Caroline Lucas: Government will resist the radical change we need

  • Contributor information: CNP

18 April 2019

Green MP says Government inaction is holding back the National Parks. To see the radical change we need we must honour the spirit of the original campaign to set up the National Parks over 70 years ago. 

I love walking in the South Downs National Park with my dog, Harry.  It’s one of my favourite places. Like many people, I find that up there I’m able to get perspective on my priorities and to clear my mind. So it’s easy for me to understand the enormous benefits to my constituents of having the National Park just a bus-ride away from Brighton.  

However, National Parks also face a number of challenges, and government inaction is exacerbating the problems holding our Parks back.

For too long our failure to stem the decline in biodiversity has also been evident in our protected landscapes.  Despite their protections, development threatens all the National Parks – including fracking underneath them and at their edges.  National Parks also hold a mirror to inequalities in society: the idea that they are only for certain, more affluent, parts of society to live, work or visit is pervasive. 

South Downs National Park

South Downs National Park – one of Caroline Lucas’ favourite places but facing many challenges. Photo credit: Ben Ellis

These problems aren’t exclusive to the National Parks, of course, but they are felt especially keenly here, where the landscape has been awarded protection precisely so that nature has a thriving home and everyone can get close to it. So the very fact these issues continue to loom large in National Parks, 70 years on from the Act of Parliament that established them, seems particularly perverse.

That we have reached this dire state is a result of years of political inaction and bungling the opportunities to protect and restore our natural environment.  But if the National Parks prove anything, it is that individuals and organisation can, and should, lever pressure on politicians to create far-reaching environmental change.

The 1930s saw mass protests from the working people of Manchester and Sheffield. These people were fighting for their right to access the countryside in what would become the Peak District National Park. Years later the collaboration of organisation and a public crying out for a brighter vision of post-war Britain would force National Parks onto the Government’s agenda. And in 1949 the resilience of these campaigners paid off.

In 2019 young people have been crying out for our leaders to take the climate crisis more seriously. The youth climate strikes, led by the inspirational Greta Thunberg, are not only a formidable demonstration of people power but also a powerful reminder of what we stand to lose and the future generation we will let down unless we seize this moment.

I believe that Brexit would be a disaster for the environment.  But the Agriculture and Environment Bills currently before parliament are opportunities for systemic change across the countryside, including our National Parks. These Bills must have the goal of reversing the accelerating decline of biodiversity at their heart, and in practice this means supporting and expanding conservation efforts in our National Parks.  

But don’t rely on this happening. The Government will resist the truly radical change we need. That is why it is so important we all make our voices heard. Drawing on the passion and determination of those campaigners that have gone before us, as well as the resurgence of environmental action today, we can create urgent change now.

National Parks were established as a place to protect the most important landscapes in the country and they are testament to the power of the people to decide a brighter future for our land and our people. 70 years on we must honour the legacy of the campaigners before us, and respect the generations of the future.

By Caroline Lucas MP,

Caroline is the Green MP for Brighton, Pavilion and former leader and co-leader of the Green Party.