Photograph courtesy of Christine Handley
As the floods strike yet again, the untold impacts of cuts to local authority and agency countryside and environmental services become all too apparent:
To borrow from HAROLD MACMILLAN. ‘Supermac’………
You’ve never had it so wet………………
Front-line services vested in local authorities and in environmental agencies, and providing the vital coordination and long-term support for addressing local and regional environmental issues on the ground, have been decimated. Responses to flood-risk and flooding are one such example where countryside planning, woodland and tree services would have helped to deliver coordinated, community-level responses to help mitigate problems. As it is, the flood-risk grows year-by-year, and the pressures on countryside in and around towns and cities become more acute with threats of development and loss of support services. This leaves local communities lacking in real-time coordinated responses as national government seeks to remove or reduce planning controls that it considers to be ‘environmental red tape’.
A key publication out shortly:
Ian D. Rotherham (2015) Issues of water and flooding for trees, woods, and forests. Arboricultural Journal (The International Journal of Urban Forestry), 37 (4) (2015 IN PRESS)
[Contact Ian directly if you require more details of this]
A major new book already available:
The catastrophic effects of long-term cuts to local authority countryside services are revealed in a major new book by Professor Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University:
‘The Rise and Fall of Countryside Management – a historical account’ published by Routledge provides insight into a stark situation.
Neither the major achievements of these services nor the impacts of their loss have yet been recognised or understood.
• The book is based on national reviews of countryside services carried out in 2005 and 2013 and gives overviews and examples of how these remarkable services rose from the 1960s and 1970s to deliver environmental improvements across the UK, but especially in major towns and cities, and in areas with derelict and despoiled lands and disadvantaged and disengaged communities. One of the initiatives to emerge from this national programme was the Groundwork Trusts established to target public-private partnerships towards the poorest landscapes and communities.
• The results of local authority countryside projects and services were truly remarkable – they transformed communities, engaged and educated local people, rejuvenated local economise, especially through leisure, tourism and outdoor sports, and provided growth-poles for inward investment.
• Often working in partnership with government agencies – the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Agency, with local businesses, and with conservation voluntary bodies like the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB, these services, initiatives and projects brought about an environmental revolution to deliver restored lands, vibrant local communities, engaged, informed and empowered local people (active citizenship), and sustainable neighbourhoods.
• Projects drew down millions of pounds to disadvantaged areas and created self-sustaining community groups and networks.
• These projects delivered major benefits on wildlife, heritage and biodiversity, but also on health (in some of the most unhealthy communities), on quality of life, on education, on property values and the ‘desire to reside in a locale’, and more.
• They delivered environmental democracy through links directly into local ward councillors in ways that other organisations simply cannot do.
• Senior countryside planning officers, senior ecologists, and woodland managers provided internal advocates and advisors to elected members and senior officers in local government – loss of such services have resulted in local crises like the Sheffield street trees fiasco.
• These projects and services provided professionally trained staff to national standards and with continuity to deliver work on the ground and to support local communities and partnership projects. They delivered and led innovation and strategic thinking and planning with hugely important enabling roles for other organisations.
• Countryside projects were excellent at maximising value of delivery for every pound invested. A leverage of around £10 for every £1 invested was reported plus huge community and volunteer added values
The consequences of the cuts:
Services have now been cut to the bone and many axed in their entirety. Some survive and have adapted with good practice and innovation, or particularly in affluent rural, tourism areas, where the need is clearly linked to regional economic performance. However, behind the scenes, even National Parks are barely surviving, and some may continue in name only.
Core services and skills have haemorrhaged from these services and from the supporting agencies.
Voluntary sector NGOs have stepped into deliver selected aspects of countryside services but often with volunteer or part-time, temporary staff, and mostly unqualified and inexperienced workers. However, many local communities are on the outside of most organisations and local environmental democracy has been lost. NGO–led projects tend to target easy areas with affluent communities (the basis of their memberships) and not areas of need or impoverished communities, and seeking sources of easy funding not always compatible with either conservation or local people.
Areas, communities & economies transformed:
These local government countryside services provided robust and economically successful models of transformation in both rural and urban areas. Moreover, they triggered major economic renewal and business opportunities. However, business follows opportunity and does not create it – that must be by public investment.
Benefits then flow to business and local people through employment and opportunities, and to government through VAT and employment tax revenues etc. Here there is a problem, in that the cost is borne by agencies and local government, but they don’t derive economic payment unless central government grants it. There’s the rub.
NGOs and Lottery funding can help deliver this, but much is now done with inexperienced or even volunteer staff and little continuity. Furthermore, Lottery-funded projects generally last only 2-3 years and then they are replaced by new initiatives so we move from strategic delivery to fads and fashions. Much Lotter-funded work is done without proper surveys or approved management plans and can actually and accidentally damage the resources which it seeks to conserve!
Finally, by going down the ephemeral route of NGOs and Lottery or other funding, much of the money is gobbled up in long-winded grant applications, advertisement and recruitment on a 3-yearly treadmill.
As a society facing massive environmental challenges of urbanisation, of population growth, and of climate-related problems, we have to recognise that if we want the benefits of a sustainable countryside (urban and rural), then we have to pay for it. Recent catastrophic flooding demonstrates the extreme fragility of today’s environment – and yet we continue to over-use and over-exploit our limited environmental capital. This is clearly not sustainable and yet, despite all the rhetoric after major floods in 1998, in 2000, in 2007 and 2008, in 2013, and now 2015 and 2016, politicians, planners, developers and decision-makers just do not seem to understand the nature of the problems and scale of the challenges. Trapped inside their myopic short-term time-frames a they are unable to plan for genuinely sustainable, long-term future. It is worth remembering that we are merely custodians of the environment as we ‘borrow’ today’s resources from future generations and the rest of the biosphere.
The well-publicized Sheffield street-trees situation:
This is just one example of a growing national issue that so far has been almost totally overlooked. The current policies have no relationship or commitment to established, long-term strategies. In particular, many of the larger trees presently under threat in Sheffield and elsewhere across the country are those which deliver the most significant ecosystem services – include g in particular, flood risk mitigation……..
For more information:
There are examples of good practice with local authorities still delivering but many in the book show services decimated. There are also people in the industry able to comment with authority on these issues.
Contact Ian for more detail and contacts if required:
Photograph courtesy of Christine Handley
Two relevant books:
Ian D. Rotherham (2015) The Rise and Fall of Countryside Management – a historical account. Routledge, London.
Ian D. Rotherham (2014) Eco-history: An Introduction to Biodiversity and Conservation. The White Horse Press, Cambridge.
And some papers:
Rotherham, I. D. (2008a). Landscape, Water and History. Practical Ecology and Conservation, 7, 138-152.
Rotherham, I. D. (2008b). Floods and Water: A Landscape-scale Response. Practical Ecology and Conservation, 7, 128-137.
Rotherham, I. D. (2008c). Landscapes and Floods. World of Trees, 16, 8-11.
Rotherham, I. D. (2008d). Managing the Floods Naturally. World of Trees, 15, 10-13.
Ian Rotherham is Professor of Environmental Geography, and Reader in Tourism and Environmental Change, Sheffield Hallam University. He is the author of over 500 papers, 30 or more books, and around 500 newspaper and magazine articles
Cover quotes from the Rise & Fall book:
“This is the most definitive account of our sectors’ development we have ever seen. It should be an essential read for students and all countryside managers and rangers.”
Dan Barnett, Chairman Countryside Management Association, 2015
“This is a fascinating, comprehensive, timely, and critical review of our use and management of the countryside.”
Bill Blackledge, Chartered Landscape Architect, The Landscape Institute, 2015
“Follow the fortunes of the rise and fall of countryside management across the UK, from one period of austerity after the Second World War to the current contemporary interpretation of hard economic times. This volume addresses what it has meant in enabling public outdoor spaces to be well managed and enjoyed. The historical account of public sector interventions in countryside management over the last 70 years, paints a picture of adaptation and deftness to such changing fortunes. It shows how, to deal with challenges over this period, those working in this field have been highly creative and innovative.
For someone who has been involved for the last 40 years, Ian’s research and insights brought back many good memories. These recollections were of comradeship and finding practical solutions in a collaborative way and this book deserves to be read”
Jo Burgon, Chairman Outdoor Recreation Network, 2015
Foreword: Hazel Thomas
When asked to write a Foreword for this book, I wondered whether the opportunity might be, for me, a hugely indulgent (and sometimes cathartic) trip down memory lane. However, it is certainly something much more substantial in terms of a producing a vital record, offering a unique analysis of what appears to be a moment in time in the evolution of caring for our countryside and green spaces.
Having worked with Countryside Management Services for some 30 years, I have to say it has been a privilege to work with so many enthusiastic and highly professional people, all committed to doing their very best for the environment, for recreation, for conservation, and for their local patches. However, and regrettably, it does seem in retrospect that the late 1970s to 1990s was indeed some kind of ‘Golden Age’ for Countryside Management. This was a period when there were numerous projects and staff working in many different local environments, from the deepest rural countryside in our National Parks, to river valleys flowing right into the centre of our cities. So why does it now feel as though countryside management is a thing of the past? Have we learnt any lessons to take us forward from this pioneering and excitingly experimental era?
It is of course easy to blame this more recent decline on current problems with public sector funding etc., but I believe it is less simplistic than that. It is about a changed relationship between central and local government, and I am not solely referring to the devolution of national government initiatives to a more local level in terms of determination, prioritisation and resourcing. There seems to have been a fundamental shift in terms of the role of the public sector from subsidising and supporting initiatives that deliver public benefit, to focussing on those that more clearly deliver economic benefit. Of course, the results of both can and often are synonymous; but the challenge for those working in the countryside and environment sector more widely is for them to be better able to demonstrate and articulate the wide-ranging benefits delivered by their work. Although individual projects and services have in many cases documented their own experiences, a comprehensive and comparative analysis of the successes, failures and lessons learnt from this important period, for the benefit of current and future generations is sadly missing.
That said, many problems we struggled with during those years, still exist today. As this book clearly illustrates, countryside management was delivering sustainable development before we were even using the term! At about the same time as the World Conservation Strategy and the Conservation and Development Programme for the UK (a response to the World Conservation Strategy), were setting out the critical nature of ‘sustainability’, countryside management services (particularly the area-based countryside management projects) were evolving new modes of operation. These allowed them to demonstrate that it was possible to balance the needs of their areas, in terms of maintaining and enhancing the area for wildlife, whilst also providing for and encouraging visitors, and responding positively to the area’s economic needs. This could involve either working with land-owners and farmers in rural areas, addressing their needs, even providing financial assistance on occasions with repairs to the walls and fences that are so vital for both landscape and visitors, for example, or helping deal with problems of degradation and vandalism in the urban fringe. Before this, there had been a much stronger focus on the difficulties of balancing conservation requirements with those of potential visitors; but countryside management evolved as a mechanism for recognising and balancing these needs with those of the local communities and local land managers, by developing a wide range of challenging but successful initiatives.
This timely book takes us through much of the background, to provide a rich resource for charting the growth in service and expertise, both in England and further afield. The more detailed analysis of a number of case studies and a critical evaluation of the history of countryside management, offers a valuable insight into the collective lessons learnt and best practices developed from this period. It is hoped that, at the very least, they will be better understood and valued in the future. However, the crucial analysis of the current situation of many of these services and projects offers a much less hopeful picture. More optimistically, this analysis surely makes a persuasive case for those who continue to grapple with all the issues raised by sustainable management of our countryside and green spaces to look again at some of these programmes and the lessons learnt as potential solutions for some of the problems we currently face.
This book offers a challenge to the sector. During the period covered here there were both local democratic structures with the resources and confidence to offer stable core funding to projects, and a national champion with the resources and confidence to take risks and experiment to find locally appropriate solutions. The model therefore clearly worked well, and was a key contributory factor in the successes this book charts. Nevertheless, everything feels very different now, with tight budget constraints both nationally and locally, and inevitable pressure to demonstrate clear tangible and timely outcomes for every penny invested. However, if the problems and challenges remain, but this model can no longer work in the way it has, how can we meet our present and future needs in this area? How can we take the lessons from this period and use them to build a new delivery model that better fits our current situation?
For more information on these and related topics see:
Please pass on to anyone else interested. Thanks. Ian