Natural England - Natural England launches Vision for securing the future of England’s uplands

Natural England launches Vision for securing the future of England’s uplands

12 November 2009

On-the ground trials launched to pioneer new forms of sustainable upland land management.

Natural England today launched Vital Uplands - a 2060 Vision for England’s uplands - which examines how the uplands could be sustainably managed over the next fifty years to secure the food production role that they have played in recent decades while delivering a wide range of other public benefits.

Natural England’s Acting Chair, Poul Christensen said, “Our Vision is the starting point for a dialogue we want to have with upland stakeholders up and down the country about how we can all work together to shape the future of the uplands. The uplands provide society with a huge range of services – they are vital for food production, carbon storage and climate regulation, flood management, and water supply, as well as providing inspirational landscapes for recreation and homes to many rare and important species. Working with partners and stakeholders we want to explore ways in which hill farmers and other upland land managers can deliver a wider range of environmental services that will put them and upland communities onto a more sustainable and economically successful footing”.

Poul Christensen continued, “The vulnerability of upland environments, the delicate economic state of many upland hill farms, and the ongoing challenge of climate change mean that a debate about the future direction of upland management is timely. It is increasingly clear that a business as usual approach will be less and less able to address the challenges of the future and that we urgently need to consider how best to sustain the value of the uplands. We hope the publication of our Vision will be a catalyst for a wide-ranging discussion among all those with an interest in the future of the uplands on how these vital landscapes can be managed in the future.”

The Vital Uplands report – and the detailed description of environmental services that goes with it* - describes how the Uplands might look and be managed in fifty years’ time, with future land management targeted towards delivering:

  • Sustainable production of food, wood and other raw materials
  • Mitigation and reduction of climate change
  • Resilient upland ecosystems
  • Vibrant upland communities and economies
  • Clean water supplies from upland rivers and lakes
  • Reduction of ‘natural’ hazards – such as flooding and wildfire
  • Health and wellbeing benefits

To achieve these goals, Natural England is looking to explore how upland communities can be better supported by focusing land management on the following critical food and environmental services:

  • Upland soil and peat resources need to be managed sustainably. Action is needed to ensure that eroding peat soils and blanket bog are stabilised, properly vegetated, and can actively absorb carbon. At present - because of erosion, oxidation, and burning - up to 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are being released per year from English peatlands, comparable to CO2 emissions from domestic aviation.
  • Open upland heaths, bogs and grasslands are a major part of what makes our upland landscapes distinctive and these habitats need to be sustainably managed alongside grouse moor management that involves sustainable grazing and burning.
  • The level of upland grazing needs to be matched to deliver different environmental services. In some areas, higher grazing levels will be needed for food production; in others, lower grazing is required to secure benefits such as water quality improvement and peatland re-vegetation.
  • More, and better managed, woodlands. Grazing levels may need to be adjusted to allow natural regeneration of native woodlands, increase woodland cover and link existing woodland areas. In 50 years’ time Natural England would like to see up to 25% of the uplands with some form of woodland cover.
  • Green energy. The uplands can provide green energy in the form of renewable wood-fuel, water power, ground source heat, solar and wind technologies in appropriate locations.
  • Low-carbon growth. More can be done to promote upland business, built development and transport focussed on low-carbon growth.

Accompanying the Vision, Natural England also announced three pilot projects – in Cumbria, the South West uplands and Yorkshire – which will explore how the provision of a broader range of environmental services can be turned into genuine business opportunities for farmers and land managers. The pilots will go live in 2010 and will trial ways in which local upland management can be geared to the delivery of multiple public benefits.

Poul Christensen continued, “The uplands provide a range of critical environmental services that deliver wide-ranging public benefit and that need to be sustained. By adapting the way the uplands are managed there are real opportunities to maximise these benefits and to strengthen the economics of upland hill farming, helping secure the livelihoods of hill farmers and upland communities. The uplands face many challenges and in the face of this we need a 21st century approach which recognises that food production, a healthy natural environment and the economic stability of the uplands go hand-in-hand.”

- ends -

Notes to Editors

* Copies of the 'Vital Uplands' Uplands Vision, and 'Mapping Values' - a major report detailing the environmental services that the Uplands provide - can be found at link

The debate

  • The Upland Vision is looking to kick start a debate about ways in which the uplands can be managed and Natural England has held an important conference today in Ilkley, Yorkshire. A wide range of opinions have been expressed about the Vision and what needs to be done, with a selection of comments from the conference as follows:

The National Trust: “The outcomes of National Trust’s forthcoming Policy for Land and NE’s Vital Uplands are closely aligned. In partnership, National Trust will: Restore over 20,000 ha of peatlands; diversify the structure and composition of habitats; practice sustainable land use through Whole Farm and Moorland Management Plans and work at the catchment scale to stabilise soils and produce clean water.”

NFU uplands spokesman Will Cockbain said: “Extensive livestock grazing has shaped and conserved the English uplands for generations. The effort of hill farmers has ensured a productive and accessible countryside, rich in cultural and environmental heritage - an outcome that we should all celebrate."
“We are in no doubt that farmers and farming will remain central to any future vision of the uplands. Over the next 50 years, farming will matter more than ever in a changing climate, with increasing demand for food and high quality environmental care. The primary purpose of the uplands will remain food production; as a source of high quality meat and breeding stock for lowland livestock producers. Alongside this primary purpose, Natural England’s vision correctly highlights the many public benefits that farming provides in addition to food production – sadly little of this value resides within farm businesses. So the challenge for our organisations is to capture the real value of these benefits and translate them into an economically sustainable bottom line for the current and future generations of upland farmers.
"In short the marketplace and agri-environment schemes must be given equal recognition for their dual contribution to the future of the uplands.”

Lake District National Park Head of Environmental Heritage, Andrew Herbert said: “Vital Uplands is a compelling vision for the future of the English uplands and the value of these places to the whole nation. We feel strongly that it is a vision that we and the people and partner organisations in the Lake District National Park can work together to deliver. The reality is that it will only work by everyone with a stake in the uplands - farmers, foresters, communities, businesses and government – working together. It encourages all of us to rise to the new challenges of the 21st Century and create and take advantage of new opportunities.
“The National Parks themselves are up for this challenge and we commit to working with all interest groups to promote the importance of the uplands to society as a whole. We also want to stimulate new thinking about delivering their benefits and services and encourage farm and land managers to build profitable and sustainable businesses.”

Martin Gillibrand, Secretary of the Moorland Association said: “It is good that Natural England is taking time to consider the optimum state of the Uplands in 2060.It would be better if it recognised what a fantastic asset we now have in our managed heather moorland, and committed itself to building on that asset in co-operation with the Moorland Association.”

CLA President Henry Aubrey-Fletcher said: “Upland land management is hanging by a thread so this Vision is timely to stimulate debate. We all depend on the uplands for a range of products from food and fibre to clean water and carbon sequestration.
“However we are in completely the wrong mind-set to be able to deliver any vision for the uplands without first acknowledging the massive, pervasive set of market failures that characterise these areas, and therefore the scale of remedial policy action and resources to put it right.”

Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership said: "We welcome the vision for the uplands as the beginning of a debate about the future of this most special part of our countryside. We're already working hard towards achieving many of the things that the Vision sets out, from our work on peat and hay meadows, to supporting sustainable tourism and helping people get out and enjoy upland landscapes. We're happy to work with partners new and old to maintain our uplands as special places to live, work and visit."

Sue Armstrong-Brown, the RSPB's Head of Countryside and Species Conservation, said: "The future of the uplands is too important to be left to chance. Managed properly, our upland soils can continue to store huge amounts of carbon, soaking up thousands of tonnes a year. They can store rain water, releasing it safely and reliably.
"All this, while offering a physical refuge for some of our best loved plants and animals and a spiritual refuge from the pressures of modern life.”
“We have to give proper recognition to the services our uplands provide and proper reward to those who manage the land in a way that delivers them.”

Sandra Bell food campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: “England’s uplands are crucial for our food supplies now and in the future so it’s great to see that Natural England have a positive vision for them.
“Farmers have shaped the uplands over centuries and now they have the potential to be a key part of the farming future we need – producing good quality meat without relying on damaging imported animal feed.
“To ensure that these farmers can contribute to Natural England’s vision they need the right support from Government - a watchdog to ensure that supermarkets treat them fairly and rewards for planet-friendly farming practices.”

Uplands facts and figures

  • The uplands cover around 12% of England, and only 1% of the population live there.
  • Uplands are nationally and internationally important for a range of wildlife habitats, geology and outstanding landscapes.
  • 53% of SSSIs lie within the uplands. Only 3% of the uplands are covered by native woodlands
  • 75% of uplands have been designated as National Park or AONB.
  • There are 70 million day visits to upland National Parks alone each year.
  • 70% of the UK’s water supply is collected from upland catchments
  • They are home to around 3 million sheep – 45% of the total number of breeding ewes in the country; and in addition to meat produce around 5 million kilos of wool every year.

About Natural England

Natural England is the government’s independent advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public

  • We establish and care for England’s main wildlife sites, ensuring that over 3,500 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
  • We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.
  • We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
  • We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats. We have recently committed £6m to develop wetland areas and have detailed biodiversity action plans covering 75% of England’s species
  • We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

For further information contact: The National Press Office on 0845 603 9953, out of hours 07970 098005. For further information about Natural England please visit: link

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