Neglect, apathy and a lack of vision means uplands in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are failing to deliver for people and for wildlife despite the efforts of landowners and policy makers.
That is the stark verdict of the RSPB, which is calling for an urgent debate on the future of the country’s mountains, hills, moors and valleys and their role in a world faced with the uncertainties of climate change.
The Society has released a new document detailing the challenges – and some possible solutions – in an effort to kick-start that debate and help shape future policy towards the uplands.
Dr James Robinson, Conservation Manager at RSPB NI said: ‘The future of the uplands is too important to be left to chance. We are talking about half the area of the UK – the half that has not been ravaged by development and production.
‘This summer’s floods in Northern Ireland and England highlight all too clearly the relationship between mankind and nature.
‘The RSPB has some ideas about the changes it would like to see in the uplands, but no-one has all the answers.
‘We want a national debate and we would urge everyone with a stake in and a love for the uplands to take part. It is crucial we make the right choices now.’
The document – ‘The Uplands –Time to change?’ – points out that:
- Much of the upland environment is in a degraded condition, despite the fact that vast tracts are protected by law.
- Important habitats like upland blanket bog and iconic wildlife like the curlew are in long-term decline.
- Much of our drinking water is gathered from the uplands but is increasingly discoloured by pollution from eroding peat, while a reduction in the ability of upland soils to hold water increases the risk and severity of flooding.
The income of hill farms is falling while the average age of farmers is increasing.
In addition, the document points out that the uplands face a new set of challenges due to climate change, including the loss of wetlands and the increased risk of fire on moors and in woods.
Economically important species like red grouse maybe forced to retreat uphill and northwards in the face of warmer temperatures.
The uplands drive environmental functions that the whole country benefits from: drinking water, flood alleviation, carbon storage, spaces for wildlife, and a rich cultural heritage. In addition, they attract 100 million day visits a year across the UK. However, many of the businesses that affect or supply these assets are on the point of economic collapse.
Dr Robinson said: ‘The document lists some serious challenges both now and in the immediate future, but there are opportunities too.
‘Managed properly, Northern Ireland’s upland soils can continue to store huge amounts of carbon, which would otherwise contribute to global warming.
‘They can store rain water, releasing it safely and reliably. All this, while offering a physical refuge for some of our best loved plants and animals and a spiritual refuge from the pressures of modern life.’
He added: ‘We have to give proper recognition to the services our uplands provide and proper reward to those who manage the land in a way that delivers them.’
‘We have to find common ground and a shared vision to give our cherished uplands, their people and their wildlife a future.’
1 August 2007