Rural landscape

Exeter supports rural inquiry into the future of upland communities

A recent inquiry has shown that the current support for hill farming is inadequate and will therefore be unable to sustain the English uplands, whose landscapes provide a wealth of natural and cultural assets.

The director of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy and Research, Professor Michael Winter played a central role in the inquiry carried out by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) launched on 15 June.

The inquiry recognised that while farming is essential to maintaining the landscape and managing natural resources, the future sustainability of the upland areas also depends on a thriving business sector. New initiatives are needed to bring together the public and private sectors to create markets for the uplands’ natural resources, like carbon and water, for the benefit of local communities. The report suggests that vibrant, secure upland communities hold the key to realising the potential to generate many valuable public goods and market products, supporting a low carbon future and green economy.

 

Professor Winter, a CRC commissioner and vice-chair of the Inquiry, said 'It has been a long and demanding inquiry as the problems confronting our upland areas are challenging, both intellectually and politically. We have tried to find solutions that join up environmental, social and economic thinking.’

Unlocking that potential requires government to work with local communities and land managers, according to the inquiry. In particular, this means empowering communities, increasing the supply of affordable housing, particularly for young people, and improving access to next generation broadband and mobile communications.

Findings show that current support for hill farming is inadequate to sustain the assets of upland areas. New funding mechanisms are required as part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy from 2013. These would reward farmers for managing national assets in harmony with developing businesses. A new approach is required to balance the needs of the environment whilst maximising the economic potential of the uplands. But supporting farmers is not sufficient on its own: the communities in which they are embedded must also be enabled to thrive if these assets are to be sustained.

Professor Winter added, ‘It has been fortunate for me that the Inquiry has dovetailed so well with the University of Exeter’s research interests in agriculture and land use. I am grateful to colleagues in the University’s Centre for Rural Policy and Research for indulging me in many discussions about the future of farming, ecosystem services, how to reward land managers for public goods and many other topics so central to the Inquiry's work during the last eighteen months.’

The report ‘High ground, high potential – a future for England’s upland communities’ concluded that a new integrated approach to maximising the potential of these unique and diverse natural assets was called for. At present, the inquiry found a lack of joined-up thinking, with too many of the well-intentioned initiatives having unintended negative consequences for communities, farmers and land owners alike. To remedy this, the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) recommends the appointment of a single individual who would be responsible for this new uplands strategy.

Dr Stuart Burgess Chairman of the CRC and the Government’s Rural Advocate said, ‘There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way the uplands are viewed. Rather than be seen as areas of disadvantage, they should be considered for their high potential to offer significant public benefits. The continued availability of these benefits is, however, bound up with the wider future of the uplands, and this now needs to be properly recognised.’

Date: 17 June 2010

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