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!