Key Responses to DEFRA Review of Designated Landscapes

The following are the key responses to the questions asked, made by Dr Tom Greeves on behalf of the Dartmoor Society in December 2018:

8. What do you think does not work overall about the system and might be changed?

The system is flawed due to the lack of democracy in that none of the members of Dartmoor National Park Authority (and other NPs) are directly elected by the residents of the national park – see the more detailed response to Question 15. Any NP or AONB is only as good as the staff and members. More high quality specialists are needed, with regular training and debate for all employees and members of the Authority. For example, it is extraordinary that there is no trained and qualified historian working for Dartmoor National Park.

9. What views do you have about the role National Parks and AONBs play in nature conservation and biodiversity?

Theoretically they play a very important role. However, Dartmoor National Park staff do not challenge the dominance of Natural England and so have little influence. They also seem easily led by fashionable concepts such as rewilding or peatland ‘restoration’ and do not take the lead themselves in coming up with new ideas.

Could they do more to enhance our wildlife and support the recovery of our natural habitats?

Yes, by encouraging sustainable use of woodlands, and by resisting the policies of Natural England and fashionable concepts of rewilding and rewetting of peatlands without evidence-based reasoning. The staff of NPs and AONBs should be the best qualified to shape new policies and thinking, but need more training and debate.

10. What views do you have about the role National Parks and AONBs play in shaping landscape and beauty, or protecting cultural heritage?

The concept of ‘natural beauty’ needs to be challenged as the beauty of our National Parks and AONBs is very much a product of cultural activity over millennia. The protection of cultural heritage on Dartmoor has been poor – in the past twenty-five years, many archaeological features on open moorland have been smothered in vegetation largely due to the erroneous polices of Natural England (and English Nature). The protection of historic buildings is very patchy and there is a serious lack of understanding of the importance of 19th and 20th century buildings as evidence of the continuum of human presence and activity.

11. What views do you have about the role National Parks and AONBs play in working with farmers and land managers and how might this change as the current system of farm payments is reformed?

On Dartmoor, much more respect needs to paid to the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council (created by the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985) as its members embody centuries of experience of good livestock husbandry.

12. What views do you have about the role National Parks and AONBs play in supporting and managing access and recreation?

At the moment there is too much support for large-scale recreational events (e.g. cycling and running) which can have a damaging effect in many ways.

13. What views do you have about the way National Park and AONB authorities affect people who live and work in their areas? Are they properly supporting them and what could be done differently?

There is surprisingly little support for the livelihoods of local people, especially those that have innovative and environmentally-friendly ideas. Recently the National Park has been aggressively hostile towards a community woodland settlement (Steward Wood) and to a sustainable woodland project (Hillyfield). Both these should have been singled out for praise by the NP as exemplars of alternative ways of managing land in environmentally gentle ways.

14. What views do you have on the role National Park and AONB authorities play on housing and transport in their areas?

There are insufficiently strong policies for genuinely affordable housing.

15. What views do you have on the way they are governed individually at the moment? Is it effective or does it need to change, if so, how?

The government of national parks needs radical overhaul. There is a fundamental democratic deficit in that 33,500 residents of Dartmoor National Park (and other NPs) are not able to vote for candidates in local elections who have put themselves forward to represent them on the National Park Authority. This is an extraordinary ‘black hole’ in the British democratic process as the current National Park Authority makes potentially life-changing decisions on a monthly basis affecting the environment and livelihoods of these residents. And yet none of the members of the Authority has been chosen specifically by the residents to represent them on the NP Authority.

16. What views do you have on whether they work collectively at the moment, for instance to share goals, encourage interest and involvement by the public and other organisations?

There has consistently been a poor level of engagement of NP staff or of members of the Authority with the local community – this is fundamentally a problem of the ‘culture’ of national parks, i.e. that a national park must fundamentally be ‘a good thing’ and so staff and members tend to cocoon themselves into a state of cosy mediocrity, and sometimes a sense of superiority, without true engagement with local people (at parish meetings or community events). As an example, in our experience, NP staff or members have very, very rarely attended the numerous events which the Dartmoor Society has organised over twenty years and which have been open to the general public.

19. What views do you have on the process of designation – which means the way boundaries are defined and changed?

The boundaries of designated areas are a concern. On Dartmoor, for example, it is bizarre that the key towns of Okehampton, Tavistock and Bovey Tracey are excluded from the National Park as they are essential to the economic and social well-being of those who live within the present boundary. Logically, based on culture, geology, etc, the Dartmoor region should extend westwards to the River Tamar, which would be a natural boundary.

20. What views do you have on whether areas should be given new designations? For instance, the creation of new National Parks or AONBs, or new types of designations for marine areas, urban landscapes or those near built-up areas.

We would not support the creation of any new national parks unless the issue of the democratic deficit was resolved. In any area, high quality information about the natural and cultural environment, shared with local communities, should be the basis of good decision-making. Designations should not, in theory, be necessary, as communities would take pride in what was known about their place and so would instinctively safeguard it. We recommend the creation of Ecocultural Zones for all open moorland and Access Land – see the more detailed response to Question 23.

22. Do you think the terms currently used are the right ones? Would you suggest an alternative title for AONBs, for instance and if so what?

The term Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is misleading and woolly as a concept. These are clearly cultural landscapes shaped by millennia of human interaction with the land and its ecosystems. Area of Outstanding Cultural Landscape would be more accurate as a title.

23. The review has been asked to consider how designated landscapes work with other designations such as National Trails, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs). Do you have any thoughts on how these relationships work and whether they could be improved?

A plethora of designations is confusing for the general public. Within national parks, we have concluded that, on open moorland, the current legal designations of Site of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Monument, and the informal designations of Premier Archaeological Landscapes, are no longer fit for purpose and have failed to deliver good management of either the natural or the cultural environment. The SSSIs were created from 1952, for nature conservation reasons alone, and have dominated decision-making on open moorland. At that time there was no understanding of the extent of the cultural landscape of Dartmoor which we now recognise to be one of the finest in the world in terms of extent, chronological range, diversity, state of preservation and ease of access. It contains messages for 8000 years of human relationship with the land. The dominance of SSSIs has created an imbalance between Nature and Culture. We therefore need a new legal designation of Ecocultural Zone for open moorland and access land, with nature and culture given equal weight. This would transform thinking and management decision-making.

24. Do you have any other points you would like to make that are not covered above?

There should be overt support for small-scale local use of local resources of stone, wood and minerals, plus micro-hydro energy schemes and any other low-impact environmentally-friendly projects. There should be much more emphasis on high quality research. National Park HQs should be research ‘hubs’ with an unrivalled ‘library’ resource, freely available to the general public, of information relating to all aspects of the cultural and natural environment of the national park.