Cornish farmers say Natural England 'land grab' will threaten livelihoods

  • Watch Kathy Wardle's report

Farmers say plans to turn a part of west Cornwall into a Special Site of Scientific Interest will prevent them from farming the land - and cost them tens of thousands of pounds.

Natural England has announced plans to designate Penwith Moor as a Special Site of Scientific Interest - otherwise known as an SSSI.

It impacts 7,660 acres of lowland heath and grassland - but much of the land within the site is privately-owner.

At a pop-up public consultation event in St Just, some farmers and other landowners told ITV News West Country the status will limit what they are able to do on their own land.

Bridgette Clamp is beef farmer and a National Farmers Union rep. She says the designation would mean she would have to give Natural England 28 days' notice of whatever she wants to do on her own land.

"It's more or less a land grab," she said.

"We've been farming it sympathetically as part of the DEFRA High-Level Stewardship scheme, and we think we've been doing a good job.

"It's the fact that we have to ask permission to go onto our own land. It's frightening it really is, it's caused a lot of stress, a lot of sleepless nights with farmers here in West Penwith."

Arable Farmer Stephen Cock Credit: ITV News

Arable farmer Stephen Cock has been farming the West Penwith landscape for decades - growing potatoes, broccoli and daffodils in rotation.

Now he says 150 acres of his arable land has been earmarked to become part of the new Site of Special Scientific Interest - or SSSI.

Part of his land borders a peat bog that Natural England wants to protect from farming run-off.

But Stephen says that will drastically impact how he farms - and cost him tens of thousands of pounds.

He said: "We're going to lose a third of our land, and the ability to farm that land.

"They won't allow us to grow crops anymore, so this land will only be able to produce 20% of its original production. The only thing we'll be able to do perhaps is grass it - and then we've got to ask permission to graze that."

He hit out at the lack of financial compensation for the change, saying: "[There are] no subsidies, no grants, no nothing - they're just taking your livelihood and it's devastating."

Penwith Moor includes lowland heath, grassland, acid fen and woodland Credit: ITV News

Natural England says the SSSI designation will recognise the special features of 59 parcels of semi-natural habitat and farmland spanning over 3,100 hectares stretching from St Just to St Ives.

The site is home to rare and endangered plants like coral-necklace, pale dog-violet, pillwort and Cornish moneywort. Rare lichens grow on the outcrops of granite rock, and the area also supports a rich diversity of invertebrates nestled in the heathland.

The site dates back to prehistoric times and has a greater concentration of archaeological and heritage sites than any other comparable area in Western Europe.

Area manager at Natural England Wesley Smyth said: "This SSSI designation will help protect and restore sites of national importance to wildlife, with farming and nature continuing to co-exist and shape the landscape.

"We will continue to support farmers and the local people who live, work and visit the Penwith Moors to drive nature recovery and support sustainable uses for this site."

A Natural England SSSI notification at Boswens Credit: ITV News

Natural England says it has a duty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to designate any area of land which in its opinion is of ‘special interest’ for its wildlife (flora and fauna), geology or landform.

The government has laid out its ambitions in the 25 Year Environment Plan for a growing and resilient network of land, water and sea that is richer in plants and wildlife, and has committed to a legal target to halt the decline of nature by 2030 underpinned by the Environment Act.

A four-month period of consultation is now underway during which anyone may comment on, or object to, the SSSI notification. The SSSI designation will then be confirmed, amended or withdrawn within nine months of the notification.

To respond to the Natural England consultation, visit: Penwith Moors SSSI - Defra - Citizen Space.