There are many differing perspectives on how Britain’s uplands should look and what they should be used to deliver. This loosely speaking ranges from those who would like to see the continuation of “traditional” management for farming and sporting interests with the particular mix of wildlife, rural jobs and communities this supports, through to those who advocate what has become termed “rewilding” with its alternative case to deliver for people and the natural environment.
These two perspectives are often presented in a very polarised way by the media and this can fuel further division. However, there are many steps and stages between these two positions, and indeed other agendas such as renewable energy and forestry expansion - which have an environmental as well as an economic imperative - to take account of. For many people the portrayal of one as “all good” and the other as “all bad” is neither helpful nor realistic.
Throughout 2019, The Heather Trust ran seven discussion/debate events focusing on the future of land use and management of Britain’s uplands. The events aimed to provide a space for honest and respectful debate about the issues. We wanted to attract people with a range of viewpoints to come together in equal number to explore how land use and management supports the natural environment, the rural economy and communities, and wider society.
By bringing people together - who would not naturally find themselves in the same room - we started to build shared understanding and trust, which in turn is a stepping stone toward building consensus from conflict.
Each event consisted of a morning site visit to explore aspects of existing management particular to the venue. This was then followed by an afternoon of presentations and a panel led debate.
Events took place in:
- Lurgan Farm, Perthshire
- Invercauld and Mar Lodge, East Cairngorms
- The Hopes Estate, The Lammermuirs
- Beacon Hill, Powys
- The Peak District, England
- Goathland East Moor, North York Moors
- College Valley Estates, Northumberland
Each event explored different themes chosen to reflect the issues pertinent to the place we were in. These themes included: hill farming; grouse moor management; re(wilding); deer management; heather and peatland restoration; investment in public goods delivery (carbon storage, water management, biodiversity and public access); conservation and species recovery; visitors and tourism; and community engagement.
In attendance were:
- Government researchers
- Policy makers
- Environmental charities
- Uplands advisers
- Shoot owners
- Interested members of the public
Following each event, the questions raised in the afternoon debates were analysed to identify the key themes:
The events brought with them some useful learning for the Heather Trust:
- There was definitely interest in attending events such as these. All but one of the events sold out.
- We were able to attract people from a range of different perspectives
- We found that site visits worked well in terms of getting people to have constructive conversations with each other. There is nothing like talking about what is actually living and growing and being done on a hill or moor. It is so much better than a theoretical conversation about an idea of generic hill or moorland.
- We found that the factors affecting and influencing management of any site varied a great deal. While we might see farming, game management, carbon, water, waders, raptors, designated sites, community interests, trees, outdoor recreation and so on, all having a role to play, the relative importance of each varies and therefore there is no one size fits all solution to the question of achieving the right balance. However, that doesn’t mean to say there are not principles and approaches that can be applied to help find the right solution for each circumstance.
99% of feedback respondents found the site visits Good or Excellent
98% of feedback respondents found the speakers / presenters Good or Excellent
96% of feedback respondents indicated they would be interested in continuing these conversations and attending future Heather Trust events
92% of feedback respondents felt the event improved relationships between people, organisations and groups with disparate interests in moorland management and land use
91% of feedback respondents felt the event improved their understanding of what good, sustainable moorland management looks like
90% of feedback respondents felt the event improved their appreciation of moorland ecosystems
The Heather Trust plans to take forward a number of pieces of work by way of follow-up to these events.
- Explore the approaches and mechanisms that will enable each area of moorland and hill to contribute in the best way it can to achieving regionally and nationally important outcomes. These approaches will need to promote balance between economic, environmental and social uses of the uplands, and recognise that all are important and that none can dominate. Since each moor is different, we need to identify a policy framework that will allow enough flexibility for each to place to find its own balance.
- Promote developments in approaches to and investment in the delivery of public goods (climate regulation/carbon storage, water quality and flood risk management, biodiversity and public access for mental and physical health) thus enabling moorland managers to make financially realistic choices to manage for these outcomes.
- Find better ways to ensure neighbouring land uses as far as possible complement each other rather than conflict.
- Continue to get people of all perspectives together on moorland to keep the conversation going
With thanks to: SRUC, Powys Moorland Partnership, Moors For The Future Partnership, Cairngorms National Park Authority The Hopes Estate and College Valley Estates for sponsoring the events.