This year’s annual celebration of the National Parks is quite unlike others. ‘Discover National Parks’ fortnight comes at a momentous time for England and Wales’ protected landscapes. Our future relationship with the European Union, both the Agriculture and Environment Bills, the Government’s Year of Green Action, the Glover review of England’s designated landscapes and the 70th anniversary of the 1949 Act that gave us National Parks in the first place - all have implications for the Parks.
For many, Discover National Parks fortnight is an opportunity to celebrate the Parks in all their complex glory: to experience their beauty, the peace and tranquillity that they offer us. Whether through special events such as dementia friendly walks in the Peak District or family nature trails in Dartmoor, the National Park Authorities are doing a fantastic job bringing new audiences closer to nature.
With so much happening there are many opportunities to shape the future of the National Parks and Campaign for National Parks is certainly not taking this fortnight lying down. If you caught our special episode of BBC’s Countryfile, you will know that we are taking forward our fight to make the National Parks truly accessible for all and the leading spaces for wildlife in the country and to ensure that they are more strongly protected.
Last year the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan listed the National Parks as one of the seminal achievements of the environmental movement in the past 100 years. As the organisation set up to establish, the Parks, we quite agree. In our 70th anniversary celebrations we strive to honour the legacy of the campaigners who came before us but we cannot help but feel there’s unfinished business.
Those pioneers, who created the National Parks that you know and love, had a vision of beautiful landscapes properly protected so everyone can enjoy them. However, we know that there are too many cases where this is not the case.
It is too easy for warm words from DEFRA to be undermined by inconsistency across Government departments. Late last year we were aghast that not only did the BEIS Select Committee refuse to rule out National Parks as sites for nuclear waste disposal infrastructure, but that then minister Richard Hetherington cited a destructive potash mine as an example of good development in the National Parks. Our environmental challenges are a matter for all government departments and we urge them all to speak with a consistent voice that respects and protects these hugely valuable national treasures.
Furthermore, too many sections of our society face barriers in accessing the National Parks. This is a battle we have fought for a long time. While we are seeing some improvement with regards to disabled and BME access in some of the Parks, widespread congestion and the massive over-use of private cars is preventing swathes of society from getting to and around the most famous landscapes in the country as well as undermining the very reasons we love them.
So, yes, let’s celebrate the National Parks in Discover National Parks fortnight but let’s not pretend they are perfect. Get out there and explore their rockpools, ancient woodlands and mountain top views but know that there is still much work to be done in these extraordinary landscapes.
We believe that the National Parks can, and should, be inspiring examples in the struggle to face the nations’ biggest environmental challenges. This Discover National Park Fortnight, Campaign for National Parks will be working tirelessly with our partners at Wildlife and Countryside Link to ensure that’s the case.
Andrew Hall, Campaigns and Communications Officer, Campaigns for National Parks
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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