Natural England scraps uplands vision

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IT was a vision. But now it has been demoted to a slightly embarrassing daydream.

Late in 2009, Natural England, environmental arm of Defra, published a report called Vital Uplands: A 2060 Vision which was derided for being a bit too visionary.

“It kept getting in the way” in discussions with farmers and game interests. And now it has been quietly “withdrawn” – dropped from the Natural England website and officially declared “no longer a road map for our work”.

The Yorkshire Post report on its publication said: “The English uplands need to go back a century over the next 50 years, a major report warns.

“Drains built in thousands of hours of labour must be filled in and bogs allowed to reform while heather burning must be strictly controlled and scrub and woodland allowed to encroach back onto grouse moors.

“Horses and water power should be embraced, while natural meadows, needing no fertiliser, should reduce reliance on diesel fuel.

“Food needs must be balanced by concern for wildlife, clean water, flood prevention and global warming. The report puts ‘food security’ firmly in second place, with only a cursory reference, compared with many warnings against over-grazing. It offers no hint of any more support for farming as opposed to stewardship.”

Mike Keeble, who farms near Masham and speaks for the Tenant Farmers Association, said at the time: “The authors of this report have clearly taken their inspiration more from Lewis Carroll than from the experiences of those who live and work in our upland communities. The cornerstone is ruminant livestock production and this is being undermined and eroded.”

The Moorland Association, representing grouse interests, said it was “alarmed that Natural England wants to stop the traditional land management techniques and instead encourage the encroachment of trees and scrub”.

The report was launched at a conference in Ilkley which Natural England said was “just the start of the debate”.

But it got an unenthusiastic reception which did not improve. And since then, the Labour government has given way to the coalition and the political mood has switched back in favour of food security rather than environmental “goods”.

This week, the Country Land & Business Association drew attention to a quiet climbdown by Natural England by announcing relief that the document had been “scrapped”.

Regional CLA director Dorothy Fairburn said: “It was disappointing because it failed to recognise that economic activity was essential to underpin the future of upland communities and businesses.”

Douglas Chalmers, northern policy director of the CLA, commented: “In fairness, it was one report in a whole batch with a similar tone but it was notable because it was all about the environment and hardly mentioned economic activity. It just didn’t get the balance right.”

Natural England admitted the document “will no longer be the road map for our work in the uplands”.

Natural England said: “In his speech at the NFU annual general meeting, Poul Christensen, chair of Natural England, acknowledged the huge effort of our staff in the development of Vital Uplands.

“He also acknowledged that our vision has never been accepted by everyone that we need to work with to make it happen. We have decided we should signal a clear move away from a document which has been interpreted by some as Natural England policy.”