Ensuring we make the most of this important opportunity for National Parks

Much of life has changed dramatically in recent weeks and it now seems a very long time since a major shake-up of National Parks was proposed last September. The Landscapes Review suggested a number of significant changes to the way in which designated landscapes are funded, managed and protected and was described at the time as a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity.

photo credit @Andy Clifford

Government must now decide what it intends to do about the Review’s proposals and we are keen to ensure that the final package of measures they choose delivers the bold ambition promised and doesn’t just focus on the ‘quick wins’.

We have always very much welcomed the majority of the Review’s proposals, many of which are in line with what we’ve been calling for ourselves, including a stronger role for National Park Authorities (NPAs) in tackling the nature and climate emergencies, more opportunities for people from all parts of society to visit and increased resources so all this can be delivered successfully.

However, after studying the Review’s proposals in detail, we have identified a number of areas where refinements are needed if they are going to work effectively. Many key parts of the framework of policy and legislation for our National Parks were established decades ago so it makes sense for them to be updated now but care must be taken to avoid unintended consequences.

We are keen to work closely with Government to help achieve this and have recently sent them a paper which sets out our views on a number of the key proposals. For example, we support the principle of amending the National Park purposes to give more emphasis to nature recovery and connecting people to nature. However, we have proposed a set of principles which should be adopted as part of this process to ensure that the final wording of the purposes does not have a negative impact on the status and standing of the Parks.

The Review also proposes making NPA’s current socio-economic duty into a third purpose but we believe such a change must only be introduced as part of a package of measures including ensuring that the conservation purpose takes precedence and strengthening the ‘duty of regard’ on other public bodies to a ‘duty to further the purposes’.

Our paper also sets out a series of principles that should apply to the proposed national landscapes body to ensure that it can act as a national champion for designated landscapes as well as providing oversight of the way these areas are being managed and run. There is a need for a body which is able to give the same level of priority to both landscape and nature, have access to appropriate skills and resources and be independent from Government. These principles could be met either by creating a small new body or by ensuring they apply to Natural England.

Another key area of the Review’s proposals where we believe that further work is needed is governance, particularly the proposals to change the composition of the main NPA Board and set up a separate planning sub-committee. Here again, we have set out a series of principals which we would like the Government to adopt. We have also highlighted some simpler and more cost-effective ways of improving governance that could be implemented quickly, such as improved training and role descriptions for NPA members. If these prove to be effective there may not even be any need for more radical reforms.

The paper we’ve sent to Government provides further information on all of these issues and on other parts of the review which are of particular interest to us, such as transport, funding and new National Parks. We have already been invited to take part in a working group to discuss some of the proposals and look forward to further opportunities to work with Government as they develop their response to the Review which we expect to be published by the end of the year. At a time when most of us are unable to visit National Parks, ensuring that they are even more beautiful, better protected and more accessible in future has become even more important than ever.