I attended the latest meeting of this Forum in London, on Thursday, last week. The Trust is a founder member of this Forum, which was set up by Defra in 2012; it aims to bring together all the interests with a stake in the English uplands.
I provided an update on the Trust's work with the Uplands Management Group (T&F Groups working); Bracken Control (Asulam available in 2017); and the England & Wales Wildfire Forum (Wildfire Risk Assessment nearly ready to publish, Wildfire conference being proposed in Dorset - November 2017).
We then covered the development of the 25-year plans for the Environment and Food, Farming & Fishing, which is a major policy undertaking for Defra, especially so, since the Brexit vote. We also discussed the development of the Natural Capital Approach that is a new kid on the block. The feeling of the meeting was that while Natural Capital was an interesting concept, it will not raise interest from the owners and managers of land until there is some incentive for completing a Natural Capital Plan. Until then, this is an interesting topic for the policy and research communities that has little practical application.
The exception to the lack of application is the National Trust's initiative outlined in the Green Alliance's report New Markets for Land and Nature, which introduces a proposed Natural Infrastructure Scheme. This was outlined during the meeting and while it is clearly fraught with difficulty, the National Trust is to be applauded for taking the plunge and investing time and effort in this. It might provide a model to develop further.
I have my reservations about this Forum, as I think it has lost its way, recently. I hope that Defra will provide the time and energy that it deserves and needs to get it back on track. We need a place where people can come together to discuss views and ideas and help Defra, and the other governement agencies, to develop policy that will be relevant to the stakeholders that members of the Forum represent.
To take full advantage of the meetings they should be an opportunity for discussion to draw on the knowledge and experience of the members of the Forum. They should not just be a vehicle to present the government's solutions that have already been decided.
The Forum should provide an opportunity to engage with stakeholder views. After all, until stakeholders are encouraged, coerced or paid to do something different, nothing will happen and all policy initiatives are a waste of effort. Stakeholders are the delivery mechanism and need to be treated with intelligence and respect!