Report 319
The British Uplands: Dynamics of Change
Edited by: Burt, T.P., Thompson, D.B.A. & Warburton, J.
In this document we have drawn together forty-one studies concerned in different ways with the dynamics of change in the uplands


‘With impending de-commonisation, there is particular interest in the likely consequences for wildlife and increased recreational use. In Scotland, ski developments continue to dominate the recreation scene … Afforestation is arguably the most controversial form of land use in Britain in the 1980s …. In relating ecological research to management the important factors to determine are the management objectives. Definitions of these are difficult, especially as there is neither guidance nor agreement on whether the objectives should be formulated ‘on high’ (i.e. within the EEC or by national governments) or whether they should be discussed and agreed at a more regional or local level’.

Preface to Ecological change in the uplands (1988), edited by M. B. Usher and D. B. A. Thompson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.


It is fascinating to reflect how some issues change and others stay the same in the uplands. The above excerpts from the Preface to a landmark volume on research and management issues in the uplands, capture the essence of issues germane thirteen years ago. Whilst the uplands of Britain, covering around one-third of its land surface, continue to change and evolve dynamically, the profile of different land uses dip and rise over various timescales.

The recreation debate has broadened considerably from concerns about ski-ing developments in Scotland to a wider debate on the promotion of increased access to the uplands of England and Wales (supported by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000) and impending legislation on land reform in Scotland. The afforestation debate has moved on considerably; large-scale blanket afforestation with conifers in the uplands has all but ceased, and instead there is a move towards mixed, broadleaf/conifer woodlands supported by Woodland Grant Schemes (though there are still concerns about some forestry proposals in the uplands). The Habitats Directive, currently being implemented by the UK Government, is particularly manifest in the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for habitats and species listed under the Directive. One challenge for the countryside conservation agencies, in particular, is now to set clear conservation and management objectives for these sites and to determine whether or not these objectives are being met. In this regard, it is perhaps telling that there is still a debate about the production of monitoring guidance, at the EU, national, and local levels, for conservation sites.


In this document we have drawn together forty-one studies concerned in different ways with the dynamics of change in the uplands. We have drawn on the experience and knowledge of some who have worked in the uplands for many decades, and others who are just beginning to tackle research, conservation or management issues. We have sought to integrate different approaches;  several of the studies transcend geomorphological, ecological, landscape, planning and policy perspectives. We have divided the report into five parts:


  • Facets of the uplands: perceptions and  research
  • Importance, sensitivity and land-use issues
  • Policy issues: integrated approaches to conservation, management and use
  • Modelling, processes and monitoring change in the uplands; and
  • Land management issues.


In developing these five themes, we have tried to build on the approach engendered within Ecological change in the uplands - trying to merge work reflecting the evaluation and importance of different facets of the uplands with studies of processes and practices to help understand changes in order to manage these for the benefit of the uplands as a whole.


This report is based partly on a conference held at Hatfield College, University of Durham, in spring 1999. However, we have updated papers, and drawn on a workshop held in Edinburgh on 26 April 2002. This workshop, held by Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and JNCC explored linkages between land-use policy, research and advice in the uplands; and provided an opportunity to bring parts of the report markedly up-to-date. All of the papers reflect some of the more recent changes befalling the uplands.


As we go to press, we should highlight the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease. The onset of this in February 2001 triggered major policy changes regarding the future of both hill farming in the uplands and the promotion of open-air access and, indeed, tourism in rural areas. In many ways, the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak has demonstrated in the most dramatic way possible just how intricately different land uses are linked in the uplands. No two land uses can be considered separately; rather they interact and influence the patterns of nature and land use in different parts of the country.


There are huge opportunities and challenges ahead for people who want to work in the British uplands. People need to combine the strengths of different disciplines, and to be mindful of the dynamic nature of changes in the past, and ahead. We hope this volume makes a contribution to developing our understanding of the uplands. In particular, we hope that it reflects the integrated approach that researchers and practitioners are increasingly adopting.


Finally, we should like to thank the following people for their help in organising the conference, and editing the proceedings:  R. J. Allison, R. Baxter, D. L. Higgitt, B. Huntley, J. Munneke and S.  Johnson. We are especially grateful to Charles Gimingham for penning a Foreword to the volume, based on a visionary presentation he gave to the DEFRA/JNCC workshop in April 2002.  It is refreshing to begin this volume with a spirited vision for the uplands.


Tim Burt, D. B. A. Thompson and Jeff Warburton,  Durham, May 2002.

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ISSN 0963-8091
Please cite as: Edited by: Burt, T.P., Thompson, D.B.A. & Warburton, J., (2002), The British Uplands: Dynamics of Change, JNCC Report 319, ISSN 0963-8091