Farming in the Uplands - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by English Heritage


  English Heritage is the Government's principal adviser on the historic environment in England—including historic buildings and areas, archaeology and the historic landscape. Alongside our statutory duty to conserve the heritage, we are also required to advance its understanding and accessibility to the public. We are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but work closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who along with the Department for Communities and Local Government contribute to the setting of our corporate objectives. Whilst we are not directly involved in agriculture or its related industries, our interest in environmental and landscape issues provides us with a stake in the implications of farming and land management policy.


  There is a concentration of environmental assets—both cultural and natural—within the uplands which give them their distinctive character. The management and conservation of these highly valued assets also generates wider public benefits, principally through tourism, which in turn brings money into rural economies. The particular concentration of these assets within the uplands does however places a disproportionate burden upon the farmers and land managers in these areas. It is appropriate therefore that the restoration and maintenance of these environmental assets is both recognised and continues to be adequately incentivised through the Common Agricultural Policy.


  1.  The Commission for Rural Communities noted that 75% of the uplands are designated as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. England's uplands include some of the nation's most iconic historic landscapes and an outstanding array of historic settlements, buildings, and features. The low intensity land use (particularly during a post-war period which has seen major intensification of lowland agriculture) together with the frequent use of stone as a building material has ensured that the archaeology of the uplands exhibits an exceptional degree of survival and visibility.

  2.  The importance of these archaeological landscapes is reflected in the level of statutory protection afforded to them, meaning that archaeological issues assume a higher profile in upland land management policy than they do elsewhere. Although occupying only 12% of England's land surface, the uplands (as defined by Severely Disadvantaged Areas) include 5,624 nationally important (scheduled) ancient monuments (approaching one third of the national total), 13,324 listed buildings and parts of three World Heritage Sites. Together with local customs, this heritage underpins the identity and cohesion of upland communities and is in turn supported by local craft skills and a variety of traditional land management practices. However, maintaining this heritage for the public good is not done without cost, a significant proportion of which is borne by upland farmers and communities.

  3.  The open and accessible nature of upland landscapes means their heritage is also amongst the most visible, visited and publicly appreciated aspect of the nation's historic environment. England's upland National Parks alone receive nearly 70 million day visits every year. The strong character of the upland built environment is a major stimulus for tourism, and indivisible from the natural character of the wider landscape. Research commissioned by Defra on public attitudes to a range of environmental values in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDAs) indicated that this cultural heritage was rated particularly highly.[2]

  4.  Historic farmsteads and isolated farm buildings are also an important characteristic of upland areas and, in some areas, such as the Yorkshire Dales, together with their associated field walls, are a dominant landscape feature. Research commissioned by Defra within the SDAs has indicated that the presence of traditional farm buildings in the landscape is particularly highly valued by the public.[3] This farm building stock represents a considerable economic asset, whether through continued agricultural usage, through adaptive re-use to new farm or alternative business uses, conversion to residences or, indirectly, through the contribution they make to cherished and much-visited landscapes. Although many remain in active use, a significant proportion of these buildings are now functionally redundant, a factor linked to increasing rates of disrepair and dilapidation. The character and location of many of upland farm buildings (eg field barns) will often limit the options for adaptive re-use and a noticeably lower proportion of these buildings have been adapted to new uses in upland areas than in the lowlands.[4]

  5.  Changes in farm support payments and the merging and restructuring of farm holdings may pose significant challenges for the continuance of traditional farming practices in the uplands, and consequentially for the traditional building stock and associated historic field patterns. Research by English Heritage and Defra has however pointed to the significant financial contribution that the conservation of historic farm buildings and walls makes to the creation of full time jobs and in building a skill base available for private-sector funded work.[5]

  6.  The uplands also have a nationally important industrial heritage, particularly in terms of the extractive industries, with many former industrial sites having important nature conservation value as well as historic importance.[6] There is a strong correlation between cultural heritage and sites of high nature value and balancing the needs of the two in the same location can sometimes be challenging. Attempts to prevent over-grazing for nature conservation may lead to the growth of scrub and bracken which can physically damage archaeological remains and reduces the visibility and public appreciation of certain historic landscapes. But in managing the uplands for environmental and public benefits, we are aware that many upland farmers feel that they are pulled in many different directions. This issue was addressed in an exemplary way by the Dartmoor Futures project in which conservation agencies worked together to establish a mosaic of management priorities (for wildlife, landscape, archaeology and natural resources) across the National Park. Similar considerations should apply to increasingly frequent proposals for "re-wilding" projects which will need to be managed carefully to avoid damage to important archaeology or the loss of its visual amenity. In general though, because of their multi-objective, whole-farm nature, agri-environment schemes provide a particularly effective mechanism for delivery.

  7.  Nevertheless, changes in farming practices and land tenure lead to declining knowledge of craft skills, and pose a threat to the continued maintenance of many aspects of the upland historic environment. Training initiatives are important in maintaining these skills, but agri-environment and other land management initiatives, together with affordable housing policy, all have a strong role to play in sustaining the skills base which underpin the essential character of upland landscapes.

  8.  In the light of the above, we would agree with the CRC's assertion that upland farmers are major producers of public goods and services, and we believe that cultural heritage is integral to the definition of "environmental public goods". The provision of these goods and services and the concentration of environmental features within the uplands puts a disproportionate burden upon farmers and land managers in these areas.

  9.  We think that it is appropriate therefore that farmers and upland communities should continue to be incentivised for the provision of these goods and services through the Rural Development strand of the Common Agricultural Policy. In this respect we do however have reservations about the potentially narrow definition of environmental services currently emerging from debates around reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and believe that the value of cultural landscapes should be explicitly recognised.

October 2010

2   Economic Valuation of Environmental Impacts in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas: Final Report Submitted to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3 January 2006, EFTEC. Back

3   For the purposes of the EFTEC report, cultural heritage was taken to include "the visual presence in the landscape of traditional farm buildings; less visual aspects may be the presence of animals on the hill, traditional breeds, or traditional farming practices such as shepherding with sheep dogs". Back

4   For example c. 20% in National Parks are converted and c. 30% nationally: c. 25% in sparsely populated areas and c. 50% in the urban fringe. Back

5   English Heritage and Defra 2005: Building Value: public benefits of historic farm building repair in the Lake District and English Heritage and Defra 2007: Building Value: Public benefits of historic farm building and drystone wall repairs in the Yorkshire Dales National ParkBack

6   Former mineral extraction, such as the lead rakes of the Peak District, and metal working sites often support a rare metalophyte flora. Back

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