National Parks Societies Conference 2023

My experience as a Youth Advisor

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the National Park Societies Annual Conference on the bursary scheme. As a Youth Advisor, the experience was extremely interesting and I gained an enormous amount of knowledge talking to all those at the conference who shared their expertise and varied perspectives. On the first day of the conference there was a youth aspect of discussion including a panel of young people who shared fascinating knowledge on the barriers young people face and the initiative they created to try to overcome this. On the second day of the conference, the morning was mostly focused on the Sandford Principle followed by a variety of workshops and a panel discussion. After this, I enjoyed a Political Advocacy workshop as well as a second panel surrounding campaigning. Over the two days I learnt vast amounts and met so many inspiring people.

What was the highlight of the conference?

Personally, I found the highlight of the conference to be the Political Advocacy Workshop which focused on how Campaign for National Parks and by extension National Park societies are focusing on the next General Election in order to see change for National Parks. The information shared in the workshop was so interesting particularly as Tim Farron MP shared his advice with the audience on how to write a manifesto. As well as this, the Campaign for National Parks own electoral manifesto call for the upcoming 2024 General Election was eye opening on how real change can come from voting, a topic extremely important for young people when voting turnout is notoriously low in this demographic. Another one of my favourite aspects of the conference was discussing how to increase youth engagement with other members of the conference. The barrier facing young people in accessing National Parks is becoming increasingly apparent and so to be able to discuss ways in which different National Park societies can implement changes to improve youth access was definitely a worthwhile cause.

Why is it important for young people to attend conferences such as this?

Young people are certainly an underrepresented group in the environmental sector and more so especially in accessing National Parks due to accessibility issues or lack of awareness. Therefore, it is so important for young people, such as myself, to attend the conference to share our ideas, struggles and solutions. During the conference, I heard many different perspectives on the limitations when it comes to funding for youth accessibility for National Parks. This was extremely helpful in reshaping my ideas to a more realistic approach.

What did I learn during the conference?

The Sandford Principle was perhaps the most important thing I learnt in the conference. Having never come across this concept before, to begin with I struggled to wrap my head around it. However, I soon understood from the brilliant speakers that the Sandford Principle essentially occurs only if reconciliation is impossible and where conflict exists between the two purposes of National Parks (environmental protection and recreational usage), the first purpose should take precedence. This concept seemed so essential in the running and management of the National Parks. Though on saying this, there were times when the Sandford Principle may seem outdated such as when considering how to manage the parks in relation to the climate crisis. When the principle was proposed in the 1970s there would have been no need to consider climate whereas today it feels that this should take president alongside nature recovery.

Overall, the whole experience was so enjoyable and it was amazing to meet such inspiring people particularly as a young person I felt very privileged to hear much more knowledgeable people speak about their passions. The conference felt very positive in the sense it is clear real change is appearing for young people in National Parks.