The Glover review (2) – the National Landscapes Service

The fairly new idea of a National Landscapes Service is poorly sketched out here – I’m attracted by the idea but I’m mostly attracted by my idea of what it should be as I am not at all sure what this report is recommending.

In various places (see most particularly pp138-39) the NLS is setting the vision and strategy, inspiring, holding National Landscapes to account, providing hiqh quality services to National Landscapes and representing their views to central government departments and everyone else. That’s quite a mixture. I feel the Glover review is a bit muddled on what they actually want here. If they aren’t muddled, then it must be me!

But a country-wide body that ensures delivery in these areas is a good idea. I would give this role to something a bit like the Forestry Commission – a non-ministerial government department. In fact, I would seriously consider giving this role to Forestry England as the existing body which has public confidence, a track-record of delivery, a national network of staff, a current remit that encompasses all of the issues needed to be tackled and, importantly, the independence of thought to deliver on the ground. We don’t need a state forest service any more, and Forestry England has moved a long way away from that (as has Forestry and Land Scotland – see this blog post) so why not build on the successful organisation that already exists? It would need a new name, and where the Scots have gone, with Forestry and Land Scotland is quite a good direction.

The Glover report certainly gets one thing right on this though because the group ‘… believe that the National Landscapes Service should be an entirely new body, not simply an arm of Natural England‘.

If we had done this correctly, back in 1949, we would have had a UK NLS (or probably National Parks Service) and that would have set the standards over the years and a common way of thinking across the UK. I guess that’s impossible these days but a UK NLS would send a very strong signal that our landscapes are shared and loved equally across the UK and that they are part of our common inheritance and shared cultural values.

So, I’m keen on the general idea but a bit confused by how it is here described. And there is one great omission which was clearly a step too far for Glover and his rather conservative panel – the NLS should be given a large budget to acquire land for the purposes of delivering its remit. Without land ownership the NLS will be a ranger service with very little ability to make things happen on the ground. There is precious little scope to deliver public benefits on private land without a big budget of bribes (sometimes known as grants) but the trouble with grants is that the taxpayer pays but only rents the desired public goods. Land ownership is the way forward and that’s why the National Trust own land, the RSPB owns land, the Wildlife Trusts own land and why large landowners aren’t giving up their land very easily. Who owns the land is the elephant in the room which the Glover review overlooked and didn’t mention. In fact land ownership is the elephant standing in the road blocking progress towards a more effective network of ‘protected landscapes’.

Depending on the direction of Brexit there will either be quite a few or loads and loads of land owners running for cover, most particularly in upland National Parks and AONBs. It would be a smart move for the public purse to take land off their hands, and a kindness to the farming community to offer this way out. A National Landscapes Service with a large chequebook would be able to deliver more benefit directly than any bunch of rangers through attending meetings and begging individuals to come on side. The Glover review has ducked this mechanism for delivering what we all need from National Parks – buying them!


5 Replies to “The Glover review (2) – the National Landscapes Service”

  1. I think it is they who are muddled! Possibly it is deliberate; I suspect they have not over-prescribed in some areas, preferring criticism for that over detailed critiques of specific proposals that distract from the general idea. It’s a way of getting agreement to the report (especially by a reluctant government) without the implications being fully absorbed.
    It is a bit centralising though. Whilst I accept that one of the causes of failure in the current system is the lack of leadership, to which excessive local authority representation contributes , the report seems to me to miss the opportunity to consider how local representation might be better galvanised.
    I don’t like the use of the ‘landscape’ word, so of course I especially don’t like AONBs being re-named ‘National Landscapes’. Given that I agree that some might become NPs, what’s wrong with others becoming Regional Parks? As for example, exist in France. Of course the governance needs to be improved but I suspect that is more realistically achieved in the UK by an effective regional policy than through a strong centralising impulse.

  2. I agree that there should be a body purchasing land for public benefits. You are right that “the trouble with grants is that the taxpayer pays but only rents the desired public goods”. The other problem is that there is almost always a compromise over the amount of public goods delivered – we have a lot of agri-environment schemes that pay out millions of pounds for unhappy mixtures of farming and conservation (beloved neither by conservationists or farmers). Although the two can sit side by side and we need to continue to award the farmers who are doing really good conservation, we also need more land where nature is clearly given the priority.

  3. Mark, why do you say that we “don’t need a state forest service any more”, and in what way do you think that “Forestry England has moved a long way away from that”?

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