Penwith Moors is an area of more than 3,100 hectares of lowland heath in western Cornwall. It includes semi-natural habitat and farmland which has been grazed for more than 4,000 years.
In October 2022, Natural England (NE) notified the land as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Since notified, land managers must now apply to NE for consent to carry out certain activities including ploughing, feeding stock, spreading manure and pest control.
There is currently a consultation period taking place on the designation, which closes on 7 February. Until this time, anyone can register their support or objection ahead of NE’s decision on confirming the designation in May. Within the law, NE can only consider objections relating to the evidence used to justify the designation and cannot take into account the social and economic impacts of designation.
The CLA disagrees with this position by Natural England. It has engaged with NE to raise concerns, and supported its members in the South West to help understand what the 4,000 pages of published evidence in support of the notification means for them.
As part of this support for members, the CLA has produced a template to help members structure their response to the consultation. It includes the problems found with NE’s scientific evidence, broader points about the issues with designation and the need for funding for management. If you are in the affected area, please contact the South West office for further information on this template.
As well as providing members with a template, the CLA will be submitting its own response to the consultation, highlighting the concerns with the designation process and the need for consideration of the social and economic impacts. This feeds into the broader lobbying on the process and impacts of designation.
The CLA believes that the process of designating an area, supplying land managers with a generic list of actions which could be banned. Waiting until the designation begins to clarify what they will and will not be able to do is unreasonable. It makes it impossible for the land managers to plan for the future.
What does this mean for wider designation?
The CLA also has concerns over the legality of the designation process. Particularly regarding whether the requirement to gain NE’s consent to carry out activity on land breaches the right to peaceful enjoyment of property under the Human Rights Act.
While the protection of nature is supported categorically, the CLA is concerned that the government’s commitment to “30 by 30” – protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030 – will result in a rush to designate land without considering the social and economic impacts of doing so.
With only 38% of existing SSSIs in favourable condition, designating land does not result in an improvement in biodiversity. With the right combination of advice, incentives and investment, land managers can a play a role in delivering nature’s recovery and meeting Natural England’s objective of achieving ‘favourable condition’ for all SSSIs. Funding and long term engagement with land managers is required to achieve favourable outcomes for biodiversity while supporting rural businesses.