GETTING around the constituency is always a priority - meeting as many folks as possible picking up concerns and even just plain chatting to people.

And whilst we seem to have depressing news emanating from the media more often than not, I am regularly caught short and genuinely heartened by many positive acts and good news stories I come across on my travels.

This happened last week as I strolled around the Monkton Heathfield area and came across three cheery young lads out with litter pickers and black bags picking up litter in their area on a Saturday morning.

Stopping for a chat they conveyed that they hated seeing litter thrown down and were pleased to do their bit to clean up their neighbourhood.

Even more impressive they had ordered the necessary 'kit' from the internet themselves. Well done to them. What a great reflection on them and of course their families.

As a Government, we have increased fines for littering, brought in more measures for councils to use to tackle littering and fly-tipping, and cut charges at recycling centres for DIY waste, but still, we see unacceptable littering and the role of volunteers like these boys is really valuable.

More positivity came from a group of engaging young students I met on a recent visit to Kingsmead School in Wiveliscombe.

They grilled me about the life and times of their local MP, and we discussed their aspirations and goals and the paths they were pursuing.

Whilst at the school I had a tour of the £10m rebuild that has just been completed by the Department of Education which sets the school up for future generations of students.

It's part of a significant school-building programme that the Government is driving forward.

And still on a positive note, I've been involved in two pieces of animal welfare legislation in the last week that continue to demonstrate that as a nation we are huge animal lovers and world leaders in terms of our animal welfare legislation.

In fact, we are the highest-ranked G7 nation according to the World Animal Protection’s Index.

Crucially, we have recognised that animals have feelings by putting animal sentience into law and we have increased sentences for animal cruelty.

In addition, we have brought through a plethora of legislation relating to wild animal welfare, farm animal welfare, and pet welfare.

This includes the banning of glue traps, introducing compulsory microchipping of cats, the ivory ban (and extending it to other species), banning wild animals in circuses, and CCTV cameras in abattoirs.

In my capacity as Defra Minister, I was honoured to be at the Despatch Box answering the debate on a proposed new law on pet abduction covering cats and dogs.

This takes into account the emotional impact of having a pet stolen (which the Theft Act does not do, pets are simply treated as objects in this Act.) Having a precious pet stolen is sadly something many of you have encountered and have contacted me about.

This Private Members Bill would bring in up to 5 years imprisonment for this cruel offence and better monitoring and data so that it will be much easier to track offenders and see just how widespread this crime is.

Showing just how attached we are to our pets a long list of MPs' dogs and cats were mentioned in the debate with some moving tales of what they mean to their owners.

I even slipped in a mention of my own two fine cats - Raffa and Mr Tips - that have taken on an even more meaningful role in my life since my children have grown up and left home and my husband died.

I know many of you in similar positions can understand this and like me will be pleased that we have announced that this important piece of legislation will come into force within three months of Royal Assent.

The other piece of animal welfare legislation that has just progressed through the House of Commons is the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill and I was on the front bench in the Chamber for the passage of this legislation.

Whilst no animals have been exported for slaughter or fattening from Great Britain since the Government announced its intention to bring forward a ban in 2021, the Livestock Exports Bill makes this permanent and in doing so, delivers on a key manifesto commitment.

I’d like to pay tribute to Dr Chris Cutting who has been President of the League of Friends Musgrove Park Hospital for the past 25 years.

He has made an enormous contribution to our hospital and deserves sincere thanks. He is now handing the baton to the inimitable Clinton Rogers, who was the BBC’s correspondent in Somerset for more than 40 years. (We worked alongside each other on many occasions in my former life as a broadcaster).

Congratulations Clinton, and good luck.

And finally - I, like many of you, attended a local Wassailing event; it's a historic tradition to ensure a copious and healthy apple crop. Here's to a burgeoning harvest (and maybe some good cider too).