Natural England - Natural England: a review of upland evidence

Natural England: a review of upland evidence

The uplands are a hugely significant natural resource not only in terms of the beautiful landscapes and wildlife that they support - upland soils are the largest carbon store in England and 70% of the UK’s drinking water is collected from upland catchments - but also because of the opportunities they provide for people as places of employment, enjoyment and solace, and for the range of other services that these areas provide.

upland bog

Upland bog, Cumbria © Paul Glendell
Natural England

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 seen to be transparent and robust.  This review programme was undertaken to help ensure that Natural England uses the most robust evidence available when formulating advice and taking decisions related to our work in the uplands. 

What did the Uplands Evidence Review address?

The review programme considered five priority topics in depth. Each topic focused on a series of questions which were evaluated against the 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:

For detailed information about the topics that the review has addressed, see Natural England Review of Upland Evidence 2012 – Scoping Document: (474kb)pdf document.

Natural England’s response to the stakeholder consultation: (266kb)pdf document that influenced the development of the review questions.

Why Natural England undertook a review of upland evidence

In March 2011 Defra published the Government’s review of uplands policy which sets out a range of actions the Government, led by Defra, will take in partnership with others in the public, private and voluntary sectors to help secure a sustainable future for the English uplands.

Natural England has a specific role in helping deliver the Uplands Policy Review; in particular through our research and evidence based advice, our delivery of agri-environment schemes and our partnership work with the hill farming and moorland management sector and rural communities to deliver a wide range of public goods and environmental benefits in the uplands.

For these reasons it is important that our advice and decisions are based on sound evidence, and that our evidence processes are transparent and robust. To help us to ensure that this is the case, we have decided to carry out a review of the evidence that we use to formulate our advice and decisions in the uplands. This is part of a wider Natural England Upland Delivery Review Programme which we hope will help us to strengthen our working relationships with those who own and actively manage the uplands.

How did Natural England approach the review?

A review group for each topic worked closely with specialist librarian staff to conduct independent searches of databases and any other sources. Their findings, together with evidence submitted by external stakeholders, formed the evidence base to be examined for that topic.

The review was carried out with the help of a number of academics and practitioners who have expertise in the topic areas. The evidence for each topic was considered by a review group which consisted of two independent external experts together with one of Natural England’s Heads of Profession. Each of these review groups reported to an overall assurance group which consisted of two independent experts, an independent chair and our Chief Scientist.

Our approach to the review is set out in detail in Natural England Evidence Reviews: development process and methods documentexternal link.

The review groups and independent expert reviewers' biographies.

Did Natural England involve stakeholders in the review of evidence?

There were opportunities for stakeholders to input throughout the review programme:

  • Consultation which shaped the development of the topic review questions
  • Submission of evidence to be included in the topic reviews 
  • Sharing early draft reports at a stakeholder workshop in March 2013

For information about who Natural England alerted about the call for evidence - see our distribution list: (86kb)pdf document

What did the review find?

The review of uplands evidenceexternal link was published on Thursday 30 May 2013. As part of this, the individual topic reviews, independent assurance report and the methodology adopted has been made available for download from our publications catalogue.

What will happen next?

  • Natural England hopes that practitioners with knowledge and experience in these areas will work with them to develop their advice once the evidence review has reported. Other relevant information such as social and economic factors, current working practices and geographic scale did not form part of this evidence review. These factors, together with consideration of the conclusions from the review programme, will be included in the next stages of our work to review and update our uplands delivery in the round. 

    This diagram: (118kb)pdf document illustrates the various stages in the development of Natural England’s advice.

  • After publication of the review, we will work to identify the consequential changes needed in the guidance we provide our staff.  We will continue to engage fully with our stakeholders on what needs to change (July), in what way (late summer) and sharing revised guidance by the end of the year.

  • We will continue to use the methodology which has been refined throughout this review process, to undertake further review programmes which examine other topics across the full breadth of our remit.

Further information

  • Heather moorland © Natural England

    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.