Landscapes Review: The view from the National Parks

20 January 2020

Carl Lis, chair of National Parks England, speaks to Campaign for National Parks 2019 conference,  eflecting on the importance of the review of designated landscapes.

The Landscapes Review comes at a significant moment for our country and our National Parks. In the 70th anniversary year of the establishment of our National Parks, and in the midst of numerous challenges and changes that will undoubtedly impact upon them, what better time to step back and take stock of where we’ve been, and where we want to head for the future.

As a society we are today facing any number of challenges, from climate change, loss of biodiversity, nature recovery, and health and wellbeing. Our National Parks have a vital role to play in addressing each of these challenges, and in creating the opportunities for everyone to understand and enjoy our protected landscapes. This is central to the statutory purposes of National Parks, and we believe this is a critical part of creating a more inclusive, healthy, and sustainable future for all. I believe the role for our National Parks now is as important, if not more important than ever.

We look forward to now working collectively as National Parks and with Government, with the AONBs, CNP, and stakeholders across our protected landscapes to consider how we can jointly address the challenges and make the most of the opportunities raised by the Landscapes Review. Opportunity is a word used a number of times in what I have to say today.

A success story? Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo credit: Campaign for National Parks

We have very much appreciated the collaborative and productive discussions we have had with Julian Glover and the Landscapes Review panel throughout this process.

I know I speak for all National Park Authorities when I say we welcome the ambition the Review puts forward for our protected landscapes. It poses many important questions and proposals. Across the National Parks England family, we’re positive about the opportunity this presents to build on the great successes of our protected landscapes in their first 70 years.

As Julian Glover himself has said, this is a review of something that is already a success story. Our National Parks have been hailed as one of the greatest environmental achievements of the past 100 years, and we are working every day to build on this legacy for the future. Yet this Review also challenges National Parks and asks what more we can deliver for the nation, and how could anyone who wants the best for our finest landscapes and our fellow citizens argue with such ambition. We are eager to work together with others to meet this challenge.

The Review includes numerous bold proposals, some of which would undoubtedly require additional resources and new legislation. Others of which we should be ready to embrace now or which build on the great work already happening in our protected landscapes.                                        

We’re keen to explore how we can do this; in fact we’re already talking to partners and have developed plans for action. Let me set our thinking out – in the hope it will resonate and attract others to it.

In our submission to the Landscapes Review we laid out our vision for the future of our National Parks. We identified 5 key opportunities:

  1. NATURE: National Parks as bigger and better places for nature, that are connected through wildlife corridors to each other and are more resilient to climate change.
  2. FARMING: Bespoke farming and land management schemes that work for our National Parks.
  3. HEALTH: A strong new partnership with the NHS to improve the nation’s health, wellbeing, and recovery.
  4. CHILDREN: A commitment that every child has the opportunity to visit a National Park and enjoy outstanding outdoor learning experiences during their time at school.
  5. PASSION: We need to harness the public passion for our National Parks that already exists.

We were very pleased to see that the Landscapes Review largely took on board each of these ambitions, and that it was so positive about the role of National Parks in delivering them.

Donning hard hats in the Yorkshire Dales. Photo credit: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

ON NATURE – The Review shares our ambition to deliver not just the conservation and enhancement of nature, but recovery. It urged protected landscapes to continue to embrace woodland creation and peatland restoration, and indeed we have been actively involved in creating thousands of hectares of new woodland over the past decade and are working closely with Defra and Natural England in the development of the forthcoming peatland strategy. We also agree wholeheartedly with the Review, that National Parks and AONBs should form the backbone of the forthcoming Nature Recovery Network. There is undoubtedly an important role for our protected landscapes to play in creating bigger, better, more joined up places for nature and wildlife. We’re keen to work with all those who share our ambitions for nature recovery.

FARMING – Sustainable farming and land management practices are central to this, and to the character and special qualities of our National Parks. The forthcoming Environmental Land Management Scheme presents an important opportunity. Done in the right way, a new system of public money for public goods can support thriving farm businesses and enhance our protected landscapes. We must ensure that ELMS delivers for our National Parks and for nature – this has to be a “must” not an “if”. We were pleased to see that the Landscapes Review clearly supported our call for National Parks and AONBs to have a central place in ELMS.                                                                                                  

The Review was also clear, as indeed we have been, that extra weight should be given to the special status of National Parks and AONBs in future ELM schemes. We’re glad that the importance of National Park Management Plans is also recognised in the Review. We believe National Park Management Plans, developed in partnership with local communities, should be the guiding framework for delivery of public goods in National Parks. Particularly, as the Review also says, natural beauty, access, and recovery of biodiversity should be included in the list of public goods. We’ve been working closely with National Park farmers, land managers, Defra, and other stakeholders to help develop future ELM schemes that work for our protected landscapes. National Parks are currently actively engaged in the ELMs tests and trials and we are eager to continue this important work to ensure ELMS does deliver for nature and other public goods in National Parks.

ON HEALTH – The Review also shares our ambition for National Parks to play a greater role in supporting the health and wellbeing of the nation. It challenges National Parks to do more to build relationships with public health providers. Our joint accord between National Parks England and Public Health England is a prime example of where we are building links with healthcare providers and creating opportunities to increase social prescribing across the country.

Canooeing in the North York Moors. Photo credit: North York Moors National Park Authority           

This is a personal hobby horse of mine.  I remember attending a Conference years ago in the Midlands where the concept of the “Green Gym” was discussed, I remember coming away thinking how obvious it was.  I’ve subsequently attended quite a number of meetings that we've all come away from with lots of enthusiasm.  Unfortunately I have to say that to date progress has, to say the least, been somewhat limited.  We  know there is a lot more that can and needs to be done, with the NHS among others, to continue expanding these opportunities at a national level. The physical and mental health benefits of access to green spaces are well understood. We believe that National Parks can lead the way in developing a model for social prescribing, to increase the health and happiness of the nation and, through a focus on prevention in particular, lessen the burden on our healthcare system. The Landscapes Review is a welcome endorsement of this vision, and we are eager to work with Government and our partners to carry this forward.

We believe National Parks have a threefold role to play:

  • Prevent- providing prevention of ill-health in practice where mental and physical health and wellbeing is supported and enhanced;
  • Restore - drawing on the restorative benefit of National Parks through social prescribing in partnership with the NHS; and
  • Excel - delivering and inspiring excellence in natural health solutions

Moving on to CHILDREN – The Review rightly lauds the work of the National Park Authorities in engaging with schools and young people. This is core to our purposes as National Parks, and the Review shares our ambition to enable all school children to visit and experience these incredible landscapes. The Review goes even further, recommending a night under the stars for all schoolchildren. This is a commendable ambition, and we are ready to play our part. However, providing meaningful and memorable experience for all school children will require additional resourcing and collaboration to scale up our existing education offers. There are undeniable benefits to increasing our outreach and engagement with younger generations, from mental health benefits, to job and apprenticeship opportunities, to building public passion for nature and these treasured landscapes.                       

Younger generations are on the frontlines of many of the most important challenges facing society today, not least of which is climate change. We know National Parks and AONBs have an important role to play in helping adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Protected landscapes can also carry the message to the wider public of what they can do to help address this challenge. We can best influence people when their minds are open, and they are in awe of nature. We intend to lead by example and reflect the urgency of the moment. We know more can and must be done to meet the scale and complexity of the challenge before us.

PASSION and DIVERSITY – The passion and vision of younger generations, particularly around climate change, is a precious resource, and presents a real opportunity for National Parks and AONBs. We should nurture younger and more diverse voices to harness the passion that already exists for protecting the environment, and to reignite the national zeal for our protected landscapes that initially lead to their creation. We are glad that the Landscapes Review recognises and echoes our ambition to reach new audiences and increase the diversity of National Park visitors. It calls for new long-term programmes that build on the success of programmes like MOSAIC and expand their reach across all National Parks, and we couldn’t agree more.                                        

MOSAIC was a tremendously successful program, recruiting and training Champions from diverse backgrounds to engage new communities. National Parks are for everyone, and we are keen to do more to widen our reach.  

Moving on to COLLABORATION – In all of this, partnerships and collaboration will be central to success. The Landscapes Review is clear in its desire for much closer working between National Parks, AONBs, and other partners, both within and beyond our boundaries. We share this desire, and it is important to underscore the extent to which this is already happening. We are closely engaged with nearly every AONB in delivering shared programmes, from increasing access to restoring habitats.

That said, we of course aspire to work ever more closely to deliver more for the nation than just the sum of our parts. We look to all our partners to join with us in achieving the full promise and opportunities that our family of protected landscapes represents.

Coniston. Photo credit: Lake District National Park Authority.                        

SO WHAT ABOUT THETOOLS FOR DELIVERY – The Review rightly asks what more National Parks should be doing to meet the needs of today. We know more can be done, and we intend to lead by example and are keen to seize the opportunity of the moment.

This has been an easy speech for me to make so far, as it welcomes the ambition of the review, accepts the desire to do more and better, but I’m afraid I would be misleading you , and we would all in fact be kidding ourselves if we think this is just about us agreeing with each other – we need both the tools and the resources to do the job. The Environment, climate change and well-being are a big part of all of the election campaigns – let’s hope that the tools and resources follow the fine words.

One of the most important elements of our response as National Park Authorities to the Landscapes Review is the call for the tools we need to deliver this vision for our National Parks. We are very glad to see this call reflected so strongly in the Review. Specifically, we have called for the duty on relevant authorities to ‘have regard’ to National Parks and AONBs to be strengthened. We believe this wording should be revised to place a duty on relevant authorities to ‘have special regard and seek to further’ the statutory purposes and management plans for these areas. This would bring the legal footing into the 21st century by shifting the focus to outcomes rather than procedures.                                                                                      

It would better reflect the 25 Year Environment Plan ambition to leave nature in a better state for future generations, and it provides parity with the duty for National Park authorities to cooperate with other relevant bodies.

We have also recommended that relevant authorities be required to cooperate in the development and implementation of National Park Management Plans as the primary place shaping document for these areas. The Landscapes Review is clear on this front, that National Park Management Plans must be strengthened so we can deliver robust nature recovery, respond to climate change, and so much more.

Our protected landscapes are valued greatly by people, but the resources allocated by government to them does not reflect this. If we are serious about the ambitions in this report, then we should be equally bold and ambitious about resources.                                                                                             

In Conclusion

 

With the major challenges we are facing today, National Parks and AONBs have as much, if not more, of a role to play. National Parks are for everyone and are open to all. We want everyone to be able to benefit from the life-affirming experiences, and connection to culture and heritage that our National Parks offer. We are committed to reaching out to people who may not yet visit and reduce the barriers they face to accessing these treasured landscapes. I’ve outlined our clear vision and expansive ambitions for our protected landscapes.

 

We’re already working to make this future a reality, but this will require commensurate resources, collaboration and support from partners, and the tools necessary to implement this vision. As we look to the next 70 years of National Parks, we are eager to deliver more for people, places, wildlife, and most importantly future generations.

By Carl Lis, 

Chair of National Parks England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.