Decarbonisation Day

Richard Leafe, CEO of the Lake District National Park Authority and National Parks England Lead Officer for Climate Leadership, on the importance of National Parks in tackling the climate and nature emergencies.

Keswick to Threlkeld Trail (Credit: Lake District National Park Authority)

Those of us who live and work in protected landscapes are already seeing the impact of climate change. Having worked in the Lake District for 15 years, I see first hand the devastation that flooding can cause and increasingly the impact of drought, fire risks and lake temperature changes.

As world leaders gather for COP27, it is a timely reminder about the vital role parks play in the fight against climate change. The focus today at conference (11th November) is de-carbonisation – something National Parks are addressing collectively. Our ambition is to achieve rapid action towards net zero in National Parks. Working with partners across protected landscapes, we are starting to make this ambition a reality.

Protected Landscapes can show the way forward

Collectively, National Parks and AONB’s cover 18% of the UK land area. This means we can achieve scale rapidly. With 1.5 million residents and 250 million visitors per year, I believe we can exert an influence to instigate behaviour change and drive rapid transition. Our strong brand and high profile means we can influence beyond our boundaries. But we also need to get our own house in order and lead the way to lasting change.

Here in the Lake District, our Visitor Management Plans integrate sustainable interventions covering the busiest parts of the Lake District. Our shuttle buses to Wasdale and Buttermere now run for a longer season, and in partnership with Cumbria County Council and other stakeholders, we are developing more walking and cycling routes. We are currently installing 10 more EV chargepoints across the national park, in partnership with BMW and our joint Recharge in Nature campaign, which will roll out chargers across all the UK parks. This campaign will also support locally delivered initiatives in the National Parks enabling more sustainable tourism, nature restoration, biodiversity and wellbeing.

Shuttlebus service Wasdale to Buttermere (Credit: Lake District National Park Authority)

Reducing carbon across our National Parks

We now have a basis for setting targets for carbon reductions in all National Parks – and how they might be achieved. We will imbed the targets from the assessments within our statutory management plan frameworks, sharing best practice for consistent change across protected landscapes. As a National Park, the role of nature-based solutions, such as new woodland planting and habitat restoration, are key in meeting these targets. As is adaption planning, to deal with considerable changes in the weather we are already experiencing.

As part of our efforts to drive effective change at pace, the UK National Parks are also developing a fund for attracting private finance to tackle the huge challenge of carbon storage. In collaboration with Palladium through the Revere initiative, a number of National Parks are facilitating nature restoration initiatives. One pilot in the North York Moors worked with the Esk Valley Farmers Group to test options. The Esk valley contains a mixture of bio-diverse habitats, including ancient woodland species and the river Esk, home to the iconic freshwater pearl mussel and Atlantic salmon. This pilot assessed the rapidly growing woodland creation market to generate carbon credits. They concluded that this was a viable revenue stream for private payments for nature, with many project developers, brokers and NGOs working with landowners across the UK to support similar initiatives. These will help landowners create native woodlands and species-rich grassland, whilst making a sustainable living.

Carbon baseline assessments for all the UK National Parks have been completed. Working with Small World Consulting, we have established a way to calculate the carbon footprint of the National Parks, using a rigorous, standardised methodology. This approach across all the Parks highlights the main areas of challenge in terms of reducing emissions. The assessments are ‘consumption’ based and compliant with the Paris Agreement, covering household fuel, electricity, travel and transport – as well as the carbon footprint of food systems. Crucially, we don’t just include emissions within the Parks – visitors from outside are included.

National Parks urgently require the resources needed to deliver this vision

We now have a clear understanding of how carbon is accounted for in National Parks and the collective will to make rapid change. We are engaging with the Department for Business, Energy and Investment Strategy (BEIS) to help inform and develop their monitoring of land use, land use change and forestry targets. However, significant Government focus and resources are urgently needed to up-scale and increase the number of projects to deliver our vision, and that of Government, to achieve net zero.

We have shown through collective action how we as protected landscapes can make a difference, but we cannot do it alone. Crucially, to unleash this urgent action, we need National Park Authorities that are resourced to deliver, and not inwardly focused on yet further cuts to our already diminishing budgets.

Update: Campaign for National Parks have written to the Chancellor ahead of the Autumn Statement, warning of the severe consequences that continued funding cuts will have for the future of National Parks in doing more to combat climate change and nature decline.