I’ve always loved the countryside. I grew up in Paisley near stunning areas like Loch Lomond. Then we moved to Leeds and went exploring there. I like to sample the local food. I now represent South West Norfolk, which is a very rural constituency with a huge array of food production.
Norfolk is an amazing county. It’s got such a wide range of areas, from the broads to the Norfolk coast. Then there are the Fens, which have some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country, and the Brecks with their unique wildlife. It’s a beautiful county, very unspoilt and it’s still very connected to the landscape and nature. It’s also a fantastic county for food and farming, which I think is an underappreciated industry, even though it’s our largest manufacturing sector. Apart from Yorkshire and Norfolk, I really like the South West. We used to go on a lot of visits to Dorset, it’s really pretty and has some incredible specialist produce.
For me, rural heroes are the people promoting British food and the innovators. Such as Mrs Temple’s Cheese on the Norfolk coast, producing fine cheese like Binham Blue and Wells Alpine.
Or Herbert Engineering, based in Marshland St James, which manufactures machinery for root crop vegetables such as potato graders. Its technology is now being used in international airports to handle checkpoint luggage. This is a great example of a rural business being innovative and providing cutting-edge technology to some of the most advanced airports in the world.
I’m not a keen swimmer but I love walking along the beach, especially around Hunstanton or Brancaster. I only go as far as paddling in the sea.
My best memory is when I use to stay with friends and attend their local flower show. I used to love entering my miniature gardens and rock cakes. My worst experience is of getting badly lost in the rain in the Lake District. My parents were keen ‘youth hostellers’ and we used to do lots of walking trips and generally we got lost. There were various occasions where we’d turn up at a youth hostel in the night, wearing sandals and soaking wet – either that or stuck in a bog!
I am really keen to ensure that Britain is fully protected from animal and plant diseases. We know the devastating effect foot and mouth had in 2001, so at Defra we have a monthly biosecurity meeting to review the risks. That’s also why we’re protecting the number of vets in the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency and expanding our investigatory coverage capacity to make sure that we do everything we can to protect the country from serious threats.
If I could wave a magic wand, the first thing I’d change instantly about the British countryside is mobile and broadband coverage. In South West Norfolk we have a number of ‘not spots’ where you cannot get a signal. This is a big issue for many businesses who rely on broadband and mobile to communicate. We know that a lot of high-tech businesses are based in rural areas and we do not want others to be put off from moving to the countryside, which is why I’m working to improve coverage. Due to the government’s rollout of superfast broadband, we’ve already reached more than one million homes and businesses, and we’re now getting new mobile masts built through the £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project. But there is more to do.
There’s more that unites town and country than divides us, but it’s true that we can do more to help people appreciate what the countryside delivers and where our food comes from. That’s one of the reasons why, as Education Minister, I was so keen to make sure that food was on our curriculum, with children learning at an early age about where food comes from and the important role that the natural environment and countryside play in our wellbeing. I want to be the champion of the countryside. There are great things happening there and I think people need to understand more about how exciting things are.