Long-lasting legacy

CLA Senior Heritage Adviser Jonathan Thompson looks at progress in the decades-long contest over landscape heritage

Almost all CLA members have landscape heritage. This includes stone walls, traditional farm buildings, archaeological features, which usually have no practical use, produce no income, and are at risk. The harsh reality is that we have already lost half our farm buildings.

The solution

Most people love this landscape heritage, but as you drive round Devon or Yorkshire there’s no direct way of paying farmers to look after it - you can't pin £10 to a gatepost! But there is an obvious, and tested, solution: supporting it, like biodiversity or soils through agri-environment schemes.

The long-standing problem

There was, however, a snag: the EU saw heritage merely as ‘culture’, and excluded it from the EU Directives, like the Habitats Directive, on which Defra based funding under the Common Agriculture Policy. Heritage was funded, but only after relentless pressure from the CLA, the Heritage Alliance and Historic England. However, this was only on a small scale and not enough to arrest the decline.

Surely leaving the EU has solved the problem?

Yes, in theory. The government’s intention to transfer funding to ‘environmental public goods’ does create a huge increase in that budget, some of which could be spent on heritage. And at least parts of Defra have now been persuaded to see heritage as a component of the environment like any other, and have put heritage into the 25-Year Environment Plan, the Agriculture Act, and draft versions of the future Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes.

Unfortunately, however, there also seems to be an ‘old Defra’ which has not moved on, for which heritage remains merely ‘culture’ and not part of the environment at all. It has succeeded in excluding heritage from the flagship Environment Bill, and the Defra minister in the Lords, Lord Goldsmith, claimed on 23 June that funding heritage “is not something that Defra has done or can do”, despite Defra doing this since 1987.

Progress - and how you can help!

After much lobbying, government said, importantly, in the Lords on 8 September that “the new ELM will allocate money for heritage”, acknowledging that “Defra’s countryside stewardship programme has proven very successful for heritage”. But relentless CLA pressure will be needed to get this to happen.

In the meantime, members can help considerably by taking up the heritage options in Countryside Stewardship will demonstrate both demand, and effectiveness. It is open until 2024.

Painting the picture

Pics via Geograph

These images show four examples of landscape heritage at risk - traditional farm buildings, a kiln, and a stone wall. This is only an infinitesimally-small sample of all landscape heritage at risk.

Key contact:

Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson Senior Heritage Adviser, London