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Landscapes for Life Conference 2021

A Climate for Change - Climate Change and Nature Recovery in National Landscapes

Conference Blog

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07/07/2021 - L4L Conference 2021 got off to a great start on Wednesday 7 July 2021

NAAONB Chair Philip Hygate welcomed attendees and thanked AONB teams for their work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, not just continuing with business as usual, but increasing Nature Recovery efforts and delivering tests and trials on behalf of Defra, to help them prepare for the roll-out of the new Environmental Land Management System - the new scheme to replace existing farm payments - which gives the opportunity to reframe funding for agriculture.

He also expressed our thanks to hosts and main sponsors Devon County Council for their collaboration and generosity.

The last year and a half have been unprecedented, with a few small silver linings. The value of landscape and nature has increased in the eyes of government, the media and the public. And the efforts to develop vaccines has demonstrated what can happen when government, science and business come together. A similar approach is needed to the themes of the conference: ‘A Climate for Change: Climate Change and Nature Recovery in National Landscapes’ 32 years ago, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said the need to act on climate change was urgent - now it is critical.

Philip wished delegates a good conference and urged us to bring the same determination to the twin threats of climate change and nature depletion as we brought to the development and delivery of the Colchester Declaration actions in our last conference in 2019.

07/07/2021 - Welcome from our hosts - Devon County Council

Councillors Jeffrey Trail and Andrea Davis welcomed conference on behalf of hosts and main sponsors Devon County Council.

Cllr Davis thanked AONB staff for what they deliver to the nation, which has come to the fore over the past 18 months and introduced some of the fantastic work being done in Devon. Since declaring a climate emergency in Devon, the County Council has prepared a carbon plan, outlining how the county will tackle achieving net zero. A Citizen’s Assembly has been formed to share ideas and feedback.

As more people recognise the importance of Nature Recovery, Cllr Davis shared her hope that our own recovery from the pressures of the pandemic can happen alongside and hand-in-hand with the recovery of nature.

The National Association for AONBs and the wider AONB Family would like to thank Devon County Council for their generosity and support in hosting the Landscapes for Life Conference 2021.

07/07/2021 - Dr Andrew Hartley of the Met Office took us through the impacts of climate change - both those we are already witnessing and those forecast in the next 30 years.

The evidence is clear that the climate is changing - What is climate change

While there are natural fluctuations in atmospheric CO2, levels have increased by 50% since the industrial revolution and the recent escalation has taken us to 400 parts per million, well beyond the peak of natural cycles.

Global average temperatures are increasing and we’re now regularly seeing record high temperatures.

The Paris Agreement has 196 national signatories binding them to limiting global warming to well below 2C.

Worst case scenarios show that at current trends we may have a 4C rise in global temperature. This would result in migration of most of the species native to South Devon, and much of those in South Wales. In order to avoid extinctions, better connected nature networks will be needed to support this migration. This would be a huge but necessary change in management approaches.

07/07/2021 - Alan Law, Deputy Chief Executive of Natural England outlined a ‘significant moment for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and for nature’ - and this will hinge on successful collaboration

The need to take a place based approach, working across wide spaces is echoed by the need to take a joined up approach to policy: linking up strategies for peat, water, air, trees etc.

We need a change of approach, from how we dealt with the widescale direct losses seen in the 1970s to an approach that deals with aggregate pressures, and a step change from focusing on conservation to focusing on recovery, reversing carbon release, and driving carbon capture.

Alan shared the Pennine Peatland project as an example of how this can work well across organisational boundaries.

He highlighted Natural England’s recognition of the skills and track record AONBs have in their power to convene - bringing together local people and organisations to deliver for nature, and the importance of their local expertise in nature recovery. This plays in well to Natural England’s approach to the National Nature Recovery Network as bottom up.

Alan rallied us all – the policy and legal framework we’re building is what many of us have been waiting for our entire working lives, so the opportunities are there.

07/07/2021 - Dr Sam Bridgewater of the Clinton Estate in Dorset spoke on 21st century estate management

The Clinton Barony is one of the oldest in England. Formed in 1299, today Clinton Devon Estates owns and manages 25,000 acres of land across three separate Estates in Devon.

Sam spoke of the current priorities of the estate in farming, green energy generation, conservation (and restoration) and business support.

The estate was involved in the recent Environmental Land Management Tests and Trials on behalf of Defra and Sam highlighted the importance of farmers and landowners embracing delivering for the public good as basic payments reduce and encouraged the use of technology to support them in their work.

He outlined how the estate is working in partnership with other organisations, the AONB team, local council, tenants and local people and shared his hope that this cooperative approach, delivering land management at scale will become business as usual for more places.

The estate is able to plan longterm, and Sam described how £1.5m had been set aside to deal with the effects of ash dieback for the next five years, but that planning of tree planting stretched out as far as 50 years into the future. The immediate aims are to increase tree cover from 17% to 20% in the next ten years, but that there are no current plans to plant any broad leafed trees due to grey squirrels making it impossible for them to grow to maturity.

A key project which is completing over the next couple of years is the Lower River Otter Restoration. This will see great changes to the local landscape, taking the river from a channelled estuary created in Victorian times to a much natural inter tidal state. This will mean relocation of a cricket club and changes for other residents, but will provide a longer term solution. The effects of climate change would result in increased flooding of the cricket club, but taking this managed approach enables the community to plan.

The East Devon Local Plan has identified a need for 17,000 new homes in the area. The Estate is working with local councils to support this and ensuring that new housing is eco-friendly with air source heat pumps and solar power.

Sam thanked the team at East Devon AONB for their leadership and partnership working across the area.

07/07/2021 - Howard Davies, outgoing Chief Executive of the National Association for AONBs outlined the ways in which protected landscapes help society

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature says that healthy, well managed protected landscapes have an important role in supporting nature recovery and fighting climate change. While UK protected landscapes differ from those in other nations, they still have a part to play.

AONBs are already actively delivering on conserving biodiversity - The Colchester Declaration, ecosystems services, connecting habitats, carbon capture - North Pennines AONB Partnership's Peatland Programme, building knowledge (through partnerships with academia).

Probably our greatest offer is that of inspiring people though - Art in the Landscape

While we hear that connection with our green and blue spaces has increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic - research demonstrates that actually the pandemic has reinforced existing barriers. This is symptomatic of wider systemic failure and we cannot allow market forces to dictate access to nature, a fundamental human need.

07/07/2021 - Lord Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra, addressed conference, stating his delight to once again be responsible for AONBs at Defra

He thanked the National Association for AONBs for creating a family of AONBs and for setting the strategic direction. He thanked Howard Davies for his commitment and work while leading the National Association and saluted AONBs for their role during the COVID-19 crisis as places of solace, exercise and recreation for the nation. ‘Literally the places where people have been healed in body and mind.’

He recognised the significant role AONBs have to play in the fight against climate change and the restoration of nature, citing the 75% reduction in High Brown Fritillary butterflies since 1970 and the possibility that some of our most iconic species eg curlew, are under threat of extinction and could be lost on our watch.

National landscapes are on the frontline of the fight to restore nature. Farmers are responsible for the pyramid of life on their land, but AONBs are responsible for the pyramid of life at landscape scale.

He spoke of the privilege he felt in being part of the work to save the future, and the fact that we find many high priority landscape types within AONBs: chalk streams, peatland etc.

He hopes that AONB staff feel appreciated the work they are doing.

Lord Benyon finished by reiterating the commitment made by George Eustice, the Defra Minister in his Written Ministerial Statement of last month, of greater status and support for AONBs - Government response to the Landscapes Review. The Farming in Protected Landscapes scheme opened last week for projects dedicated to nature recovery, heritage and improving access and he commended AONBs to create greater links with farmers and landowners as these collaborative teams have the local knowledge and expertise to deliver.

Recording of the Ministerial address.

08/07/2021 - Day two of the Landscapes for Life Conference 2021 kicked off with a fascinating speech by Professor David Crouch on Landscapes and People

He asserted that people ARE nature, we share being in nature with each other, and our identity within nature is nuanced in flows of living, doing and remembering. When we are in nature, we bring ourselves along, with our current feelings, hopes, relationships, remembering who we were with last time we spent time there. Our relationship with nature is quietly complicated, in and through our lives.

He recognised the importance of seeing aspects of our landscapes that are not always seen, citing Raymond Williams’ prescient work on culture – when visiting a so-called stately home, questioning the origins of that wealth, and less comfortable aspects of culture – slavery and misery, cultures embattled, stolen and erased, transmitting a particular judgement made centuries ago.

David finished by highlighting that the relationship with the bodies that care for our spaces needs to be two way, inclusive and welcoming, citing Richard Mabey’s work with Common Ground - the parish maps project. This enabled people to express themselves about where they were, sometimes negatively, coming together and trumpeting what is not normally trumpeted, recognising spaces often overlooked and those spaces where we contribute our own meaning. What constitutes beauty is also contested, subjective and open to each person’s own interpretation.

08/07/2021 - Dr Anjana Khatwa, NAAONB Trustee, spoke on Diversity, Access and Inclusion, giving a personal introduction on how it felt to visit the countryside while she was growing up

Anjana grew up in Slough, the daughter of a family who had immigrated to the UK from Kenya. Visits to the seaside were precious growing up. Most money was saved for visits to family overseas rather than holidays within the UK, and extended families often travelled for day trips together.
Anjana spoke of the challenges she and many other people from ethnic minority backgrounds faced, and still face, when accessing the countryside. People would give a wide berth or move their children away.
We need to see that people’s feeling of belonging is about much more than explicit racism - unconscious bias is also a serious problem. Louisa Adjoa-Parker wrote an article for the BBC recently which summarises this.
This all leads to a feeling of not belonging, and isolation from these beautiful spaces. Reports from last year in the Times blaming ‘Culturally Diverse Crowds’ for littering the countryside show that prejudices are still in evidence.
For us - do we ensure that we reflect diversity in our leaflets? Can people visualise themselves in these spaces? This lack of visibility translates through to workforces, and the lack of diversity in our teams forms a feedback loop. We must continue to get more children into AONBs, those who would not normally be visiting, as early intervention, to ensure they feel welcome and comfortable in their countryside.
We are lucky that Anjana is one of the NAAONB’s new trustees and we are enjoying working with her and looking forward to doing more and learning more from her.

08/07/2021 - Chris Fairbrother of the South Downs National Park spoke on developing collaboration, across National Parks and more widely with AONBs too

The Parks have been working together to develop adaptation reporting templates and shared metrics and targets for carbon footprints which they are currently baselining. Current priorities for the Parks are: Sustainable Farming and Land Management, Nature Recovery, Landscapes for Everyone, Climate Leadership. The Parks new National Delivery Plans, inspired by the Colchester Declaration, commit the parks to:

  • Rapid escalation in tackling Climate Emergency
  • Increasing public understanding of Climate Change
  • Partnership management plans to deliver at landscape scale
  • Demonstrating how transition to low carbon living can be achieved
  • The drive to net zero for the Park Authorities
  • Nature recovery

Potential collaborative work with AONBs could include a joint offer for COP26 in the Green Zone, shared metrics for net zero, a shared approach to adaptation planning.
AONBs and the Parks are already working together in some areas on the Nature Recovery Network Backbone.

08/07/2021 - Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park gave a history to the movement and an update on plans for recovery in the park

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed in the wake of the second world war and the designation of National Parks and AONBs were a beacon of hope for the nation’s recovery, something which has echoes today. The Act was a result of the work of two movements: one to enable access, another to protect and care.
The UK’s designated landscapes are part of a global network, but are unique within that network as living, working landscapes.
She highlighted how we have to think big: in terms of millennia, but also in terms of miles and miles of landscape, and how critical it is to be led by local intelligence. Parks and AONBs do not own land – they are public assets in private ownership. So we almost have to balance the unbalanceable.
The Review of Designated Landscapes recommended greater resourcing of protected landscapes, and the Farming in Protected Landscapes funding is the first manifestation of this – the first but hopefully not the last!
In order to support the government in hitting the 30 by 30 target, the Parks have developed key targets for nature recovery to support their work, inspired by the AONBs’ Colchester Declaration – altogether equating to over 100,000ha of improvements, with the aim of delivering 20% of the UK’s nature recovery target on 10% of the land – covering woodland, freshwater, grassland and heathland, and peat habitats.

08/07/2021 - Frances Winder, the NAAONB’s Nature Recovery Manager, funded by Natural England spoke on the National Association and the AONBs’ plans for both Nature Recovery and Climate Change

Last year the United Nations brought together Climate Change and Nature Recovery as two sides of the same problem - recognising that nature is in serious trouble, alongside the climate emergency.
In some ways they are catching up with the AONBs after their signing of the Colchester Declaration in 2019, with the focus on the three threads of nature, climate change and people.
In the two years since the Colchester Declaration was signed, AONBs have been working on Nature Recovery Plans. A key example is the Shropshire Hills AONB Nature Recovery plan.
There will be knowledge exchange workshops for AONB teams during September and October for anyone still working on their plans.
Information on national pilots: Northern Uplands, Urban Hinterland, Triple Axe, Big Chalk and Coastal Cluster, will be shared soon.

08/07/2021 - Iain Mann, manager of Nidderdale AONB spoke on collaboration within the AONB family

The AONBs have taken a new approach to collaboration, bringing in people from industry to work alongside us, to challenge and develop our thinking on how we deal with the critical issue of climate change.
The climate change collaboration group has five subgroups with representatives from AONBs working together to find and develop best practice replicable across AONB partnerships:

  • Building design and planning
  • Nature based solutions
  • Renewable energy
  • Sustainable tourism
  • Agriculture

In order to further develop their work, a later session in conference will ask attendees to join workshops to give input into key areas for consideration by the subgroups.

08/07/2021 - The afternoon session of the conference began with Sion McGeevor, Deputy Director for Access and Landscapes at Defra gave the first presentation of the afternoon session

He spoke of the amazing potential of Defra’s new Farming in Protected Landscapes programme for supporting stronger partnerships between Protected Landscapes and their local farmers and landowners, and the opportunities for better access and nature friendly farming as the scheme starts to deliver.

Tom Munro, Director of Dorset AONB and Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of North Pennines AONB and Vice Chair of the NAAONB spoke on the AONB perspective for delivering climate change benefits. The 30 by 30 target is laudable, but just designating land doesn’t automatically protect it. We have a real opportunity to do something truly meaningful with the Colchester Declaration and in support of international targets for nature recovery. AONBs have long punched well above their weight with countless nature recovery projects. Peatland recovery of areas double the size of Birmingham in North Pennines, Forest of Bowland, Nidderdale and Cornwall; Grassland restoration notably in Devon and in numerous other AONBs, bogs in Solways, Rivers in Anglesey and Norfolk, Chalk Streams in Lincolnshire Wolds and Chilterns only skim the surface of the incredible work going on in AONBs.

Chris called for AONB teams to ‘leave everything on the pitch’, we need to do all we can at this crucial moment. ‘Nature’s Coming Home’.

08/07/2021 - Fraser Hugill, farmer and environmental consultant based within Howardian Hills AONB brought his unique perspective on new funding models and how farmers can build nature into viable farm businesses, demonstrating how, as basic payments are reduced in stages, more of his land needs to be in countryside stewardship agreements

He highlighted that farmers are farmers first and foremost, they see themselves very much as productivist. The requirement to manage farms in a different way, earning public money for public goods, may require a step change, but represents a once in a generation opportunity to make a meaningful change.

08/07/2021 - Dr Ruth Little of the University of Sheffield reminded us that while the transition from Basic Payments via Countryside Stewardship to the Sustainable Farming Incentive aspect of Environmental Land Management seems long, seven years will go very quickly, and we are not only talking about something on the magnitude of landscape, we are also talking about real people’s livelihoods

She asked that the new scheme be easy, worthwhile and that we listen; that we enable offline engagement as rural broadband is not the same as broadband in urban areas, that bureaucracy is kept to a minimum, payments are made promptly, and that transitions are well managed.
She echoed Fraser Hugill’s earlier view that farmers are productivist and asked that we meet them where they are. Perceptions of what makes a good farmer may need to change, both for society and for the farmers themselves.  

08/07/2021 - Cathy Case, a famer supplier for Riverford Organics spoke about diversification - that providing other services is good - but that farmers are first and foremost farmers

She spoke about the changes she has made on her farm in recent years, to support their main business thread of organic farming, supplying Riverford veg boxes, explaining that keeping it as simple as possible was really important.

08/07/2021 - Philip Hygate, NAAONB Chairman, wrapped up conference by thanking everyone who had contributed to such a useful and energising programme

He bade a very fond farewell to outgoing Chief Executive Howard Davies whose ten year tenure has seen the profile of AONBs and the National Association rise, as well as a huge strengthening of the network, enabling the AONB family to punch well above its weight. And he welcomed new Chief Executive John Watkins who joins us from Welsh Government at a crucial and exciting time for the network.

Philip thanked:

Our principle sponsors

Devon County Council

The presenters

Councillor Jeffrey Trail and Councillor Andrea Davis – Devon County Council

Dr Andrew Hartley – Met Office

Alan Law – Natural England

Dr Sam Bridgewater – Clinton Devon Estates

Lord Richard Benyon – Defra

Professor David Crouch

Dr Anjana Khatwa

Chris Fairbrother – South Downs National Park

Iain Mann – Nidderdale AONB

Sarah Fowler – Peak District National Park

Frances Winder – NAAONB

Sion McGeevor – Defra

Tom Munro – Dorset AONB

Chris Woodley-Stewart – North Pennines AONB and NAAONB

Fraser Hugill – Farmer, Howardian Hills AONB

Dr Ruth Little – The University of Sheffield

Cathy Case – Riverford Organic Farmers

The hosts of the conference and organisers of the virtual field trips, the teams of:

Blackdown Hills AONB

East Devon AONB

North Devon Coast AONB

South Devon AONB

Tamar Valley AONB

The facilitators of the workshops

Marie Micol

Sustainable tourism and transport - Rebecca Rees, Annette Weiss and Phil Holden

Renewable energy - Judith Chubb-Whittle/Simon Whittle, Alison Kay and Vanessa Gray

Building design and planning - Simon Wilson and Sarah Winlow

Nature-based solutions - Elliott Lorimer and Frances Winder

Agriculture - Richard Clarke

The NAAONB team

Anna Trant

Howard Davies

Richard Clarke

John Watkins

Amber Carter

Clare Elbourne

Frances Winder

Ian Rappel

Marie Micol

Ruth Colbridge

Philip finished by calling on us to follow the lead of the Clinton Estate in Devon, whose land manager Dr Sam Bridgewater addressed us yesterday:

‘Let us do today what is right for tomorrow’