor, Jonny Bainbridge, as well as Will Cleasby from the Eden Rivers Trust and Iwan Lawton from the Environment Agency and heard about and observed activities in the catchment such as tree planting and soil aeration (subsoiling). It was a great visit.”

The visit highlighted the Flood Action Campaign, which runs from November 2-13, during which the EA uses media, social media and local engagement to help raise awareness of flood risk, and to encourage people to take action to prepare for flooding. For more information please visit or follow @EnvAgency on Twitter, using #floodaware


Rory Stewart MP, whose backing of the ‘Save the Pool’ campaign in Wigton has been well-documented, visited the swimming pool on Saturday, where he learned more about the many community initiatives it is involved in, and to personally thank some of the team involved in the successful campaign to retain the historic baths for the community to use.

A Community Trust was established to take over the running of the amenity in the long-term, which is now a fully-registered company and charity. Since then, Wigton Baths Trust has lengthened opening hours, introduced new sessions (including Aqua Babes and One to One sessions), and train new lifeguards. The ladies changing rooms were refurbished and more improvements are in the pipeline.

Rory Stewart met with some of the lifeguards and with Mave Tyas, Deputy Chair of Trustees, and Trustee Anna Swindells, and chatted about how important a community asset the pool is. He gave his support to their latest fundraising initiative, a ‘Bag for Life’ designed by Wigton and Solway schools whose pupils wanted to raise funds for the pool, and who came up with the motto ‘Support Us, Swim With Us, Share With Us’. The bag is printed in Wigton and distributed in the area.

Rory Stewart said: “Wigton Baths is a true community asset, one for everyone to share, and I’m thrilled to see it going from strength to strength. I am only too happy to continue to offer any support I can to ensure its long-term survival, but meanwhile it seems to be thriving under the able leadership of the Wigton Baths Trust, whom I congratulate.”

Mave Tyas said: “The staff at Wigton Baths were very pleased to receive a visit from Rory Stewart on Saturday. It was his first visit to the Baths but he demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of the recent history regarding the threatened closure, the work of the Wigton Baths Trust in rescuing the building, and its efforts to further develop the Baths as a Community Pool. He was particularly interested in the initiatives to sustain the Pool, and the degree of support enjoyed by the Baths from the community.”


Rory Stewart MP has visited the Watchtree Nature Reserve on the Solway Plain to discuss its future, and how its volunteer-led team are adapting to secure its future as a community asset.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the MP and Defra Minister met with Director and Chairperson Frank Mawby, his team of volunteers, and officers involved in the day-to-day running of the Reserve, which operates a number of initiatives on-site to encourage visitors to the reserve, which has a unique history. The site was acquired by Defra at the height of foot and mouth disease. It is now an 84-hectare ‘wildlife haven’ of species, including a wide range of animal life, hay meadows, woodlands and wetlands, and has a membership of almost 400 supporters. It is a regionally important specialist cycling facility for people of all abilities, and home to the successful Watchtree Wheelers charity which rents cycles that are adapted for those with special needs.

Rory spent time talking about the volunteer support that the site generates, and its attempts to diversify and generate new income streams from its cafe, visitor centre, and other initiatives to tempt the visitor to the site. He praised them for running an important community asset, and took on board the group’s concerns about securing long-term income for the site.

Rory said: “Watchtree Nature Reserve is a unique place, with a unique history. It shows how adaptable the Cumbrian landscape can be, and its supporters show how valued a community asset it is. I have promised to take Frank and his team’s concerns to Defra, and to discuss further how its long-term future can be secured. I would like to pay tribute to Frank and his team’s efforts, the time and dedication they put into the resource, which – it is clear to me – is truly indicative of the power of voluntary effort.”


Rory Stewart MP has congratulated Innovia Films on their new Bubble 8 Clarity™C line at their Wigton site, taking the opportunity ​of a visit there this weekend ​to also raise awareness of UKTI’s Export Week and highlighting the fantastic work that Innovia does in ​research and ​development​, and exporting ground-breaking new technologies abroad.

Rory was given a tour of the new production facility by Research and Development Director Andrew Bayliff, along with local councillors Duncan Fairbairn and Joe Cowell. During the visit he ​able to see the production process from start to finish, part of an overall investment programme of over £40 million which includes the build of a completely new Innovia Security opacification plant. ​It will enable ​Innovia to continue its important work producing its ​Guardian® substrate at the same location as the Clarity™C, the base film used to make Guardian®. ​ ​The Clarity™C line has increased security controls to ensure that only those with official clearance have access to the restricted areas.

After the tour, ​Rory discussed the exciting new development with Andrew Bayliff, saying: “It is always an enormous pleasure to visit Innovia, and I’m delighted​ – particularly in Export Week -​ ​to be able to see the new Bubble 8 Clarity process in action. Innovia’s new substrate plant is one of the most advanced in the world, and as Cumbrians we should be very proud that it is leading the way globally in polymer technology​, right here in​ the heart of the north-west. Companies like Innovia really set the standard for other privately-owned, pioneering companies which place huge importance on investment into R&D and in the creation of jobs through ambitious business development​. I congratulate them on their work, as well as the excellent links they foster with the local community.”​

​Mark Robertshaw CEO said​: “We ​would like to thank Rory for his unstinting support of Innovia. And we ​are truly delighted that our unique film manufactured here in Wigton will be used for the Bank of England’s new £5 and £10 banknotes.​ ​The first banknote to be issued is the £5 note featuring Sir Winston Churchill in 2016.”

​Export Week, which runs from 9-13 November, is an initiative of UKTI, encouraging North West businesses to attend a week of free trade seminars to find out about the growing export​ markets available to them. Previous Export Weeks have seen over 27,000 companies in the UK attend exporting-focussed events to date. For more information visit


Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, was honoured to speak at the 41st Cumbria Young Farmers Club AGM at the George Hotel in Penrith on Friday 6th November.

The Cumberland & Westmorland Young Farmers Club formed in 1937, and became the Cumbria Federation of Young Farmers in 1974; it has 15 clubs in the northern district, and 10 clubs in the southern, and members are aged between 10 and 26 years old.

Cumbria YFC has had a fantastic year; with membership standing at 1,432. This increase is down to the hard work and commitment of the clubs existing members; through mentoring, organising social activities, fundraising, and raising awareness within farming communities of the benefits of being part of the Young Farmers network. During 2015 a Youth Forum was developed to focus on farming policy issues which effect the clubs members, and there are now two trainers within the club who are qualified to deliver the National Federation of Young Farmers training programme, in aspects of team-building, budgeting, safeguarding, communication, networking, and event planning. And at this year’s Young Farmers Annual Convention in Blackpool, Cumbria Young Farmers won the NFU Cup for Champion County for the firth year running.

Speaking after the event Rory said: “Cumbria’s Young Farmers are some of the most impressive people in our county. Many of our community leaders were once young farmers. This generation in particular has immense energy, knowledge and skills – as they have proved through their incredible record this year in winning national prizes. I know they will go on to do great things.”

Cumbria YFC County Chairman, Richard Carruthers, said: “It was great to see Rory at the AGM taking an interest in Cumbria YFC and sharing his experiences with the members.”


Rory Stewart MP said:

“Lazonby’s fire station plays an unbelievably important role in protecting our community; responding to a wide number of emergency situations – whether in homes, or on the roads – and they cover a huge area with already limited resources. The present Fire and Rescue resource is a full time crew and a retained crew in Penrith and retained crews at Lazonby, Appleby, Glenridding and Alston, who together cover the major routes of M6, A6, A66 and A686, as well as many farms, business premises and residential properties. The loss of any one of these crews would heavily impact on the ability of the others to respond to incidents, and I believe that there is a compelling case to make savings elsewhere. I would caution against removing any appliance until alternatives have been thoroughly investigated, and am delighted to support this campaign to save a vital resource.”



Article first published in the Evening Standard by Joe Murphy on 4 November 2015.

It may seem a comedown for a man who has trekked solo across Afghanistan to go walking through a giant sewer 210 feet underneath London.

But Rory Stewart pronounces as “very cool” his trip down the Lee Tunnel — the deepest ever built under  the capital, and as wide as three double-decker buses. In fact the Environment Minister is planning a longer subterranean journey when the Lee’s big brother — the Thames Tideway Tunnel, or so-called Supersewer, opens in about 2023.

“They’ve offered me the chance to walk the entire 25km Thames Tideway Tunnel when it opens,” he enthused. “There’s only a six-week window before the sewage starts flying down. You need a head torch and a gas mask.”

Mr Stewart’s jaunt below the streets of London aims to publicise new official figures claiming that the Supersewer will bring environmental benefits valued at £13 billion, by preventing 60 million tonnes a year of raw sewage from pouring into the Thames.

“It’s a wonderful thing that we live on top of these wonders that we never actually see — extraordinary underground channels, dams and weirs,” he mused.

Mr Stewart has a long history of seeking out inaccessible places. His life so resembles a Boy’s Own yarn that Brad Pitt bought the film rights to one chapter, a perilous 6,000-mile walk across Asia, including a largely solo trek across Afghanistan in 2002. A year later, in the wake of the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, he was handed two huge provinces of southern Iraq to govern, and observed first-hand the spiralling chaos of the post-invasion period.

Given such first-hand experience, it comes as a surprise that Mr Stewart was never invited to give evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the causes and aftermath of the Iraq invasion. “I would have liked to give evidence but I wasn’t asked,” he said. He described as “unbelievable” the announcement that the final report will not be issued until June or July, some 13 years after the war.

“It’s important one learns lessons sooner rather than later, otherwise the danger is that everyone will have turned over so no one really learns anything. People say, ‘Oh well, it wasn’t me, it was that other chap.’ If we ever, God forbid, go through something like this again we should set up a very clear timeline.” What single lesson would he most like to see in the conclusion of the report? “That those things are more unpredictable, chaotic and uncertain than anybody can possibly believe.

“If you go into somebody else’s country, topple the head of state and turn the government upside down, no  so-called expert can tell you what the result’s going to be.”

Another danger is spouting “management consultancy jargon” without really having a clue how to help people:  “When I was working abroad you would read these descriptions for Afghanistan or Iraq and you could have cut out those place names and inserted the word ‘Botswana’. If you ask somebody what do you do, they say, ‘Well, I mobilise internal and external stakeholders,’ or ‘I measure through iterative monitoring.’ You are just left there desperate for a concrete example.”

Walking is Mr Stewart’s favoured way of understanding what is actually going on. He once walked from Marble Arch to Oxford, setting off at 4.30am and arriving at 11.30pm. Another time he walked 650 miles to his parents’ home in Scotland, taking 32 days.

“In Afghanistan I never understood before just how conservative the villages were, or how isolated. I was meeting women who had never been more than three hours’ walk from their village … communities where only one person could read or write. The gap between our world and foreign countries is almost impossible to communicate unless you spend time there.” He ran a charity which cleared rubbish and rubble and installed water supplies and sewers. “It was probably the most satisfying thing I have ever done.”

Mr Stewart is also minister for London’s air quality. He believes the Mayor’s plan for an ultra-low emissions zone will be able in 10 years to cut pollution to the point where the capital’s air will finally begin to meet international standards. He added: “I’m lucky. I’m minister for sewerage and recycling, but also forestry, nature, wildlife, national parks — all the things I love about Britain.”


Tenant farmers have key role to play in industry’s future

Landowners should be encouraged to let out more land for longer periods for farming because tenancy arrangements offer such an important route for people into the industry, Farming Minister George Eustice will say today.

Speaking at the annual NFU National Tenant Farmers’ Conference, in Newbury, the minister will argue that creating more opportunities to rent productive land would help overcome a shortage of opportunities for newcomers to get into farming. Meanwhile, increasing longer-term tenancies would give more tenant farmers the security they need to build up their business.

Farming Minister George Eustice said:

“Farming a third of all agricultural land in England, tenant farmers are important producers of high-quality products steeped in the heritage of Great British farming.

“They are a vital part of our long-term food and farming plan and increasingly new entrants are entrepreneurial, spotting business opportunities and different ways of doing things, and we need to support and encourage this innovation.

“I also want us to think innovatively about other ways we can open up opportunities for people to make a career in our £100 billion food and farming industry because without a vibrant primary farming sector the supply chain is vulnerable. “

In addition to attracting new talent to the farming industry, and supporting new enterprises, the minister will say the government’s long-term food and farming strategy would support growth in the food and farming industry by:

– developing the British brand as a mark recognised as high quality with high animal welfare standards

– winning new export markets, and

– using new technology to reduce costs and improve profitability.