Defending Britain's uplands

The upland landscape of Buttermere in the Lake District.
The upland landscape of Buttermere in the Lake District.
A pioneering partnership is being launched to boost protection for some of England's most beautiful and vulnerable highland areas.

For the first time, the Uplands Alliance (UA) brings together practitioners, researchers and policy makers with interests in the highest areas of land, including treasured landscapes of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Dartmoor.

Seventy four per cent of national parks are in the uplands. Extending to 22 per cent of England, they are home to globally significant wildlife habitats and host over 50 per cent of the UK's SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). Storing the majority of the country's carbon, this precious land is also the source of 70 per cent of our drinking water.

The interests of hill farmers and others who work and care for the unique and fragile landscapes will be represented in the group. It also extends to those researching and legislating for a sustainable future, according to UA president Lord Inglewood of Cumbria's Hutton-in-the-Forest.

He explained: "Our goal is to develop and test new innovative approaches – to be a 'policy lab' which will bring about a whole range of thinking on a variety of different issues. These range from food production to timber, clean water, carbon storage, biodiversity, renewable energy and recreational opportunities.

"Uplands have significant agricultural, landscape, archaeological, recreational, cultural and natural resource value, and are nationally and internationally important for biodiversity. However, the challenges can be complex and there are competing interests. By working collaboratively, we can better understand them and together find solutions that work for everyone."

A steering group has been set up, chaired by Professor Michael Winter, co-director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter, which brings wide-ranging skills and experience from the different sectors. Professor Winter explained networks were being established to look at many issues, including sustainable upland farm business, agricultural initiatives benefiting nature, rural development programmes and restoring upland peat.

UA will be launched during a three-day National Centre for the Uplands conference at Newton Rigg College, Penrith, Cumbria, which runs from May 12 to 14.