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Social barriers and opportunities to the implementation of the England Peat Strategy : Final report

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Mark Reed, Dr Regina Hansda, Heidi Saxby, Lowell Mills, Professor Guy Garrod, Dr Amy Proctor, Dr Orla CollinsORCiD, Dr Gavin Stewart, Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Context Natural England ran five Peatland Pilots to explore barriers and opportunities to protect, restore and sustainably manage peatlands, and engage stakeholders in the development of the England Peat Strategy. Located in Dartmoor, the East Anglian fens, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Cumbria and Northumberland, and the North York Moors, the pilots explored a range of issues to help inform the strategy. Aim Land manager engagement with policy is driven by external factors (e.g. land tenure, farm characteristics and agri-environment scheme flexibility) and internal factors (e.g. availability of financial and social capital, risk perception and perceived self-efficacy) that can act as enablers or barriers to delivery of policy objectives. We sought to understand how internal influences shape favourable or oppositional attitudes towards policy mechanisms within the England Peatland Strategy, and to use these insights to make recommendations to tailor the design and communication of the strategy to engender more positive engagement, which may lead to more effective strategy design and implementation. Research design and methods The research followed a mixed-methods research design, combining insights from qualitative interviews with photo survey and deliberative valuation methods to provide an analysis of social barriers and opportunities to implementing the England Peat Strategy. We considered how people live from peatlands, through the different ways in which peatlands benefit people’s livelihoods; how people live with peatlands, including its biodiversity and ecosystem processes; how people live in peatlands, where peatland landscapes are core to the places and histories that are important for community, recreation and wellbeing; and how people live as peatlands, where people experience themselves as part of the peatland landscapes and peatlands in turn shape peoples embodied identities and experiences. A single stakeholder analysis workshop was used to stratify subsequent interview and workshop invitations to represent the full range of interests in the strategy and pilots. A total of 50 interviews were conducted across all five Peat Pilots, stratified by stakeholder type. A selection of interviewees took geo-referenced photographs and answered additional questions linked to these locations. One stakeholder from each site and Natural England’s Peat Pilot lead were invited to take part in portrait photography sessions to further explore their relationship with the land. Workshops were facilitated for each Peat Pilot to triangulate interview and photo data with group discussion, and to collect and evaluate future scheme options through deliberation. Qualitative data was analysed using Grounded Theory-based analysis and the project was approved by Newcastle University ethics committee. Key messages 1. Frame messages and proposed actions in ways that are consistent with the identity, values, norms and beliefs of EPS target audiences: a) Frame benefits of implementing the strategy in a pluralistic way, in terms of self-regarding (e.g. financial, risk, etc.), broader personal (e.g. place identity), collective values (e.g. fairness, environmental protection) and social benefits (e.g. collaboration opportunities and benefits to local communities) as much as public goods, despite the strong imperative to frame policy in terms of public goods. b) Ensure values, messages and proposed actions are framed in a way that is consistent with the identity of land managers (e.g. as adaptive innovators diversifying their businesses to meet public demand and custodians protecting existing benefits), rather than reframing them in roles they do not identify with (e.g. park rangers delivering an agenda for a Government they may or may not believe in). c) Ensure payment levels provide genuine incentives reflective of the value of benefits, but also of land managers themselves in their role in delivering them, covering at least the full economic cost of implementing changes. 2. Take an evidence-based and systematic approach to the communication and delivery of EPS objectives that is adapted to the needs of key stakeholder groups: a) Map policy/delivery mechanisms onto desired EPS outcomes as these are likely to play out for different stakeholder groups, to identify additional activities that might be needed to deliver outcomes that meet the objectives of both the EPS and stakeholders as far as possible. The co-production of such a delivery plan would increase the likelihood of identifying effective activities that are adapted to the needs, preferences and constraints of specific stakeholder groups, and could be done on a region-by-region basis, facilitated by local Natural England staff.b) Identify key individuals and organisations with the ability to influence attitudes and drive behaviours, alongside the identification of hard-to-reach groups that may require specific strategies and investment to ensure they benefit from the EPS. Desired EPS outcomes and both planned and newly identified mechanisms then need to be communicated as far as possible through peer-to-peer networks and other trusted sources of information. Key findings The importance of place. Place attachment and place identity framed many of the values, beliefs and norms that were expressed in interviews, photo survey and portrait photography across the Peat Pilot sites. There was strong agreement from interviewees across sites and from different backgrounds, that peatland management should prioritise carbon sequestration, water quality, biodiversity and food production. However, these priorities were not based on disembodied evidence but instead were founded on a deep personal connection with, and experience in, the landscape. The prominence of both place attachment and identity was further emphasized in the way that land managers spoke about themselves as custodians of the land and its heritage, and many considered their practices intrinsically linked to this sense of identity. Value orientation. Protecting the environment was by far the most important shared value in the two sites that were assessed using the “values compass”, with more than half in each site also citing social justice and fairness as an important value. In contrast, none of the participants chose social order, authority or respect for tradition as one of their top five values. While land managers were among the most likely to speak about self-regarding and personal values linked to farm business viability and profitability, they were equally likely to emphasize social-altruistic and biospheric value orientations. Land managers often had different definitions of ‘public goods’ (including productive functions of the land), and therefore, what should be funded under ‘public money for public goods’, compared to other stakeholders. All however shared concerns about the extent to which the public understood and valued the benefits arising from peatlands. Staying in control. Land managers who were interviewed had a strong locus of control (defined as a perception that the individual has sufficient control over their circumstances and actions that they can achieve some kind of change), but this often felt threatened by policy change, with specific concerns expressed about the extent to which the EPS might constrain management options and freedom of action. A strong component of the identities expressed by land managers focussed on their freedom of action, openness to change and adaptability as decision-makers in the landscapes they managed. There was a feeling that some of this locus of control had to be given up if they adopted land management prescriptions from Government, as might be offered under the EPS. Incentivise engagement with the EPS, even if this is only limited, rather than trying to change values and beliefs. Our research showed that beliefs around some issues (e.g. impacts of burning on carbon balance) are more conflictive than others (e.g. impacts of grazing on peatland carbon dynamics); these beliefs are likely to be tied to identities of different stakeholders within their social networks. However, past research has shown that land managers beliefs can change over time with participation in EPS. Thus rather than focusing on changing values and beliefs as a precursor to engaging with the EPS, the focus should be on incentivising engagement with at least one element of the EPS, and this may in time lead to their values and beliefs changing. Once changes take hold within a sufficient number of individuals within social networks these changes may percolate, and bring others in. Conservation has to pay. The need for conservation to pay was re-iterated by land managers of different ages and farm types across the sites, and was echoed by many of the other stakeholders who took part in the research. Conservation was widely perceived as loss making, with neither maintenance nor opportunity costs fully covered, let alone the land manager’s time. There was therefore a strong consensus that an increase in payments was an essential condition for increasing uptake of restoration options. Fair compensation needs to at least include capital costs, income foregone, ongoing maintenance (of restoration, and reflecting temporal variation in these costs), opportunity costs (e.g. stock exclusion), time/labour costs and provide long-term financial stability (e.g. some participants suggested current 10 year contracts are too short for business planning), if changes in practice are to make business as well as environmental sense. As a result, respondents suggested that the majority of landowners choosing peatland restoration under public agri-environment schemes to date (based primarily on payments for capital works and income foregone) were already interested in restoring their land. As expressed by workshop participants, “We can adopt any policy we like…what we want to achieve at the end of it, but there’s a payroll that comes with it…” and “you can’t be green if you’re in the red”. Overall, while sufficient financial incentives were seen as an essential requirement for increased EPS uptake, there were varying degrees to which this was deemed to be sufficient relative to the non-monetary aspects related to identity and value congruence discussed previously, as well as diverse viewpoints with regard to appropriate conditions for schemes. For example, people had different views on where trade-offs between flexibility and complexity should lie, with some arguing for regional variation or weighting and others for a ‘level playing field’. Concerns about new scheme options. There was disagreement over the extent to which managed burning had a significant effect on carbon storage or loss peatlands, and consequently over whether land managers should be paid to reduce burning for this reason. However, the majority saw climate change as an issue that should be primarily tackled by Government, with taxpayers contributing towards restoration and paying the full cost of measures to reduce wildfire risk. Linked to this, there was wider support for post-Brexit agri-environmental scheme options that promote “climate smart” agriculture with locally targeted, multiple outcomes (as proposed in Tier 2 ELMS). However, there were concerns around the conditions that might be attached to new scheme options, payment levels, the possibility of losing eligibility for Basic Payment Scheme payments after restoring peatlands, and there were questions around the feasibility and flexibility of some restoration activities. Moreover, preliminary results from the logic map (section 4.1) suggest that small isolated rural communities may be particularly vulnerable to systemic impacts from changes to farm/estate income as we transition to ELMS with potential knock-on effects on schools, demography and house prices in locations where finely balanced tipping points exist. Barriers in common land. Major barriers were identified that are likely to prevent restoration on common land without significant precursory changes in policy and practice, including institutional arrangements around payments for common land. Issues included, for example: the need for landscape scale co-ordination for effective restoration; the consequent need to aggregate individual commons in single agreements on a geographic basis; payment splits between different rightsowners; and facilitation and/or adjudication of decision-making processes within groups of commoners where individuals have differing priorities and between landowners and other rightsholders. Public and private funding for peatland restoration need to work together. As the Government prepares to fund peatland restoration via the Nature For Climate Fund, it is important to protect and nurture the nascent, but credible and active, private sector funding restoration via the Peatland Code, which has the potential to supplement and extend public funding for restoration. However, to realise the full potential of these funding sources, and to match the scale and urgency of peatland restoration, mechanisms will be required to ensure different funding sources are at least additive, and do not compete, block, or cancel each other out. Support and inclusion. While many land managers had a strong sense of self-efficacy around their skills and capacity to deliver public goods, others expressed doubts about the extent to which they could change their practices, and the level of support that would be available if things went wrong. This suggests advisory services may need to play a stronger role in supporting more challenging changes in practice proposed in the EPS. Many land managers did not want to take risks in land management for fear of getting blamed if outcomes were not right – a more flexible framework would allow for experimentation, including learning from mistakes in the short-term, to find local practices that work in the long-term. However, social structures may constrain innovation if women and young people continue to be excluded from or under-represented in land use decision-making. Respect for local knowledge. Land managers expressed pride in the value of their local knowledge, culture and tradition to guide decisions, linked to place-based identities. This was one reason for the general positive reception of future schemes based on “public money for public goods” or “payment by results”. By drawing explicitly on local knowledge, payment by results approaches enable land managers to find the solutions that work for their land adaptively, rather than following prescriptions. This respects their expertise and experience, feeding into their professional identity and locus of control. Participants emphasised the unique contexts in which they managed land and warned against blanket approaches in the EPS that might not be appropriate in their area. Policy messages Incentive levels need to increase to reflect the value of public goods and the role of land managers in providing them. Framing benefits of the EPS in terms of financial and social gains to land managers and their networks is a quick win that could increase engagement with the strategy with limited additional work (see next point). However, this cannot be done without also increasing payment levels. Payment levels need to provide incentives that reflect the value of public goods as well as the role of land managers in delivering them. At minimum, this should cover the full economic cost of implementing and maintaining changes, but participants across study sites made it clear that this was a minimum and that more attractive payment rates would be necessary to obtain significant uptake of scheme options promoting restoration and/or sustainable management of peatlands. To be attractive, economic returns from entering a scheme and payment terms and conditions would need to compare favourably to existing land use and management.Emphasise how the EPS delivers personal and social benefits as well as public goods, acknowledging that there will be trade-offs. Frame benefits of implementing the strategy in a pluralistic way, in terms of self-regarding (e.g. financial, risk, etc.), broader personal (e.g. place identity), collective values (e.g. fairness, environmental protection) and social benefits (e.g. collaboration opportunities and benefits to local communities) as much as public goods, despite the strong imperative to frame policy in terms of public goods. However, the framing of benefits in relation to pro-self and pro-social values should not, come at the expense of clear messages about benefits for nature, which will appeal to the widespread biospheric value-orientation found across the land managers we interviewed and who completed the values compass questionnaire. Where there are conflicts between incompatible sets of values, beliefs and norms, as is commonly the case in land management decisions, it is better to acknowledge these, to increase the likelihood that decisions are made (typically compromises). This would reduce the cognitive dissonance of conflicting values, rather than creating a misleading impression that restoration and sustainable management is easy or always leads to a ‘win-win’ of financial, social and environmental benefits.Give land managers flexibility in the way they can deliver EPS objectives, emphasising the control they will retain over their own management decisions and speaking to the competent majority while providing training and support to those who need it. It will likely benefit engagement with restoration if land managers are positioned more centrally in any narrative about environmental benefits as custodians who protect existing benefits and who facilitate additional new benefits through their actions, consistent with their values, beliefs and norms, emphasising the pivotal role this community is able to play in protecting and enhancing ecosystem services from peatlands. This stands in contrast to a common policy narrative which places the Government at its heart, delivering policy outcomes for the public by “nudging” the behaviour of land managers through well-designed policy mechanisms. In this policy-dominant narrative, land managers play a supporting role, enabling a Government that they may or may not support, to achieve and claim success through their actions. It is important to emphasise the control land managers can retain (to opt in to schemes, and once opted in to choose and adapt how they deliver scheme goals) and their competence to deliver the EPS in their own way, alongside the provision of opportunities for professional development and support for those who do not feel competent. While there is a risk that a less competent minority may not seek help and so fail to deliver outcomes, there is a more significant risk in focusing on this minority in the narrative, and so disempowering the majority by removing their locus of control.Position land managers centrally in the EPS narrative as custodians and innovators, in line with shared values and identities in this community. Frame the role of It would be beneficial if the EPS framed the role of land managers in terms that are consistent with chosen identities, as expressed in interviews, rather than reframing them in new roles that conflict with these identities. The shift towards public goods is problematic for land managers whose primary identity is framed in terms of food production (this was particularly evident in the East Anglian Fens, given their role in food production). As such, the importance of food production needs to be retained, whilst expanding this function to encompass the production of additional non-market/commodity goods. For example, reframing hill farmers as “park rangers” helping to save the climate requires a more significant identity shift than the idea of a farmer selling carbon instead of (or in addition to) meat as an additional commodity. Alternatively, farming public goods could be framed as a form of diversification, playing into the identity of land managers as adaptable innovators with good business sense, as opposed to reframing them as conservationists, who may be perceived to have quite different values, beliefs and norms to the average land manager. Even whilst our results suggest that farming and conservation communities share many altruistic, biospheric and place-based values, values are framed differently depending on people’s roles and identities. Provide social science training to front-line agency staff to ensure local and scientific knowledge are each given critical consideration in the implementation of the EPS. There is evidence that researchers and Government representatives are among the least trusted sources of information among the UK farming community, so it matters who delivers key messages about the EPS when it is published (see communication and impact plan below). We are less likely to learn from people who are unlike (socially distant from) us, who we instinctively do not trust. Scientific knowledge tends to be generated by people with different value systems to many land managers (it might not be conservationists’ values around nature that are the problem, but perceptions of their wider values around animal rights, veganism, liberalism, class identity, etc.). Conversely, we are more likely to learn from people who are like us (our peer groups), who we instinctively trust, even if the strength of their evidence is weak, especially if their evidence has an associative coherence with our other beliefs. We are less likely to believe things that threaten our psychological wellbeing, e.g. make us feel guilty, threatened or powerless. As a result, researchers are more likely to uncritically accept findings from papers written by other researchers, even if they are flawed, and stakeholders are more likely to uncritically accept messages from other people like them that are not based on sound evidence. However, the natural science training of many agency staff assumes an ontology and epistemology that presumes universal objective truth, making them right and others wrong. Therefore, as part of the longer-term capacity required to implement the EPS, consideration may need to be given to the professional development of agency staff, including training in the philosophy of science and social sciences to enable both local and scientific knowledge to be treated equally critically and with equal respect. Interpretation of the EPS based on a more relativistic world view is likely to engender mutual respect and collaborative working towards the goals of the strategy by front-line staff.Provide professional development opportunities for land managers, and consider developing codes of good practice. Participants across pilots emphasised the need for education, personal development and support for land managers to change practices. Participants cited lack of time and resources as barriers to engaging in professional development, but also said they were more likely to adopt new practices if they understood their likely benefits e.g. the potential for cover crops in the East Anglian Fens to improve productivity while reducing erosion losses and fertiliser input. Moreover, exploring new practices with peers in a local community can contribute towards pro-social values, normalise new approaches and increase the likelihood of adoption. Participants emphasised the need for support to be independent (e.g. from industry interests), coherent (e.g. centrally organised with Government support rather than fragmented), tailored to the local context and the needs and pace of individuals, and delivered by trusted advisors familiar with the local area. Alternatively, codes of good practices could be developed alongside the EPS to drive more effective implementation of interventions (for example, the recent Defra Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP) for reducing ammonia emissions provides simple, evidence-based ways to reduce NH3 emissions from agriculture).Work with public and private intermediaries to increase uptake of Peatland Code projects by landowners and managers. Key barriers to engagement with the Peatland Code include the complexity of proposing projects, and perceived risks associated with contract length and potential future ineligibility for more lucrative future public schemes based on the principle of “public money for public goods”. There is evidence that the perceived complexity of new schemes can be reduced via clear communication and actual complexity can be reduced via intermediaries (who do the fieldwork and paperwork to validate projects for a fee). In Scotland and Wales, this has been done via publicly funded intermediaries (Peatland Action Officers in Scotland and project officers in Wales). In England this service is currently only available via private intermediaries. However, any attempt to replicate the Scottish model via publicly funded landscape scale enablers or facilitators would need to ensure effective collaboration with private sector intermediaries and investors to ensure public funding complements rather than outcompetes private investment. Design any new public funding for peatland restoration to ensure it does not outcompete private investment via the Peatland Code. We have set out we set out five options for managing the costs and benefits of integrating public and private funding for restoration, which could be deployed individually or in combination:Funds delineation (using public investment to fund a discrete menu of ‘value-added’ components of a peatland scheme);Carbon trigger funds (setting up government funding that only ‘triggers’ when a certain level of private sector carbon funding is achieved);Establishing fund-matching or co-investment as a default principle;Using a transparent cost-benefit matrix to target public sector funds; andCreating integrated systems for public-private implementation.Consider legal and regulatory mechanisms that could help overcome other barriers to peatland restoration. This includes concerns from landowners that restoration could lead to areas of wetland and scrub that would: i) not be eligible for BPS payments; ii) not be eligible for Agricultural Property Relief or Business Property Relief, increasing liabilities under Inheritance Tax law; iii) lead to designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, leading to increased statutory obligations and commitments on the land. Changes in legislation and regulation could be considered in each of these three areas to reduce risks to landowners from restoring their land.Consider how the EPS could increase public awareness of the importance of peatlands and how they are managed. The EPS may be able to play a role in increasing public recognition for the work done by land managers in peatlands and help build a more positive public image. To do this, a communication and impact plan linked to the EPS (see points below) could actively promote the widest possible range of benefits of peatlands to the public, including local information campaigns that showcase public investments in local peatlands. Such campaigns have the potential to reward those who are already engaging with a greater sense of achievement and recognition, while driving new and increased engagement of other land managers with mechanisms contained within the EPS. At the same time, this would help justify public investment and increase public understanding. The spatial scale of this public engagement matters. While public engagement initiatives linked to tourism (e.g. archaeological tours or art exhibitions) may be cost effective, initiatives targeting local communities have the potential to feed into a sense of place attachment and identity in both community members and land managers, further reinforcing decisions to engage with measures in the EPS. Public awareness campaigns also have the potential to re-balance the negative stereotypes of land managers promoted by some groups in the media, and re-inforce images of land managers as custodians of nature in addition to being producers of food. By engaging with the farming media and key opinion leaders in the land management community, it may be possible to further reinforce existing biospheric values, beliefs and norms within the land management community, driving further engagement with mechanisms within the EPS. Identify peatland communities that are particularly vulnerable to changes in payment levels under ELMS that might threaten the viability of these communities, using regional payments under Tier 2 to ensure these wider changes do not undermine the goals of the EPS. Systemic vulnerabilities to rural communities arising from changes to payment levels under ELMS could be predicted based on existing evidence and used to “rural proof” policy mechansims in the EPS, with the option to use Tier 2 regional payments to reduce vulnerabilities where there are finely balanced tipping pointsCo-produce a regional EPS delivery plan, building on the Peat Pilots, using publicly funded landscape facilitators. As part of this rural proofing, a regional EPS delivery plan could be co-produced with stakeholders, building on knowledge and collaborations established during the Peat Pilots. To do this effectively, existing Peat Pilots would need to be extended and replicated across other peatlands. This could draw on landscape facilitators, employed under the Nature for Climate Fund, to co-produce delivery plans on a region-by-region basis. Section 4.3 outlines methods that could be used to ensure the approach is both co-productive and systematic, enabling policy/delivery mechanisms to be mapped onto desired EPS outcomes, considering (based on available evidence and expert knowledge) how these are likely to play out for different stakeholder groups. Based on this, it would be possible to identify specific risks that EPS outcomes are not delivered for particular groups, and identify additional activities (or adapt existing policy/delivery mechanisms) that might be able to deliver at-risk outcomes. The co-production of such a delivery plan would increase the likelihood of identifying effective activities that are adapted to the needs, preferences and constraints of specific stakeholder groups. Ensure EPS delivery plans integrate ongoing opportunities for stakeholder engagement and social innovation. Although delivery mechanisms would need to be identified in collaboration with stakeholders at each site, illustrative mechanisms arising from our research in the Peat Pilots include:To foster innovation and co-production of locally relevant delivery mechanisms, social innovation labs might be used to co-produce and resource small-scale experiments in land use and management, with formal evaluations leading to their extension, adaptation or discontinuationThe EPS may seek to promote land manager-led groups/fora that enable land managers to interact and collaborate with peers to share good practice on peatland restoration and sustainable management, and communicate the benefits of peatlands to the public, providing opportunities to build social connectedness and trust through activities linked to the EPS.Demonstration sites have also been shown to reduce perceived complexity and increase observability of benefits, driving the adoption of new agricultural practices. This is most effective when sites and events are run by other land managers who are well known and trusted. The report provides a brief introduction and account of the methods used, followed by a detailed results section and three discussion sections, focusing on designing and communicating the EPS to enhance engagement and implementation and economic considerations.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Reed MS, Kenter JO, Hansda R, Martin J, Curtis T, Prior S, Hay M, Saxby H, Mills L, Post J, Garrod G, Proctor A, Collins O, Guy JA, Stewart G, Whittingham M

Publication type: Report

Publication status: Published

Series Title:

Year: 2020

Pages: 125

Print publication date: 14/09/2020

Acceptance date: 15/08/2020

Institution: Natural England and Defra, Newcastle University

Place Published: Newcastle upon Tyne