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Improving environmental outcomes in Protected Landscapes

I’m Catherine and I work in the Environmental Outcomes in Protected Landscapes team at Defra. We work with 44 National Parks and National Landscapes in England to improve these unique and beautiful places for nature, and for future generations to enjoy. 

Why Protected Landscapes are so important 

I expect that many of you reading this will have visited a Protected Landscape, even if you didn’t know it at the time. They truly are iconic places – home to our highest mountain, largest lake and (very nearly) the source of our longest river. 

They are home to some of our most important habitats and wildlife. Protected landscapes contain around half of all England’s priority habitats including 46% of peat, 34% of broadleaf woodland, and 88% of heather and acid grassland habitats. They are also home to around half of our most precious sites for nature, land designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. 

They are connected across the country and beyond by our network of National Trails, which run through many of our Protected Landscapes, helping around 270 million visitors a year get closer to nature and the outdoors.  

Not only do these sites offer access to nature, but they are also steeped in history as well. From dinosaurs along the Jurassic coast to Roman forts, Hadrian’s Wall, and imposing medieval castles. 

The places within our National Parks and National Landscapes were once home to the likes of William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen and John Constable. And these special places inspired many of their works. 

The natural, historical and cultural significance of these places is why they were designated as Protected Landscapes.  

And, it is even more important that we conserve and enhance these areas now we are in a climate and biodiversity emergency. 

Each of these unique and beautiful landscapes has the potential to be richer in wildlife and store more carbon in its peat and trees. They can provide a strong sense of place and cultural heritage, and introduce a more diverse range people to the benefits of being immersed in nature.  

Image of colourful rolling hills
Exmoor National Park, courtesy of Natural England.

Improving Environmental Outcomes 

We know that National Parks and National Landscapes can make huge contributions to our Environmental Improvement Plan goals and our commitment to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030. 

We are working hard with the Protected Landscapes bodies to strengthen the contribution of these places. 

For example, following our response to the Landscapes Review, we established the Protected Landscape Partnership. The partnership has a workstream dedicated to nature recovery. 

We also extended the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme until March 2025, doubling its funding to £100 million in recognition of its success. This will help more farmers working in Protected Landscapes to deliver projects around the four themes of climate, nature, people and place. In the first two years it has engaged around 5,000 farmers and land managers who have planted more than 100 miles of hedgerow and 100,000 trees, created or restored 262 ponds, undertaken positive management on 27,000 hectares of Sites of Scientific Interest, created or better managed 90 miles of footpaths and approved around 200 projects delivering educational access. 

And in January this year, we published the Protected Landscapes Targets and Outcomes Framework. The framework sets out ambitious targets. If achieved, they will help reverse the decline in nature, mitigate and adapt to the worst impacts of climate change and improve access to nature for all. 

Working Collaboratively 

Our Protected Landscapes bodies have a strong and trusted relationship with their local farmers, landowners and other partners. 

They have expert knowledge of their communities, how the land is used, the pressures on it and the priority habitats, heritage assets and species that thrive within it. 

Protected Landscapes bodies work collaboratively through their management plans to set out the special qualities of their areas, and to provide a clear vision for how the landscape should be managed to achieve national targets and priorities at a local level. 

Through their management planning process, they bring together a wide range of partners, from farmers to charities to local councils, to help deliver those targets. 

Now we have set clear targets to be achieved in Protected Landscapes, we will be able to track our progress towards them annually. This will allow us to assess and demonstrate whether we are on track, and to demonstrate the contribution that Protected Landscapes are making to halting and reversing the decline in nature. 

New legislation 

Alongside these actions, we have reflected the importance of Protected Landscapes in law. 

There are new powers set out in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023. These ensure that ‘relevant authorities’ who might be undertaking activities or making decisions affecting land within a Protected Landscape must now ‘seek to further’ the purposes of that landscape. 

This places a duty on a wide range of organisations such as government departments and their agencies, local authorities and road, rail, telecoms and water companies. Now, they must not just avoid damaging these special areas but must actively try to improve them. 

Image of trees
The New Forest, taken by Natural England.

So next time you are out and about – be it by foot, train or road – keep an eye out for a sign that you are in a National Park or National Landscape. 

Take a moment to contemplate the landscape around you, how it came to be, and how it is working to achieve our national targets. 

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  1. Comment by Anthony Barber-Lomax posted on

    Dear Ms Brabner-Evans,
    I have read your post about improving environmental outcomes in protected landscapes and wish to highlight the significant fragility of this outlook in the face of climate and landscape management change. I am the co-author of a study into the risk of wildfire affecting land within the Peak District National Park.
    With a number of people previously driving this initiative having moved away from the locality, I am conscious that there is a lack of mitigation response and, so, a growing risk. As well as risking life, a significant wildfire event could seriously undermine carbon & habitat aspirations.
    Whilst celebrating the opportunity that these landscapes provide, we should not overlook the threats that exist.

    • Replies to Anthony Barber-Lomax>

      Comment by pollywight posted on

      Hi Anthony,

      Thank you for your comment. The relevant team have responded with the following information.

      Defra has made a number of commitments in the Third National Adaptation Programme to protect our landscapes by reducing the risk of wildfire in England, including supporting the Home Office in scoping out a Wildfire Strategy and Action Plan, as well as developing wildfire management plans for 20,000 hectares of habitat by 2025.

      Defra also fund a training programme designed to consolidate knowledge, skills and understanding of vegetation fires including wildfire incidents and prescribed fire operations. Since its development in 2021, more than 1,000 Lantra accredited training modules have been completed by both public and private land managers.

      Blog team

  2. Comment by Nathan Nelson posted on

    You've got a great, flexible model for funding environmental, social and regenerative agriculture improvements in Farming in Protected Landscapes, unlike so many other funding options in that it allows applicants to create interesting projects, rather than picking from a pre-defined list of options.

    But it is unfair that this model is only available to those in protected landscapes. So many others could benefit from support to boost their business resilience, create employment opportunities, engage with the public and all of the other things FiPL is there for.

    If it's so good, why not 1) extend FiPL, and 2) make it available to anyone inside or outside of a protected landscape who wants to make improvements for climate, nature, people and place?

  3. Comment by Tom Childs posted on

    1). Assuming this requirement is applicable to any works impacting a protected landscape commencing after 26/10/23
    What is the relevant date in respect to commencement of the works causing the impact? As utilities may not require planning consent - is the relevant date the point at which notice is served for the works, the start date of the the notice period, or the commencement of the works within that notice period in the event the works are delayed.(or some other date)
    3) At what point are the improvements to the protected landscape required. e.g. before works commence or within a reasonable timeframe after completion of those works.
    4) How are additional benefits in line with the purpose of the protected landscape quantified and secured. i.e. Is this self-administered by the utilities provider, or does it need to be submitted to and agreed by the relevant body that is responsible for the protected landscape
    6) there is an assumption that each scheme might provide its own improvements. Is this the case or might funds also pass to the relevant body responsible for the protected landscape and pooled or spent as necessary
    8) would be really helpful to have some examples and theoretical case studies of proportionate and appropriate works

    • Replies to Tom Childs>

      Comment by pollywight posted on

      Hi Tom,

      Thank you for your questions. I've spoken to the relevant team, and they've let me know that we will shortly be publishing guidance on the operation of the duty and engaging with relevant authorities over the summer. Please keep an eye out for this as it should answer your questions further.

      Thank you!
      Blog team


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