Natural England - Natural England publishes a review of uplands evidence

Natural England publishes a review of uplands evidence

30 May 2013

The Uplands Evidence Review, which is published today, was undertaken to ensure that Natural England uses the most robust evidence available when formulating advice and taking decisions related to its work in the uplands.

Natural England has a statutory role to work alongside a range of stakeholders to ensure the sustainable management of the uplands. As the pressures on these areas increases our work is subject to greater scrutiny, making it ever more important that our advice and decisions are based on the best available evidence and that the related evidence gathering processes are transparent and robust.

The review programme concentrates on the evidence relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services in the uplands and the impact of land management activities upon them.

The review considered five priority topics in depth. Each topic focused on a series of questions which were evaluated against the available scientific evidence. The topics were identified following stakeholder input and reflection on areas where our evidence and advice was subject to greatest challenge. The five topics were:

  • The impact of tracks on the integrity and hydrological function of blanket bog
  • Restoration of degraded blanket bog
  • The effects of managed burning on upland peatland biodiversity, carbon and water
  • Upland hay meadows: what management regimes maintain the diversity of meadow flora and populations of breeding birds
  • Moorland grazing & stocking rates

The review has now been completed and, following an external assurance process and scrutiny by Natural England’s Science Advisory Committee, the report on the review of Uplands Evidenceexternal link project has been published today. The review will be a vital source of evidence in determining the future direction of Natural England’s delivery in the uplands of England.

Today we have published: a detailed report on each of the five topics covered by the review programme; along with information on the methodology and the assurance process. The Assurance Report contains five shorter topic summaries of the findings.

The review programme will help strengthen the management advice we provide to our customers, in particular around some of the topic areas which were discussed in depth, for example:

  • How tracks effect the structure of blanket peat and its hydrological system.
  • Is a full recovery to a functioning blanket bog possible?
  • What happens after the burning of blanket bog and wet heath. How might the habitat species effected?
  • What type and quantity of fertiliser can be applied to our upland hay meadows without a negative impact on species diversity?
  • The moorland grazing & stocking rate topic has been documented, it is however notable, that very little (approximately 20%) of the evidence can be considered as ‘strong’ - does one size fit all?

The above represent some of the discussion subjects; the full topic reviews contain more detail.

Other information - such as social and economic factors, current working practices and geographic scale - did not form part of the first stage of the evidence reviewproject. These factors, together with further consideration on the conclusions from the review programme, will be included in the next stage.

Next steps

Following the publication of the topic reviews, a group chaired by David Shaw (Natural England’s Area Manager for North Yorkshire) will work to identify the changes that may be needed in the guidance we provide to our staff. We will continue to engage fully with our stakeholders on what needs to change (July), in what way (late summer), and we will share our revised guidance by the end of the year. In future, all guidance used by Natural England's staff will be published and publically available on our website.

Welcoming the publication of this review of upland evidence, Tim Hill, Natural England’s Chief Scientist said: “This review programme has been an important piece of work that will ensure that the best available evidence is accessible to Natural England staff. We’re very grateful to all the organisations and individuals who have contributed to the programme so far.

“Our Uplands Delivery Review Programme is a major initiative to improve the work we deliver in the uplands and strengthen our working relationships with those who own, actively manage or have a special interest in them. Everyone involved in the management of England’s uplands needs to be confident that decisions are based on objective and consistent evidence.

“We intend to undertake further reviews in the future around other topics to ensure that we are using the best available evidence when developing Natural England's advice”.