This is the text of a letter I have received from Ian Fugler, Director Uplands at Natural England, that outlines the state of play with the Uplands Delivery Review. I am pleased to be assisting with this process through Defra's Upland Stakeholder Forum and as part of the Evidence Review Group for Tracks.
For those with concerns about the Evidence Review, note the final paragraph of the letter: there will be opportunity to provide your thoughts on how the Evidence Review feeds into the development of the advice that Natural England provides after completion of the review process, early next year.
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PROGRESS WITH THE UPLANDS DELIVERY REVIEW
I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with a short update on progress Natural England has been making on its work in the uplands. I want to make sure Natural England strengthens working relationships with those who own and actively manage the uplands and make sure they, and other key stakeholders, have a good understanding of the role government has given us in delivering its aims in the uplands.
Through Defra’s Upland Stakeholder Forum we are consulting Government and key stakeholders about a wide range of our uplands work. I hope this will help improve the way we work with others in the uplands and provide clarity about our role and remit, about the outcomes we are seeking and about the evidence we will use; alongside investment in our relationships with key partners and stakeholders and in the capabilities and resources of our staff.
We have just recently published our Upland Strategic Standard which aims to ensure our upland customers and partners know that our decision-making and the advice we give is consistent, even if outcomes may differ and provide them with a good quality service, from confident, skilled advisors and specialists who know what they are doing for the natural environment and why. A copy of the document is available at http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/uplands/background.aspx .
More specifically stakeholders have provided us with a list of key concerns they have about the way we work currently. For example they told us that they feel the administrative burden of gaining consent for all works, however small, on grouse moors is unnecessarily high. In response we took a proposal to Defra’s Upland Stakeholder Forum to develop a suite of products including a revised ‘Moorland Management Plan’ approach which would allow all works to be proposed and consented in a single document. This proposal received conditional support from stakeholders on the group and we are developing it further with Defra and stakeholders. We will make sure Defra are made aware of the other issues raised by stakeholders and use the Forum to ensure resolution is achieved in transparent and consultative way.
Regarding the Uplands Evidence Review we want our stakeholders to be confident that we make sound, evidence-based decisions and operate robust and transparent processes. We are collating, reviewing and identifying any gaps in the evidence we hold on the effect of burning on peat, feasibility of restoring degraded blanket bog; the effects of track construction on moorland; livestock management and stocking rates and hay meadow management. The response from stakeholders has been very encouraging; we have received over 150 references from 18 separate organisations and interested individuals. These references, combined with the 1760 references uncovered by our librarians across the Tracks, Burning and Restoration topics and the 2500 across our Hay Meadows and Grazing topics, means that we are starting to build a significant body of evidence to review. We are currently screening the references that have been collected to date. Between now and Christmas, there will be an intense period of activity as the review groups whose membership includes independent academic appointments consider the evidence and produce their reports. These reports will then be considered by the overall Assurance Group and we plan to publish the results of the review in spring 2013.
We are also making excellent progress on stepping up our staff training to ensure that all our people are better able to deliver clear, high quality advice to our customers which is consistent with our standards. We are working with the Foundation for Common Land to train 60 conservation professionals each year in practical aspects of hill farm management. Business in the Community are funding the scheme which will be delivered by trained farmers at Newton Rigg College, Cumbria and the Duchy College in Cornwall with pilot schemes running this autumn and full roll-out next year. We will also make sure that the findings of the evidence review are fed in to our ongoing staff training programme so that our advice continues to reflect our standards.
In early 2013 we will need to consider any implications of this work for the development of our advice, together with practical, social and economic factors, and we hope that you will want to be involved at that stage. I will write to you again around that time to provide more detail on this. In the meantime please contact Alice Kimpton on the details above if you have any questions, suggestions or concerns.
Director, Land Management North and Uplands