These are the proposals in the manifesto, listed by the ministry. You may comment on the proposals, preferably with a view to selecting something for action. If you would like this to be considered as a project for further discussion as to the exact action desired, please advise in the comment.

Upland Ecology Aims

PROPOSALS:

1. Downgrade all National Parks to AONBs – they are not yet worthy of the name of National Park – and then call all these areas Upland Nature Areas (UNAs). The Environment Act of 1995 set out two statutory purposes for national parks in England and Wales (with minor differences for Scotland): 1. Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public. Furthermore, a recommendation made in 1974, known as the 'Sandford Principle', states that "where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and public enjoyment, then conservation interest should take priority". Yet, the UK’s wildlife areas are failing both us and the environment; they are too small, fragmented, insufficient and degraded, unable to form a resilient ecological network that can halt the current wildlife decline we’re seeing in the UK, and indeed globally. 6 The UK national parks’ weak power to protect nature is even recognised by the IUCN 7 (the international authority on the status of the natural world), which classifies protected areas on a scale from 1-6, where Category 1 areas have the greatest level of protection. Most national parks fall under category 2, but UK ones only score 5.

2. Withdraw subsidies from farming and forestry in all UNAs. The current system of subsidies for farming and forestry in upland areas is allocated through funding from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The great majority of these subsidies, so called “pillar one”, are calculated on the basis of the area of land, independent of the type of production, whether the land provides a public service or not. If one agreed that public funding should go into public services, then the entire subsidy system for the uplands should be re-examined in  haste.

3. Use money saved by subsidy withdrawal for a land purchase fund so that more and more upland land is publicly owned. If the Government were to decide to withdraw or significantly reduce farm subsidies, land prices would fall, which in turn would encourage a shift of land ownership from private to public hands. Publicly owned land, funded by public money, can be used to return public services like clean water, carbon capture and storage, flooding risk alleviation, biodiversity protection etc.

4. Maintain grants for environmental action on upland farms but only on the basis that each payment is a down-payment on eventual purchase by the taxpayer. Grant payments for environmental action at the moment represent only a leasing of environmental good practice. Because the schemes are voluntary, a land owner (perhaps after the death of the previous land owner) can exit such schemes and undo the environmental good work of the previous owner, which had been funded by the taxpayer. Our aim should be to increase land ownership by the State in the uplands and therefore at least an element of grants paid should be seen as a deposit against eventual purchase. This is akin to ‘equity release schemes’ which allow homeowners an income paid against the value of their home on death.

5. Nationalise water companies so that their land can be managed for multiple benefits including cheaper water bills, reduced flood risk and more wildlife. Utility companies such as Yorkshire Water, United Utilities and Severn Trent Water own large areas of upland land. As private limited companies they must pay a dividend to shareholders and they do not need to take account of sustainable development issues or the knock-on impacts of their decisions on other aspects of the economy (this is what economists call taking account of the externalities). Under public ownership, however, much larger areas of land would be managed for the general public good including recreation, biodiversity, carbon storage and flood alleviation.

6. Create a new government agency, perhaps an offshoot of the Forestry Commission, to acquire and manage land for this new future. The Forestry Commission has a much better record of on-the-ground delivery and a greater level of trust from the public than does, for example, the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) or Natural England (NE) - so that would be the place we should look to create a new body fit for purpose.

7. As rapidly as possible replace the Forestry Commission’s exotic plantations with native woodlands and open spaces delivering ecosystem services. Native woodlands are one of our oldest land uses and most diverse ecosystems in Britain. They have often taken hundreds if not thousands of years to develop, with rich wildlife communities that have co-evolved to survive within them. A single oak tree can host 284 different invertebrate species, but in comparison the non-native walnut will only host 3, the acacia will host 1 and the London Plane none at all. 8 , 9 Having more native trees might also help the dwindling populations of woodland birds, which have declined by 23% since the 1970s .10 Adding to these frightening declines is the fact that the UK is one of the least forested countries in Europe, with less than 1.4% of ancient native woodland cover, 11 which makes any scheme to substantially increase native woodland cover seem not just necessary, but also urgent.

8. Plan for new infrastructure to facilitate growth of recreation-based businesses – public transport links, improved internet connectivity, etc. Recreation-based businesses provide both an economic and cultural incentive for maintaining a healthy ecosystem and making it accessible to all. Time spent outdoors (walking, nature-watching, doing sport, enjoying fresh air, etc) provides a number of benefits, from increasing human health and wellbeing, to a spiritual and aesthetic appreciation of nature. Furthermore, when people visit nature they tend to directly contribute to the economy by purchasing outdoors equipment, food and drinks, and using public transport. In 2005 nature-related tourism in England (which includes visits to the countryside and the coast) brought £11.5 billions to the economy, 12 which strengthens further the economic argument for facilitating the growth of this sector and making the infrastructure to access nature more efficient and affordable.

9. Use the uplands as test beds for reintroduction of keystone and charismatic species such as Beavers, Golden Eagles and Lynx to boost wildlife tourism. The most extensive upland habitats are blanket bogs and upland heathland, covering around 3.3 million hectares combined. 13 Once rewilded, partly reforested, and allowed to regenerate from intensive overgrazing, these upland habitats could support a healthy population of species such as eagles, beavers and even the lynx. These key species are not just beautiful in their own existence, they are also key players in the ecological restoration of the environment (by shaping river courses, increasing fish numbers, controlling the deer population etc), and would attract more tourism and play an important role in reconnecting people with nature.

10.Artificially maintain small areas of overgrazed sheep walk in the Lake District and driven grouse shooting in the North York Moors as lessons to future generations of how wildlife-poor upland areas once were. 

References:

6. DEFRA (2010). Making Space for Nature: A review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network. 7. IUCN, protected area categories system. Available at: https://www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/about/protected-area-categories(Accessed 11/09/2018)
8. Fahy, O., Gormally, M., (1998). A comparison of plant and carabid beetle communities in an Irish oak woodland with a nearby conifer plantation and clearfelled site.
Forest Ecology and Management, 110: p.263-273
9. Kennedy, C.E.J., Southwood, T.R.E. (1984). The Number of Species of Insects Associated with British Trees: A Re-Analysis.
Journal of Animal Ecology, 53(2), p.455-478
10. RSPB (2012) The state of the UK’s Birds [Online]. Available at: 
http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/Images/SUKB_2012_tcm9-328339.pdf(Accessed 11/09/2018)
11. The Woodland Trust (2011). The state of the UK’s forests, woods and trees.
12. Natural England (2008). The impacts of leisure travel. Natural England Research Report NERR014 [Online]. Available at:
http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/file/61042(Accessed 11/09/2018)
13. JNCC (2016). [Online] Available at:
http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-5990(Accessed 11/09/2018)

 

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Rewilding Aims
Farming and Food Miles Aims
 

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Friday, 23 August 2019