The biggest shake-up of England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) since they were founded 70 years ago has prompted calls for farmers and conservation groups to be at the centre of its reform.
The Landscapes Review: National Parks and AONBs, led by writer Julian Glover and commissioned by Defra as part of its 25 Year Environment Plan, said the sector could work to ‘restore nature and make it resilient’ using its knowledge and experience to develop landscape management plans.
The plans would sit alongside the review’s main proposal to bring National Parks and AONBs together as part of one family of national landscapes, served by a shared National Landscapes Service (NLS), which will give them ‘a bigger voice, a bigger ambition and a new way of working’.
Mr Glover said the proposed NLS would help the community ‘meet new challenges’.
Robin Milton, chairman of Exmoor National Park, said: "It was great to see thorough recognition of the beauty of the landscapes which are created and maintained by farmers on the whole.
“With anything of this sort we need to look for the opportunity.”
On the review’s recommendation for farmers and conservation groups to ‘reverse years of decline and bring landscapes alive’, Mr Milton said farmers on Exmoor had already started the process.
He said: “It is very definitely do-able but we have to ensure that farmers and land managers have an appropriate voice.
“The value of what is there is driven by these people on the ground who have an understanding and appreciation of the landscape.”
Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said England’s National Parks and AONBs could do more to store carbon by recovering peatlands and woodlands, while simultaneously reducing flood risk and improving water quality.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said it was ‘vital’ that AONBs worked more closely with landowners and farmers who had the relevant expertise.
NFU president Minette Batters added: “This review comes at a time of great change for the farming industry and it is crucial that farmers’ roles shaping our protected landscapes over generations is recognised in any future policy, alongside their primary role as food producers for the nation.
“The NFU has been clear that caring for the environment and food production go hand-in-hand and for years farmers have been delivering for nature and wildlife.
“We will review the recommendations of this report in detail but it is our firm belief that National Parks and AONB’s need to work with farmers to develop policy that is suited to its specific landscape.”
The review added that the future Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) would have ‘a bigger effect on our national landscapes than anything else being planned by Government’, and called on the scheme to give priority to farmers and land managers for the regeneration of the natural environment.
Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers said the Government would be ‘carefully considering’ the review’s recommendations.