To pastures new

30 January 2019

As Fiona Howie, our chief executive for the last four years prepares to depart Campaign for National Parks, she reflects on her time in post.

As I scrabble to tidy up my embarrassingly messy desk and write some handover notes about the practicalities of running this small charity it’s been quite hard to find the time to reflect on my almost four years as chief executive. So apologies in advance that these thoughts aren’t more profound!

Firstly I should say it’s been an honour to run this organisation, which has such a proud history and still has a critically important role. Campaign for National Parks was created in the 1930s to lead the charge for the creation of the Parks in England and Wales and while no Parks were designated under ‘my watch’ I was delighted when the extensions to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks were confirmed and came into force.

Fiona Howie with Caroline QuentinDeparting CEO Fiona Howie has many fond memories of Campaign for National Parks. Pictured here with president Caroline Quentin. 

I’m also very proud of the work we did around the Big Conversation about National Parks. Back in 2016 we launched a survey with the aim of asking people what they loved about the Parks, but what, if anything, would make them even better. Admitting the Parks aren’t perfect felt quite radical at the time, but the findings of the survey, which nearly 10,000 people responded to, would be crucial in informing our campaigns going forward. Whether that’s our work to make the Parks even more beautiful, our Raising the bar report, or our current strategic plan.

It was good, therefore, to see   our language about the potential to enhance the Parks clearly reflected in both the Glover review terms of reference in England and the Welsh Government’s priorities for the Welsh designated landscapes set out in Valued and Resilient. But there is of course so much to do. And I know after I leave the current dedicated staff team and my successor will be working hard to make that happen.

During my time here Campaign for National Parks has shown itself a force to be reckoned with. We convinced the Westminster Government to stop cutting core funding going to the National Park Authorities (a major campaign win) and we’ve fought off threats from zip wires and luges. We were pleased to see our words being used in the 25 Year Environment Plan to commit the Government to a thriving future for England’s National Parks. And we worked with partners to convince the Welsh Government not to take forward plans to change the Park purposes and remove the Sandford Principle.

While I will take with me many fond memories of Campaign for National Parks it sadly hasn’t always been successful! While there is positive language about the importance of the National Parks from Defra and Welsh Government ministers, the Parks still face many threats. And often I think the Parks are taken for granted and people don’t realise what a valuable asset they are to the nation and their need for vigilant protection. The potash mine in the North York Moors getting planning permission was a very sad day for example. I was also incredibly disappointed when we weren’t able to secure continuation funding for our Mosaic Youth project so we could keep working in five of the English National Parks to support 16 – 25 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds to access, enjoy and benefit from their local National Park. Mosaic went through different iterations during its existent. It was an incredible programme of projects through which we estimate that between 2002 and 2016 we were able to introduce over 30,000 people to the inspiring benefits of National Parks.

A new direction for Campaign for National Parks

Photo credit: Andrew Hall

Campaign for National Parks is a tiny organisation with a massive remit and we are only able to achieve much of what we do through the dedicated hard work of the staff, trustees, Council members, partners and our supporters. But our size does mean we can be reactive and responsive in a way that larger organisations sometimes struggle to.

Through this role I have met many fantastic people, who are both inspiring and incredibly dedicated, and been able to visit many new and breath-taking places. I know I have been very lucky to lead this organisation. And while I am excited to move on to my new role, I look forward to watching with pride as the Campaign for National Parks continues its important work to celebrate, champion, protect and enhance the Parks for the benefit of everyone.

by Fiona Howie, 

Outgoing chief executive of Campaign for National Parks.