Loch a Chnuic, Abernethy RSPB reserve, Speyside, Scotland, August 2007


The UK uplands form a distinctive and beloved part of our countryside.

The RSPB has a long-standing interest in the uplands, home to wonderful wildlife and some of the UK's last great wild areas.

A better future for the uplands

Upland habitats range from pastures and hay meadows in the valley bottoms to more extensive areas of rough grass, upland heath (heather moor), blanket bog, woodland and mountain habitats.

These habitats, shaped by altitude, latitude, soils and climate, have been influenced by man over thousands of years.

The RSPB has a long-standing interest in the uplands, home to wonderful wildlife and some of the UK's last great wild areas.

In 2007, the RSPB published The Uplands - Time to change? highlighting the importance of the uplands across the UK and called for a debate on the future of our upland areas.

Since publication of this document there has been a wide-ranging debate about the future of the uplands culminating in 2011 with a Defra review of upland policy in England.

Securing benefits for people and wildlife

The RSPB believes that we must find better ways to ensure the full potential of the uplands are realised.

We want to ensure that the people and wildlife who live and work there thrive, and that the uplands deliver the full range of environmental, economic and social benefits for society as a whole.

We believe the range of benefits which the uplands deliver is currently undervalued, and at risk. Today, the uplands are important for a wide range of species many of which have often undergone major declines elsewhere and are in some cases now largely restricted to the uplands. This does not mean upland wildlife is thriving. 

The recent State of Nature report revealed a staggering 65 per cent of upland species assessed had declined, with a third of species showing strong declines. Most upland habitats and species benefit from less intensive grazing and habitat management - a defining feature of the vulnerable High Nature Value Farming systems which predominate in some parts of the uplands.

What are uplands for?

Society needs to be clear about what the uplands are for and identify how to better support a wildlife-rich natural environment.

This should be underpinned by sustainable land use and land management practices which secure a range of benefits including food production, drinking water, carbon storage and cultural services (eg space for leisure and recreation) so vital to our physical and mental well-being.

Those with an interest in the uplands and those who benefit or rely on them, must work together to secure policies and support measures which enable land managers to adapt to climate change and to deliver multiple societal demands for food, timber, water, carbon storage, wildlife and space for leisure and recreation.

The upland landscape will continue to change as it has done for millennia. Future support measures must seek to reward only those land use and management activities which make a positive contribution to sustaining our uplands for the benefit of society as a whole. 

As elsewhere, funds from the Common Agricultural Policy and other relevant funding streams must be better used to underpin the delivery of a wide range of environmental and societal goals.