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By Rural Focus, Oct 17 2019 03:06PM

Rural Focus has completed an innovative study which assesses the New Forest’s valuable natural capital assets and how these can be managed to benefit society.

It’s in response to the Government’s pledge to replace the current EU system of financial support for agriculture with one based on ‘public money for public goods’ – where payments will be given based on what farmers and land managers are doing to help society rather than the amount of land they own.

The report assesses how this concept can be applied to the New Forest and its uniquely special landscape. Not only is the New Forest home to a diverse range of species (many of which are rare), but it’s managed using traditional practices at a scale that has long disappeared from the rest of western Europe.

In particular, commoning is central to maintaining the landscape – the animals’ grazing helps create the mosaic of habitats found here. However, commoning is voluntary, and the traditional management of the Forest relies on direct support and specially-developed agri-environment agreements to survive. The largest of these schemes – the Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) worth £19m over 10 years – is about to come to an end.

The new report: ‘Understanding the New Forest’s Natural Capital’ gives an invaluable evidence base and proposes a structure to help create a replacement for the current system that will be specially suited to the New Forest area.

The report was commissioned by the Forest Farming Group, which was formed of statutory and voluntary groups shortly after the Referendum in 2016 to put the case for a bespoke and locally-led scheme of payments for public benefits to reward the New Forest’s farmers for the environmental services that they provide, either through practising their common rights or managing their land within and around the National Park.

Read the report here: https://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/app/uploads/2019/10/00995-NF-Natural-Capital-Report-web.pdf

By Rural Focus, Apr 26 2018 03:33PM

The River Crane and its adjacent rivers drain a catchment of 127 km2 in the north west quadrant of London, from Twickenham and Ashford in the south to Harrow and Pinner in the north, home to over 650,000 people.

Rural Focus was engaged by the Crane Valley Partnership, a group of over 20 organisatons representing the local authorities, community bodies and businesses, to prepare the Strategy that will guide their work over the next 10 years, with a vision for the next 20 years.

The Strategy, which was adopted in April 2018, uses the natural capital approach to identify and prioritise the ways the catchment provides goods and services to local people and the nation. The Strategy outlines the many challenges and opportunities that will face the area, including London's growing population, major infrastructure projects and changing climate. It provides a set of actions for the Partnership to take forward under three themes: Thinking Spatially, Involving Communities and Big Opportunities. The main report is accompanied by a separate technical annex of supporting information.

Welcoming the "Rural Focus delivered a very impressive 10 year Strategy for the Crane Valley Partnership. Louise and Robert were a pleasure to work with and went above and beyond to produce a document we will be referring to for years to come - starting off as a spring board to update our 2013 Catchment Plan."

By Rural Focus, Feb 20 2018 03:09PM

Ambitious proposals to pilot a new approach to incentivising the delivery of public goods from the countryside, and also supporting farming livelihoods and communities, have been launched today (20th Feb 2018).

'Exmoor's Ambition' is the UK's first costed plan for locally-delivered farm and environmental measures to be submitted to Defra. The report, which has been prepared by Rural Focus, comes at the end of six months of discussion led by the Exmoor National Park Authority and the Exmoor Hill Farming Network.

The proposals, which are based around two complementary sets of incentives ('Good Farming Measures', and 'Enhanced Benefits Measures'), aim to be transformative (leaving Exmoor's landscapes in better heart for the next generation) and progressive. They are co-designed by farmers, working with conservationist and public bodies, to be simpler and less bureacratic to deliver, while doing more to protect and enhance Exmoor's natural capital, compared to previous schemes.

Rural Focus has been retained to help the project's partners prepare a Pilot Phase, which it is hoped Defra with agree to co-fund.

By Rural Focus, Jun 9 2017 05:11PM

During May and June 2017, the Rural Productivity Commission set up by the four Local Enterprise Partnerships in the South West of England has been taking evidence on the issues and opportunities facing the rural economy.

Rural Focus prepared the written submission made by the Reimagining the Levels Group, focussing on the communities and land-based businesses on the Somerset Levels and their catchment and highlighting the economic risks posed by climate change and flooding. Robert Deane, Rural Focus Director, and two other members of the group attended the panel session on 9th June and answered questions.

Among the recommendations made by the group were the need to:

- Develop an economic strategy that properly values natural capital and the services it provides, taking a 'bioregional' approach

- Build more robust and effective local supply chains for rural businesses, particularly those in the food and drink sectors

- Take full advantage of ‘green’ economic sectors in which the region excels such as:

o Renewable energy, including wind, solar and tidal

o Food and drink linked to the region’s strong sense of place and environmental quality

o Tourism and hospitality that uses the region’s culture and environment as a key part of its offer

- Bring unmanaged woodland back into the economy and plant new woodland and trees where they will do most good (e.g. reduce flood risk), building jobs and value around woodland products and uses.

- Develop a stronger rationale for maintaining qualified UK-exchequer farm income support, based on the public benefits that a diverse family-farming economy provides, taking account of the risks that would arise from an unsupported/ unconstrained market.

- Engage businesses with the region’s community and public interest organisations to raise awareness and demand for the bioregional economy, developing a ‘South West Best’ campaign, with information and tools on how businesses can grow through strong networks and market differentiation.

By Rural Focus, Jun 8 2017 09:48AM

During the last six months, Rural Focus has been assisting several Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnerships to establish new charitable or not-for-profit bodies to support their designation.

Based on this work, we recognised a need to do a broader review, looking at the way local charities are supporting AONBs across England and Wales. The review included a survey of all AONB Managers, coupled with analysis of financial and other reports submitted by the charities to the Charity Commission.

Our report, prepared with David Dixon, shows that over half of the 38 AONB’s in England and Wales now have charities which are working to safeguard and support the designation and its purposes. Since 2012 they have generated income of over £4.5 million.

The report shows that these charities are playing a significant role and, in most cases, are highly valued by AONB Partnerships and staff. The report highlights new developments and best practice and makes suggestions on how productive relationships between the charities and AONB Partnerships can be encouraged.

To request a copy of the report, please email robert@rural-focus.co.uk

By Rural Focus, Dec 12 2016 11:18AM

Rural Focus is helping the Greenham and Crookham Commons Commission (the statutory body responsible for conserving the commons and their uses) to develop a 'Shared Vision' that will guide their future work.

This involves working with people who represent local communities, registered commoners, recreational users and those who manage the Commons to establish ambitious but achievable goals.

We're using an on-line survey to find out what people value about the Commons and how they want to see them cared for. You can take part in the survey here.

The Commons are a large area of open heathland and woodland on the south-eastern edge of Newbury in Berkshire. As well as containing a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in recognition of their rare wildlife, the Commons were famous in the 1980s as the site of the US Air Force Cruise Missile Base and the Womens' Peace Camp that surrounded the base.

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