by Stephen Horscroft
CPRE Cornwall has now received a formal response from Natural England following submission of our ‘objection’ to the SSSI designation on the Penwith Moors. It is important to note that the consultation only allowed the choice of ‘support’ or ‘objection’ and not support with caveats. This would have been our preferred approach as we are concerned about the lack of joined-up governance on this matter – made plain by the social and economic anxiety being expressed by the farming community in the area. Indeed, Natural England’s response recognises that CPRE Cornwall ‘welcomes the notification’ but they say that socio-economic factors are not matters of ‘material consideration’. This should surely be a concern of DEFRA as part of their post-Brexit remit to facilitate a joined-up thinking approach. The issue remains as to whether Natural England is best placed (on its own) to support farmers and landowners with the transition to SSSI status.
One area where Natural England ‘disagreed’ with CPRE Cornwall’s representation was that we said visitors and people from outside of the area had been supporting the designation without understanding the economic and social implications. Furthermore, NE claimed that respondents in Penwith and Cornwall more widely responded positively to the suggestion.
However, they have agreed to our representation (with others) that the Board meeting to consider the designation should be at an accessible venue in West Cornwall rather than 2 hours away in Plymouth. They have picked the St. Ives Harbour Hotel on June 28th. Secondly, they are suggesting that farming practice consents could be for 5 or 10 years, rather than the costly prospect of farmers having to complete paperwork every time they wanted to (say) plough or store something on their land. This was an issue that we had raised.
It is likely that we will wish to respond verbally and succinctly to their letter response on June 28th. A rounded approach to sustainability needs to take into account economic, environmental, and social considerations but the worry is that only ‘environmental’ is being considered by NE. They need to ensure a rounded approach and support for farmers in any implementation of policy; looking at issues such as productivity, food affordability/security, the wellbeing of the farming community, and the importance of the Moors as a Cornish and UK asset.