Response to the Landscapes Review: not worth the wait

Finally, the response we’ve been waiting so long for is here, but is it the response we wanted? Amid the raft of eye-catching announcements about a new National Park, £15m funding for Protected Landscapes and increased opportunities for more children to experience nature, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Julian Glover’s Landscape Review recommended a whole package of reforms for England. Frustratingly, more than four years on, we’re still no nearer to those transformational changes Protected Landscapes desperately need.

An optimistic start

In fact, it’s now nearly six years since the Westminster Government announced its intention to carry out what would become the Glover Review. This time five years ago, many of us in the National Park movement were excited, busy finalising our evidence on the changes needed to ensure Protected Landscapes were properly equipped to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

When Glover’s Final Report was published the following September, we were very pleased to see that many of our key asks had been included in the recommendations. There were some notable omissions – for example, the Review has little to say on second homes or moorland burning – but broadly, here was a really strong package of measures which we were keen to see implemented as quickly as possible.

A long wait

And then the waiting started, and it would be over two years later, in January 2022, when the Government finally published their consultation in response. While this was a watered-down version with some key pieces of the Glover package missing (such as a commitment to consistent multi-year funding for National Parks, and MOSAIC inspired projects to increase inclusivity), it was good to see the Government acknowledge the need for legislative change to implement many of the key Glover proposals including:

  • Stronger Management Plans;  
  • More effective duties on other public bodies; and  
  • Amending the purposes to place a stronger emphasis on nature recovery and supporting access from all parts of society. 

We submitted a detailed response to the consultation welcoming the Government’s vision and ambition and calling on the Government to bring forward this legislation as a matter of urgency. We also reiterated our support for other key elements of the Glover proposals Government suggested it might retain and highlighted further changes we wanted to see.

Forcing the Government’s hand

It felt like we were finally seeing some much-needed progress on implementing Glover but that feeling didn’t last long. Our hopes were dashed less than a month after the consultation closed when there was no mention of the legislation we had been promised in the May 2022 Queen’s Speech. Without this dedicated legislation, the only option now was to try to secure the necessary changes through amendments to Bills that were being taken forward. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time over the last 18 months campaigning alongside Wildlife & Countryside LINK and others to force the Government’s hand, securing amendments to the Levelling Up Bill

Thanks to that campaigning we were able to celebrate when the Government finally put forward its own amendment in September. The Levelling Up Act does include some significant, and very welcome, changes for Protected Landscapes but it’s not the full package that Glover proposed.

The wait is over: but ‘action plan’ announced today is thin

Defra’s final response and ‘action plan’ announced today (29 November 2023), has been further watered down. The vision of ‘Landscapes for Everyone’, so prominent in the Glover Review, is now entirely absent, save for a few token projects (a welcome £2.3m to connect young people to nature – but tiny compared to the £390m loss of in health benefits resulting from fewer people accessing nature just in last 2 years).

Government has u-turned on its previous plans to give Protected Landscapes new purposes for nature recovery and climate change: it’s clear that these landscapes are no longer “at the heart of plans to deliver 30×30”, more of an oblique aside. What a missed opportunity. As the Glover Report highlighted back in 2019, our National Parks and National Landscapes should be at the forefront of our national response to climate change and nature recovery, but many changes are needed if they are going to be able to play that role effectively. All these years later, we welcome steps forward in today’s plan (e.g. on governance reforms, funding and a new National Park) but there is still a long way to go. In the meantime the latest biodiversity indicators show continuing declines in many of our most treasured species – woodland birds have declined by 15% in the last five years and wintering waterbirds by 9%. Time is running out. Nature simply can’t wait. That’s why we are calling on all the Westminster parties to offer a wholesale New Deal for National Parks at the next election, with new powers, resources and programmes, for nature-rich National Parks, for everyone.