Published in the Ecologist, November 2010. To view the article in its original format, click here.

A written charter for land use must be adopted to best manage England’s land resources as part of the ‘Big Society’, according to academics from the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme

Researchers from the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (Relu) suggest collaborative action between land stake holders is vital – and the way to achieve this is through a written charter to create a practical framework for action.

The consultation – ‘an invitation to shape the Nature of England’ – is a central part of the process of government plans to publish a White Paper on how best to manage England’s natural environment by spring 2011. Relu say a charter ‘could support a Big Society approach and enable more integrated management of England’s natural resources.’

‘Research carried out by interdisciplinary teams within the programme shows how effective collaborative action among landowners and other stakeholders can be in getting best value from these vital assets, by promoting an integrated approach. A written charter would clarify the framework that we need to support this,’ said Director of the Relu Programme, Professor Philip Lowe.

‘Land in the UK and the natural resources that it supports – food production, biodiversity, clean water, carbon storage – are under more and more pressure, but are increasingly important to ensure our very survival in an era of climate change,’ he added.

The charter would seek to bring about a ‘significant shift in thinking’ by defining new expectations of the public sector, private sector and civil society in relation to the natural environment.

It would clearly outline the rights and responsibilities of land managers and establish how these could be delivered. The researchers suggest that this could be achieved through a combination of the market, voluntary self-regulation and action, state regulation, and public incentives.

Above all, it would encourage an integrated approach to ensure policy decisions are made only after consideration of all options.

However some environmentalists believe more action is needed. ‘While a written charter is a useful prerequisite to a vibrant thriving natural environment, [we] strongly believe that we need a combination of words, decisions and actions,’ said Dr Hilary Allison, policy director at the Woodland Trust.

‘Our seven prerequisites for achieving informed decision-making about the natural environment are: a clear vision, political leadership, a government led ecosystems strategy, intelligent environmental targets, localism with strong green credentials, environmentally informed planning, and taking action through shared responsibility,’ she continued.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: ‘We would like to thank the Rural Economy and Land Use programme for responding to our Natural Environment White Paper discussion document. We will look at all of the contributions we have received before we publish the White Paper in the spring.’