Today, Friday 16th December, is the Anniversary of the 1949 National Parks and Countryside Act. It received Royal Assent on this day with all-party support and set in stone a legacy that has shaped landscapes and our relationship with nature ever since.
Fast forward 73 years and the political reality could not be more different. This week, while nations gather to discuss the urgency of the biodiversity crisis, Ministers in Westminster scored a massive own goal, missing a perfect opportunity to take forward the very plans for Protected Landscapes that they set out only months ago. This is hugely frustrating as it directly undermines all efforts to protect 30% land and sea for nature by 2030 (the 30 x 30 pledge). As a recent academic report for Natural England concluded, the only way we will be able to halt biodiversity loss and species extinction in this country is to “make National Parks better and SSSIs Bigger”.
Sir Gary Streeter MP tabled amendments to drive nature recovery in Protected Landscapes, and his call on the Government to amend the Levelling Up Bill, echoed the Prime Minister writing in his local paper earlier this week: “The value of our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty has never been more important.”
Yet that impassioned plea was almost ignored, with planning Minister Lucy Frazer MP offering a curt response:
"My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon mentioned the Glover review. He will know that Defra is implementing several recommendations from that landscapes review and is also continuing to consider how best to implement others.”
How much more considering can this Government do? It seems to be considering itself in circles, after being very clear at the start of the year that new legislation for National Parks and AONBs was absolutely necessary to deliver it’s 30x30 pledge. Since the Glover Review was published in 2019, the Government’s biodiversity indicators show year-on-year decline. Latest data shows that just a quarter of SSSIs in National Parks are in favourable condition, worse than the national average. In three years, there has been an improvement of just a fifth of a percentage point. At this rate, it will be 1,000 years before they are all in favourable condition.
In 1949, following the chaos and devastation of the second world war, all parties came together on this day to back visionary legislation to establish National Parks, AONBs, National Trails, nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. If we do not bring that legislation up to date now in the face of biodiversity and climate crisis, Government risks betraying that legacy. We must build on it – urgently - with new powers, purposes and investment for National Parks and AONBs. We look to Ministers to bring these changes to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the House of Lords.
Dr Rose O’Neill is Chief Executive of Campaign for National Parks
Wildlife & Countryside Link, Campaign for National Parks and 45 other organisations recently wrote to the Prime Minister to leave a legacy for nature-rich National Parks and AONBs. You can find the letter here
The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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