I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to speak at your conference.
And delighted that a Defra Minister can finally be here in person!
Firstly I want to thank the National Association for their invitation to speak today.
Secondly I’d like to pay tribute to the immense contribution the National Association staff and Board members have made in promoting AONBs in recent years and acting as a family across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In addition, I strongly support the efforts the National Association is making at both local and national level to ensuring closer working with National Park Authorities.
I am aware of the Association’s strong commitment to this.
As you know I have been hugely impressed with the work of AONBs particularly using innovative approaches to deliver real results using a genuine partnership approach. However, you will need to do even more to prove your sustainability credentials – not just resting on environmental laurels – but recognising that land management is about businesses and the choices they face. The Government is doing all it can to encourage the growth of the rural economy. How can we best encourage the growth of rural businesses?
Today I want to mention just some of the current developments around Paying for Ecosystem Services (PES) which are relevant to the theme for your conference and which I know AONBs and Park Authorities are playing a major role in helping deliver. Such PES initiatives that go beyond, or build on, traditional government financed schemes are innovative and exciting.
I make no apology for repeating one message from the Natural Environment White Paper where our partners gave us a very clear steer :
“that effective action to benefit nature, people and the economy locally happens when the right people come together in partnership;”
In the context of developing Payments for Ecosystem Services the Government and its agencies have a role in :
- capacity building
- disseminating best practice
- demonstrating ‘proof of concept’ through piloting and
- removing barriers that could enable PES opportunities to develop
This is not without challenges.
However, one of the things we’ve learned is the importance of partnership-working. AONBs have a key role to act as intermediaries, facilitating the right conditions and trust.
Some of the more substantial ‘soft’ engineering actions such as restoring rivers, re-establishing new washlands and restoring catchments may involve massive upfront expenditure for landowners, necessitating front-loading of any payments.
Those landowners see no direct benefit from their actions but society should.
An example is the Broadland Flood Alleviation Project which provides a range of flood defence improvement, maintenance and emergency response services.
The 240 kilometres of floodbank defences shield 24,000 ha of land and 1,700 properties from flood risk but also benefit farming and tourism which are important to the local economy.
This was the first major Public Finance Initiative/ Public Private Partnership programme (PFI/PPP) contract of this scale for flood risk management work.
In the uplands, moorland water catchments on United Utilities land have seen major improvements which have benefited business and consumers, as well as the natural beauty of the Forest of Bowland.
Other water companies are also exploring the benefits of catchment and aquifer management not least in downland AONBs.
Under Ofwat’s price review for 2015-2020 it is reviewing the regulatory framework to encourage water companies to consider more innovative and sustainable solutions, including catchment management.
Ofwat is in a crucial position to safeguard both the consumer and business benefits, as well as having regard to AONBs and conserving natural beauty, whilst it does so.
There are options for genuine win-wins here if we – you – can
- think long-term ;
- see the whole system , and
- make the case for change.
A challenge is that the benefits on the ground may not be particularly visible or tangible, leading to scepticism.
It looks significant if a Minister cuts a ribbon on hard engineering works.
It’s less easy to see benefits of moorland grip blocking, or a new washland to a city many miles away.
Peatlands form a significant part of the UK’s natural capital which, if in good condition, store carbon, provide a waste sink and regulate water quality.
The North Pennines and Nidderdale contain prime examples, as could be seen at last year’s Conference.
However according to the IUCN, around 80% of UK peatlands are degraded.
Investing in restoration will help, but it is a massive undertaking with high short term costs and relatively slow improvements to hydrology and biodiversity.
The Yorkshire Peat Partnership (YPP) recently reached the 10,000 ha restoration milestone – a quarter of Yorkshire’s damaged peatlands across National Parks and AONBs.
This would not have been possible without the consent and co-operation of landowners and gamekeepers.
I note Richard Johnson, a landowner in the Yorkshire Dales, whose co-operation will lead to the restoration of 435 ha of peatland said :
“working with organisations to deliver restoration can be a challenge but with co-operation, communication and often compromise the best outcome can be achieved for both Yorkshire’s peatlands and also for those who work and derive their livelihood from the moorland areas with resulting benefits for the local economy”.
Finally Work is ongoing to investigate developing a Peatland Code, where businesses could pay for peatland restoration as part of their carbon reduction commitments.
I am sure you are alive to such messages.
Linking agri-environment schemes and pillar 1 funding with private payments is also a challenge in delivering Ecosystem Services.
Many potential schemes involve farmland which is already covered by an agri-environment scheme.
If private sector funding is to be combined with public funding, then the public sector element needs to be paying for additional benefits beyond those accruing to the private sector, so as to avoid paying twice.
Or perhaps we need to approach such markets differently?
The acid test will be whether such initiatives can lever in more income streams to protect and enhance the natural environment for the benefit of society and the economy.
Water is vital to us all. Conserving the natural resource
of water will help deliver natural beauty.
AONBs are key to delivering these aspirations.
You may have seen that Constable’s “greatest painting”, of Salisbury Cathedral, was recently saved for the nation for £23m, and rightly so.
You may, in an idle moment, have calculated the same sum would keep the Dedham Vale AONB going for 100 years……
Obviously public funding will continue to be reduced over the foreseeable future.
Defra’s settlement enables us to meet our priorities while making our contribution to reducing the deficit.
Our network of delivery bodies are playing their part, including working in smarter and more efficient ways.
Budgets will be set in the autumn.
All of us will need to consider new ways of making best use of and maximising private sources of funding.
Whilst you have been successful there is much more to do as such support may be essential in future, not just seen as a good spin-off from a project .
For my part I will strive to give a clear future path on funding, good news or bad, as I know you welcome certainty to allow you to plan.
You are key to not only seeing the bigger picture –
– we are very near Constable Country ! –
….but helping to paint it in…
…and saving it for the nation.
As part of the Rural Economy Growth Review I was pleased to see the interest in Tourism in AONBs and to recognise that AONB tourism deserved a lift.
I am therefore delighted today to be able to formally endorse the Tourism Accord between VisitEngland, the National Association and Defra which came out of that Growth Review.
All our protected landscapes – AONBs and National Parks – are special destinations for visitors and tourists.
They are also special places to live and work.
Recent economic reports tell us the special qualities which brought about designation in the 50s, 60s and 70s are increasingly significant for 21st century micro businesses and SMEs, including tourism, many of which need fast broadband to compete in national and international markets.
Thus an AONB, as I’m sure you know, is not just a label or scenic backdrop.
It is a workplace, an ecosystem, a destination and much, much more. It’s complicated.
So bearing in mind this complexity I expect your Management Plan reviews to help to guide the choices society makes ; to achieve more of the benefits, and fewer of the drawbacks.
Richard Benyon MP, Defra, Minister for Food Farming and Fisheries
Speaking at the Landscapes for Life Conference 2013.