Environment Minister Lord de Mauley journeyed to a farm on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland to share a vision of how the landscape should look in 20 years’ time.
He called at Winshields Farm near Steel Rigg, managed by Iona Lawson and Bill Teasdale who were among a number of farmers who contributed to Northumberland National Park Authority’s Vision for the Natural Environment document, which was launched on Tuesday.
The Minister also met several other farmers from the national park who had contributed to the Vision, including Andrew Murray from Sewingshields and Neil Robson from Townshields, both on Hadrian’s Wall, and Sir Walter Riddle from Hepple Whitefield at Simonside near Rothbury.
The Vision sets out goals for the next 20 years of how the natural environment will be managed by farmers, landowners, the park authority and partner organisations.
This is considered be crucial as climate and economic change puts species and habitats under threat, and as the eco-system services provided by upland areas are increasingly demanded and valued by downstream populations.
Health, carbon storage, clean water, food, timber, sports and leisure are all part of this protected and managed landscape.
During consultation for the Vision, farmers were unanimous in expressing their pleasure at living and working in a rich natural environment.
Iona Lawson, told the Minister that living in the uplands was challenging, especially with world heritage status land and many natural sites of special scientific interest, but that the rewards were great.
“We’re proud to farm in this beautiful area, and to be doing our bit to look after its wildlife,” she said.
“There’s nothing in the world like going out in the morning and seeing a flock of lapwing in your fields and hearing their pee-wit calls.”
John Riddle, chair of Northumberland National Park Authority and himself an upland farmer, presented a copy of the Vision to the Minister.
He said: “The authority has worked hard to bring all parties involved in the management of the national park landscape together in agreement to form this Vision, and we consider this to be a good example of localism in action.
“The authority is very conscious of the stresses of hill farming and land management on narrow margins, so it’s important that we work closely with the people who are on the land every day to make sure the Vision is manageable with practical benefits all round.
“I hope the Minister will be inspired by what the authority is achieving and our ambitious plans for the future. We want the Minister to see the positive work that the authority is undertaking to deliver on a range of the Government’s priorities, from helping to address the growth agenda to building and delivering a shared vision with local people for the natural environment.”
Lord de Mauley, who leads the Government’s initiative to protect pollinating insects as one of his responsibilities, said: “Protecting vital environmental resources like pollinators is a key priority for Defra. I’m heartened to see Northumberland National Park Authority working closely with local farmers to protect this region’s unique and rich natural heritage through the Vision for the Natural Environment.”
The Vision includes networks of habitats; linking seasonal food sources for pollinators such as bees and other species and giving them room to expand or move.
The park has mapped habitats to identify gaps in networks and identified some of the best places to restore and create new habitats such as wetlands, woodlands, heather moors and hay meadows.
It has carried out this work with farmers and other partners across the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership, a working association of protected landscapes from the Yorkshire Dales to the Borders.
The latest of these mapping projects has looked at the importance of road verges linking hay meadows and flower-rich grasslands – the nectar network for bees and other pollinators.
Many farms include the heather moorland and grassland mix that is so vital a habitat for birds like lapwings , also known as peewits, who like wet, rushy grassland to find food and raise their young, and the national park’s emblem bird, the curlew, which feeds on grassland and moorland and nests in the heather.
A recent survey has shown that although curlew are in decline across the country, in Northumberland National Park they are faring better thanks to land management to enhance food sources and suitable nesting grounds. This management includes rush cutting, conservation grazing, careful harvesting of hay meadows, and the creation of scrapes and wetland areas on farmland.