Land and Environment: Webinar 2 of Cirican and The Open University’s Rural Natters Webinar Series

There is a huge range of reasons why people want to access the UK’s land, and not only because it’s a farming landscape. While such areas are multifunctional environments and can provide development opportunities, accessing and using land effectively can create tension among local residents and local stakeholders. In our second Rural Natters webinar we explore issues around land management, and dive into how one region is approaching the task.  

If you’d like to watch the webinar you can do so here:

All things to all people – Current issues for land management in the uplands

We were joined at the webinar by Lois Mansfield, lecturer at Cumbria University, who talked about the vulnerabilities and constraints associated with land management in the uplands. The uplands face issues such as climate change, Brexit, changes in governmental support, catastrophes such as the pandemic, the rising cost of fuel, geopolitical unrest and differing public perceptions about what the uplands should be used for. There are also constraints – localised challenges related to being in the uplands, such as income, the aging workforce, job availability, skills shortages, rural housing crisis, administrative attitude, multifunctional land use conflicts and loss of land-based colleges.

These all have a major impact on how farms and farming areas adapt to change in local areas. For example, the diversification of one farm makes it difficult for adjacent farms to diversify in a similar way, causing competition and creating spheres of influence. Diversification also requires capital and an understanding of risk, which many small and medium businsses are wary of exposing themselves to in the current economic climate.

Fuel, food and biodiversity

Since July 2021, fuel, feed and fertiliser costs have increased exponentially, with farmers feeling the effects This could bring an opportunity to reduce the impact these have on the environment. However this needs to be balanced with the fact that reduced fertiliser results in reduced yield, which subsequently impacts food security. This precarious balance needs to be carefully navigated, especially as food security and self-suffiency has dropped from 78% in the 1970’s, to 60% in 2021.

Another challenge in the uplands is biodiversity, with protected areas and priority species both in decline. Farmers also feel under threat in relation to the way they are approached by the public regarding environmental impact. The public think that farmers are to blame, and it has massive implications on how people try to run their businesses, whether it’s centred on forestry or farming. Negative societal views of farmers were a theme discussed in our third and final webinar.

What does this all mean for upland land management?

Tackling these challenges is made all the more difficult due to a lack of centralised, joined-up thinking, and England’s support provision is everchanging with different governmental departments offering different grants. England needs not look too far for inspiration on how to approach land management, with Wales recently setting out an integrated land management plan.

While there are many opportunities for all types of upland land management, Lois mentioned a few key actions that are needed:

  1. Need for a joined-up policy across different governmental departments (like Japan)
  2. Government and agencies need to fully grasp the complexities of every upland area. This should translate in embracing a place-based approach
  3. An understanding that land management underpins the rest of the rural economy, those who live there and the services they rely on
  4. England needs a rural land use strategy in order to bring a cohesive vision
  5. We need to remember that our uplands are both rich cultural and natural landscapes and there needs to be a balance between merging the two.

A land use framework for Devon

The second presentation by Laura Dixon shed light on a new Devon Land Use Framework (DLUF) created in partnership with the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission. The programme’s objective is to establish an integrated, collaborative and place-based approach to land use decision making, to mediate complex requirements from land and to generate multiple benefits for nature, communities and a fair and sustainable future. The framework consists of a set of principles and processes that are agreed collaboratively and inform and guide decision making through shared learning and experience.

There are three main focuses of the framework:

  1. Place – being land-led, adaptive and resilient
  2. People – being outward, future focused and locally responsive
  3. Public value – being multi-functional and contributing prosperity

As any new framework being trialled, there have been some challenges such as tackling large data sets and differing license conditions. There were also issues regarding restricted funds and not being able to compare all data collected due to methodological differences.

At the moment the framework is a voluntary commitment but it will could one day be rolled out across England and embedded at a policy level. However, this all depends on whether the government making more of a commitment for this to be accomplished.

In conclusion

Finally, both speakers touched upon the implications of engaging farmers, rural communities and the society at large. Lois urged the audience to consider how we reach those who don’t have an in-depth understanding of these issues. A lot of people are not be engaged in rural issues, and if change is something we strive for, we need to make sure that we engage people and give them the information needed to make better informed decisions.

If you’d like to continue these conversations with our chair and speakers you can reach out to them at the following:

Lois Mansfield, University of Cumbria,

Laura Dixon, Devon Communities Together,

Patrick Candler, Sherwood Forest Trust,

You can download Lois’ slides here

You can download Laura’s slides here

Lois’ most recent book, Managing Upland Resources, is available to buy online.