The government has announced a £26m spending package as part of its Uplands Policy Review, launched in Penrith today by DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman.
The measures include £6m to help hill farmers undertake environmental management, and a Rural Community Broadband Fund of up to £20m which aims to give an economic boost to upland areas currently hamstrung by poor internet provision.
Launching the 50-page document Caroline Spelman said that hill areas had often been neglected by policymakers:
'The English uplands are not in crisis, but nor can we afford to be complacent about their future ...this government attaches great importance to these special places.'
'There are enormous opportunities for the uplands as thriving, competitive farming businesses delivering food to the market in a sustainable way; management of ecosystem services to enhance the natural environment and biodiversity and a growing, green economy that can help build resilience to climate change.'
'Our intention is to support and encourage all hill farmers to improve the competitiveness of their core agricultural business' she went on, 'but at the same time it's vital they grasp opportunities to diversify - whether as managers of the natural resources and ecosystems of the uplands or through other business opportunities.'
The Campaign for National Parks (CNP), a charity that works to protect and promote National Parks in England and Wales, has welcomed the new vision for the future sustainability of English uplands, and the restated commitment to National Parks in the review. The CNP points out that National Parks can play a crucial role in bringing the government's ideas to life, sustaining links between farmers and the wider community that benefits from good land management.
Ruth Chambers, Deputy Chief Executive at the CNP, said:
'We warmly welcome the government's continued commitment to the role of the National Parks, including their work to maintain vibrant, living and working communities and on tackling climate change. The government has also recognised that sustainable development is inherent in the work of the National Parks. As we approach the twenty year anniversary of the Rio Declaration, which first brought sustainable development into the international spotlight, we believe that it is timely to review whether any changes need to be made to reflect the importance of sustainable development in the management of National Parks.'
Christine Reid, CNP uplands specialist, added:
'The big idea in the government's policy statement is to move towards a system of paying farmers for work that they do to improve the uplands for the benefit of society – we strongly support this principle and believe that it will benefit communities and economies as well as the environment.'
'The importance of the upland National Parks cannot be over-stated. The Government has rightly recognised that this is a resource worthy of protection, particularly from complex challenges like climate change; we hope that their positive words will be matched by supportive action and adequate funding.'
'We need to see public money targeted towards these exceptional areas now, to ensure landscapes and people are resilient to climate challenge. The neat idea of combining potential new private funds with existing agri-environment payments could provide more support for farmers. For example, United Utilities and other water companies are already paying farmers for tree planting, peatland restoration and appropriate grazing, where this will reduce soil erosion that clogs up reservoirs. The Government must help other schemes like this to get off the ground.'