The Glover report on national Landscapes, a brief review

The Glover report on National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) (see terms and refs here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/designated-landscapes-national-parks-and-aonbs-2018-review/terms-of-reference ) was published today https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/833163/landscapes-review-final-report.pdf .

Right near the start of the report is a quote “The United Kingdom is now among the most nature‑depleted nations in the world” by the last Secretary of State for Defra and a member of the government of the fifth largest economy in the world that reduced the amount of money to our national nature experts (Natural England) by 3/5 in the last ten years. So within this context, the report is pretty much about how to refurbish the deckchairs as cheaply as possible, re-arrange them to make them look nice and possibly repurpose them as nature appreciation opportunities. A bit flippant as a summary perhaps, but fair.

I was taken aback when I read “There is much debate, and not enough data to say for certain, whether the state of nature in national landscapes is better, or no better, or even worse than it is elsewhere. In the end, this is a fruitless discussion.” – an astonishing point to make if the function of National Parks is to protect their nature … and bluntly, if it’s not monitored or obviously better, then National Parks have failed in their statutory duties and our legislators have failed too in holding them to account or funding them sufficiently. That should be said in bold not dismissed as a fruitless discussion.

To recommend setting up a new “National Landscapes Service” to monitor their nature when we already have an existing independent national nature-monitoring service seems somewhat lacking in knowledge of how to obtain best value for money. And I do wish reports would stop talking about tree planting…trees do not have to be planted. If the required result is increased tree cover (as mentioned in the detail of the report) then say so in the summary because language leads our expectations and tree planting is rarely good conservation. (see https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2019/08/15/sow-trees-for-conservation-plant-trees-for-timber/ ). For nature recovery we need to increase species-rich grasslands and nutrient-poor wetlands, not trees; increasing tree cover is a climate change issue not a biodiversity one.

 

The perennial issue of the conflict between Natural Beauty and nature conservation was not really tackled but perhaps is not within the remit. Our current cultural preference for neatness, bleakness, or hedges/trees everywhere is not good for nature conservation. The much ignored habitat of coppiced scrub on species-rich grassland or heathland needs a return too. The focus on SSSI monitoring was odd given we also have data on Local Wildlife Sites and could not some existing measures of recording change in biodiversity that are occurring nationally be used (the subset belonging within National Parks and ANOBs) rather than asking for another set to be created that won’t be funded properly by government? There is so little money the requirement to monitor SSSIs every 6 years has had to be dropped.

 

It’s a long report which I doubt many will read fully (I skimmed only, but it has still taken me most of the day to write this although I did do the ironing at one point) and for the most part it seems fine, thorough, detailed and with interesting case studies, wanting things more joined up, more investment, more ‘more’ generally, etc. all things that will need paying for, although some of the ideas are extremely subversive –  “Proposal 8: A night under the stars…” because briefly taking a child somewhere beautiful where richer people live and then dumping them back into a poor polluted urban environment afterwards is pretty much like saying “society doesn’t care about where you live but we care you should know how lovely other areas where people live are”. Coolcoolcool. What could possibly be wrong there? Though the report gave only positive feedback examples so perhaps poor urban citizens are suitably grateful and clutch their forelock appropriately or children are not cynical. And some are surprisingly new age “Proposal 17: National landscapes working for vibrant communities”…there is no more…that is the proposal – anyone have a vibrancy scale we can borrow? That is perhaps unfair, but I think in the detail I would have liked to see some analysis of the expected large numbers of soon-to-be-retired/job changing farmers and their uneconomic farms as a result of EU Exit (that Defra has written about and is expecting) on national landscapes, and how that farmland is to develop in future given the huge influence it will have on those national landscapes. And in the same section I was much amused at the need for the Conservative government to recognise the importance of council housing or, as it is re-termed “National Landscapes Affordable Rural Housing Association”. There is a similar ideological anomaly proposed in having a centralised body to coordinate seeking funding with commercial sponsors rather than letting all the individual national landscapes compete and innovate in the market-place so people can choose which one they want to visit…like schools do, right? Welcome to the North York Moors, sponsored by INEOS…hmmm not sure that’s going to work.

And finally, I struggled to work out what was being described in the report until I looked at the glossary

  • “national landscapes” – used to refer to National Parks and AONBs together
  • “National Landscapes” – the term we recommend is used for AONBs in the future. We continue to refer to AONBs as AONBs in this report to avoid confusion.

And also talk of “our landscapes” which is possibly a shortened version of ‘national landscapes’, though this is not glosserized. I think we can be sure though that it is not the same as national landscape in the singular which clearly would refer to the whole of the different landscape types within England, right? And obviously not to be confused with National Landscape Character Areas (NLCA).

Although putting “areas” at the end, such that we would have “National Landscape Areas” so we know we are referring to an area in England designated as important in regard to the nature of the landscape or landscapes within that area may have helped;  I am still not convinced it is the right term. In the past I would have commented that scientists wouldn’t have made such a mess of using or choosing a designated term, but since finding Defra, Natural England and the JNCC all have different working definitions to record ‘Lowland Meadow’ I think the issue is one of the inherent difficulties of thinking of wider implications of language use. Conservationists will be well aware of the confusion that occurs when one meaning of a word is rebranded and repurposed for a completely different thing that looks similar and subsequently confuses the general public, of which “Pictorial Meadow” is the classic modern case.

 

As always with government reviews of this sort the massive extinct auroch in the room is money. None of the new proposals are costed, even a vague yearly cost, though we find that the total amount of money spent yearly is £55.4m to which the national lottery adds approx. £16m for projects. Context; Natural England get <£100m to cover the whole country, the Arts Council distributes £576.5m.

The conclusion to the report felt rather more like a relentlessly positive postcard comment from someone who has met some really nice people on holiday than say, a conclusion to the report. The scarcity of funding being crucial, against a background of biodiversity loss, was evidently not something to conclude – perhaps it just went without saying.

So, fitted within a context of relentless cutbacks in nature conservation, because that is what the present government sees as the most appropriate response to facing an environmental and biodiversity crisis in one of the most nature-depleted nations in the world, I can see little hope of anything happening but a confusing name change for our n(N)ational l(L)andscapes (previously partly known as the artist ANOB) within our national landscape.

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