Conservation Policies and Management Issues
The conservation and management of traditional boundaries within the Northumberland National Park is a challenge that necessitates a fine balancing act between agricultural, natural environmental, historical/archaeological and general public interests. Of necessity the processes demand the drawing up of prioritised schemes for action.
At the present time the fate of our traditional boundaries hangs in the balance as agricultural and land-use practices change and as funding levels for the maintenance of boundaries have fluctuated. By the same token a quantifiable measure of the total extent of traditional boundaries and their condition within the National Park does not exist. This is a crucial issue which must be addressed in the long term as an overall contribution to a better understanding of the 'State of the Park'.
The staff of the National Park have a long history of constructive involvement in the conservation and management of traditional boundaries on a farm by farm basis. This involvement goes back over many years, spanning the period when specific walling and hedging grants were available to the farming community from the National Authority up to the inception of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and the abolition of Northumberland National Park Authority walling and hedging grants. It is important to note that without this involvement the stock of traditional boundaries within the area of the National Park would have been even further eroded in some areas than it is at the present time.
With the development of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, National Park staff have been able to bring their expertise to bear on a range of problems relating to the conservation and management of traditional boundaries. In conjunction with DEFRA officials they have had a significant impact on entry levels to Stewardship with 48% of the total area of the National Park now under agreements. Even with this percentage of farmland under Stewardship arrangements it still remains difficult to enlist the services of experienced craftsmen to undertake boundary conservation .
Farmers not involved with the Countryside Stewardship scheme will, themselves, prioritise the maintenance and repair of walls, concentrating potentially on those that are central to everyday agricultural activity to the detriment of those that are not. Where a wall is perceived as being no longer agriculturally viable then a post and wire fence will certainly be seen as a cheaper substitute and traditionally constructed walls and banks and hedges may well be left to succumb to the forces of benign neglect.
A standard specification for walling repairs has been established in England by DEFRA and there are general guidelines. These are not universally appropriate, however, as there are too many regional variations of which they do not take proper account.
The following section is intended to present a series of practical policies and outline actions connected with the conservation and management of traditional boundaries within the Northumberland National Park area.