Cornwall Green Party has raised concerns over the approach being taken by Natural England towards farmers and Cornwall’s rural community over the designation of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) across an area of more than 3,100 hectares in West Penwith.
The party recognises the importance of the habitats and biodiversity that the SSSI is designed to protect, which have been shaped by many generations of interaction between farmers and nature. But local Greens are concerned about the potential social and economic impacts on the farming community in the area if the designation is insensitively introduced without a fuller consultation with local farmers and understanding of their situation.
Ian Flindall, who was the Green Party candidate for St Ives at the last general election and who runs a family farm near Morvah, said:
“Like other small-scale farmers in the area, we work in ways that promote high standards of animal welfare and conservation of habitats and biodiversity, producing high-quality food for the local market with very few artificial inputs. And we’ve always been happy to work closely with Natural England to make sure that our farm makes a positive contribution to the local environment.
“Local fauna such as lizards and slow worms have thrived on our farm as a result, as have ground-nesting birds such as stonechats and larks, as well as butterflies and other pollinators. And now we even have a small flock of choughs that regularly visits our farm to feed.
“The problem with the SSSI as it’s currently planned is that it introduces no less than 28 farming operations that will require farmers in the moor valleys to seek National England’s consent, and that it will only give such permissions for a maximum of five years, if at all. Many of these are normal operations like pH adjustment to encourage grass growth and application of organic fertilizer, and without these, or if there is insufficient time to adjust to such changes, some farms will cease to be financially viable.
“Yet at the same time there is no financial compensation available for farmers who stand to lose large parts of their livelihoods. As we’ve seen recently, global food chains are at increasing risk of being severe disrupted by war and global heating, and we need to make sure that environmental protection goes hand-in-hand with support for local food production by environmentally sound methods.
“What we’d like to see is Natural England postponing the introduction of SSSI regulations (currently scheduled for 6 July this year) until Natural England has had more time to work collaboratively with farmers and land managers to develop ways in which land stewardship and landscape recovery can be enhanced without severe disruption to farming livelihoods in West Penwith.
“We also want to be sure that the success of any changes as a result of SSSI status is properly monitored, and that accountable habitat surveying and groundwater testing are in place, which is not the case at present.”
The Green Party has previously called attention to the severe under-resourcing of Natural England and the Environment Agency, which threatens the work of their expert staff.
Karen La Borde, the Green Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Truro and Falmouth, said:
“It’s concerning that an underfunded Natural England isn’t able to ensure that existing SSSIs are managed to be in good condition. Most are not, and simply designating an area as an SSSI will not mean very much unless this is backed up by properly resourced agencies.
“In Cornwall, for instance, we’d like to see money channelled into ensuring that the Fal and Helford Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are in a good condition, whereas at present these important areas for biodiversity are severely affected by sewage discharges and agricultural run-off that government agencies have done little to stop.”
In the longer term, the party would like to see a thorough review of the current complicated system of designated areas and the expansion of conservation principles to the whole of the countryside.