Natural England and the Penwith Moors

by Stephen Horscroft

Members may recall that CPRE Cornwall has objected to Natural England proposals for SSSI status on the Penwith Moors as they stand. The economic impact on the agri-food sector of the proposals is neither analysed nor understood in the consultation. While CPRE Cornwall welcomes the principle of the designation (for example, with the threat of encroaching development from the towns) the idea that this is just a ‘scientific’ consultation that should be confined to the decision-making process of Natural England fails to recognise the broader implications for a sector already under pressure.

West Penwith has been farmed in the sense that we would recognise today for around 4000 years. Farmers have shaped and delivered a stunning landscape and continue to manage it for the benefit of locals and visitors: not just in terms of its wellbeing benefits but also as a source of food and income for the people who live and work there. If the designation is pushed through on its current basis the consequence would be the need to adapt farm processes and purchases, with more pressure on farmers and supply chains when margins are already tight, and likely sales or land left fallow. Every time a farmer wants to plough or have visible storage of their land, they would require permission from Natural England. This would require paperwork. Time is money.

The solution is a rounded approach to these issues. To support farmers over long periods to enable sustainable businesses: we need locally sourced food and Cornwall is in a great position to supply it. There are also a number of organisations that could supply such support if the funding and joined-up thinking to do it were enabled. The Natural England Board is sitting on May 10th to deliberate on the responses. The problem will be that they may exclude ‘non scientific’ responses – which would be ridiculous as these issues cannot be addressed in isolation. The other issue is that the sitting is due to be in a Plymouth hotel (with all the associated costs) whereas a hall in west Cornwall could be hired more cheaply and of course be directly accessible to the busy and worried farmers of the area.


Photo: Jools Baker