Seven years as chair – what are my reflections?

We were very sad to say goodbye to our chair, Anne Robinson, who stood down at our last AGM (she'll be staying on the board though!). Anne reflects on her time as chair of Campaign for National Parks.

Seven years as chair of Campaign for National Parks - what are my reflections? During my time there were two momentous achievements for Campaign for National Parks and its partners – the 2009 confirmation of the designation of the South Downs National Park and the 2015 confirmation of the extension of the Lakes and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. In between the circumstances have been tough, with economic recession, social division and a challenge to the very existence of National Parks themselves in Wales.

Anne Robinson

Put to the test Campaign for National Parks, the national independent voluntary sector voice for National Parks in England and Wales, proved to be a resilient feisty organisation. It adapted to survive. The economic recession hit us hard but we cut our cloth accordingly. We had to make difficult decisions but with the generosity of others – donors and Natural England - we operated within our means. As an English and Welsh charity, devolution affected us deeply but we learnt to work differently, and reflect and respect the changes. After two iterations of a Welsh committee we now work with the Alliance of National Parks Cymru whose members are able to lobby and influence Assembly Members directly.

We are often accused of just being protectionist. Two campaigns show what a nonsense this is. Campaign for National Parks fought long and hard for the funding from Ofgem to enable National Grid to begin undergrounding of overhead transmission lines. Short sections of lines and their pylons in the Peak District, New Forest and Snowdonia will, we hope, disappear in the near future, opening the way for yet more to be removed in the longer term.

Another enhancement was directly to people. The Mosaic projects in England and Wales and the most recent Youth project focused on those communities who have never had an opportunity to visit to a National Park. Even if one just looks at the targets achieved the results are impressive but in reality it is the impact on individuals themselves that takes one’s breath away. The Mosaic Youth project in particular was extraordinarily rewarding, increasing young people’s confidence, self-awareness and well-being.

In the National Park extensions, the River Lune © Natural England & Simon Warner

But we do have to be protectionist too. As the torch bearers, the champions, the advocates for National Parks, we must stand up and be counted even if the odds seem stacked against us. The huge industrial development to extract potash from the heart of the North York Moors pitted our David against the Goliath of the economy and jobs, and we lost. The lesson from what portends to be a disaster for these treasured landscapes is that we must re-educate decision makers at all levels to value National Parks for all they have to offer and give them the moral courage to resist economic pressures.

But it is the people who make Campaign for National Parks the effective organisation it is, the trustees, the staff and all our members and friends who loyally and generously give of their expertise, effort and goodwill to National Parks. Especially, it is the National Park Societies with whom Campaign for National Parks has a complementary and symbiotic relationship that are key to the organisation’s effectiveness – they are our eyes and ears on the ground and we are their national lobbying body. To you all, I say a huge thank you for being there for Campaign for National Parks throughout my time as chair.

Please note, the opinions expressed in all our blogs are of the author, and not endorsed by Campaign for National Parks. We are hosting blogs on a variety of subjects to provoke thought and discussion about National Parks.