How do we make National Parks adventures inclusive for everyone?

  • Contributor information: CNP

15 August 2019

Campaigner Maxwell Ayamba, says the National Parks are still not delivering benefits to everyone and more needs to be done to ensure that everyone can enjoy their own National Park adventure. #SummerofAdventure

National Parks in the UK have been heralded as a unique collection of natural and cultural treasures reserved for the benefit of the British people. Sir Arthur Hobhouse pioneered the 1947 report which paved the way for the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, and the creation of the UK’s National Parks. And 70 years on the UK has 15 National Parks, attracting over 130 million visitor days a year, worth almost £6bn to the UK tourism economy and much more in terms of crucial ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, flood prevention, clean air and water. However, the question that still remains is – how inclusive are Britain’s National Parks?   


Maxwell speaks to BBC Countryfile’s Matt Baker about the importance of National Parks for everyone at Campaign for National Park’s 70th anniversary celebrations earlier this year. Photo credit: John Bradley

General research results from national survey studies consistently show a higher proportion of white people visit Britain’s National Parks than of minority groups. There is a need to ascertain if the low participation in accessing National Parks for either recreation/leisure or health and wellbeing by ethnic minorities results from limited access to socioeconomic resources or is this down to the historical patterns of marginalisation and discrimination?

Research has evidenced that besides the physical benefits associated with access to National Parks there are equally therapeutic benefits in terms of helping to improve mental health by providing psychological wellbeing and relief from the stresses of everyday life. Campaign for National Parks is encouraging everyone to experience these benefits as part of their #SummerofAdventure. But this alone provides few insights into why parks attract people and so why are they not attracting others?

Do people of all communities feel welcome in National Park spaces?

According to (Floyd, 1998) the marginality hypothesis privileges class, factoring in race only through past oppression failing to recognize how racism still functions as a vehicle of socio- economic domination. Parks may be perceived as welcoming, safe, and accessible, or intolerant of difference, however ethnic minorities are still marginalised in these spaces.  Research is yet to establish if ethnic minorities perceive parks as for ‘Whites only’ or feel apprehensive about visiting certain park destinations because they must traverse spaces that are mostly White, and thus potentially hostile.

The historical, socioecological, and racialized context within National Parks and those who manage these spaces may be an embodiment of these inequalities, resulting in non-use, or avoidance of the Parks altogether, with a concomitant substitution of alternative venues for recreation and leisure. Ethnic Minorities individual perceptions of Park spaces – e.g. accessibility, safety, conviviality, or sense of welcome are all mediated by personal characteristics, and parks political ecology, history, and the cultural landscape may constitute as barriers.

Photo credit: John Bradley

We need to seek to understand how and why diverse communities use, or might want to use our outdoor spaces such as National Parks and it is only from ethnographic research can we be able to support underrepresented groups to use and occupy these spaces on their own terms. It is this gap in knowledge that has inspired me to pursue a PhD in Black Studies at the University of Nottingham, which involves use of participatory ethnography to understand the ‘lived experience’ of people of Black African ancestry access and use of the Peak District National Park.  

By Maxwell Ayamba

The author is Maxwell A. Ayamba, a PhD Research Student in Black Studies at the University of Nottingham, his thesis involves use of participatory ethnography to understand the ‘lived experience’ of people of Black African ancestry access and use of the Peak District National Park