‘Review for the 21st Century’ must take on urgent challenges

25 May 2018

At the start of 2018, the Westminster Government published the long awaited 25 Year Environment Plan. Within its’ 151 pages, nestled snugly in the second chapter, is the promise of a 21st Century ‘Hobhouse’ Review of National Parks and AONBs in England.

“[A review for the 21st century] will consider coverage of designations, how designated areas deliver their responsibilities, how designated areas are financed, and whether there is scope for expansion. It will also consider opportunities to enhance the environment in existing designations, and expand on the existing eight-point plan for National Parks to connect more people with the natural environment.” – 25 Year Environment Plan (2018), p 66

Four months on many of us are off to the National Parks for the bank holiday weekend but we are still waiting for more details to emerge. We welcomed the proposed review when the plan was launched and we will be urging those conducting the review grasp this opportunity to recognise and address the challenges facing National Parks in the 21st century. Specifically, we hope the review will support the Parks to be better protected, more accessible and even more beautiful. Let me explain.

The 1947 Hobhouse Review led to the establishment of our current National Parks, including the very first in 1951, the Peak District. Photo credit: Peak District National Park Authority.

In March we launched a new report, National Parks for all: making car free travel easier, highlighting the urgent need to improve sustainable ways of getting to and around the National Parks. The report found that too often, a lack of good public transport, expensive fares and a lack of strategic oversight is excluding some people from enjoying the most special landscapes in England and Wales. It also sets out our recommendations for improving car-free access.

This summer we will be publishing a new report looking at how to improve the diversity and abundance of wildlife within the National Parks. We are clear that as protected landscapes, National Parks must be home to thriving wildlife and healthy, functional habitats.

While we believe there are opportunities to enhance the Parks, the review absolutely cannot undermine the good work already going on in them. The National Park Authorities need to be well resourced to ensure that they are able to support vibrant communities, generate sustainable solutions to pressing environmental and social issues, and implement plans to enhance the beautiful areas of countryside under their responsibility

National Parks currently contribute millions of pounds to the rural and visitor economy and inspire artists, writers and conservationists. They provide a sense of wonder and connection with nature that is good for mental and physical health. They include vital habitats for our native wildlife and refuges for rare and imperilled species. They even provided the image for the front cover of the 25 Year Environment Plan itself!

So let’s not let this opportunity go to waste. Next year will mark 70 years since the original 1949 Act that led to the protection of beauty swathes of countryside we love and enjoy as National Parks. What a perfect time to tackle the challenges facing National Parks.

I hope the review will build on the incredible environmental legacy of the original Hobhouse review by grappling with the biggest trials our National Parks are facing and sharing our vision for a greener, safer future for the most loved landscapes in the country.

Andrew Hall is campaigns and communications officer for Campaign for National Parks.

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