Plans to boost nature recovery and safeguard England’s iconic national parks for future generations set out today by Environment Secretary George Eustice have met with a certain amount of concern.
The proposals, which will be subject to consultation, are set out in the Government’s response to Julian Glover’s independent Landscapes Review which looked at whether the protections for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are still fit for purpose. The Government’s response sets out ambitious changes to increase access to nature and ensure protected landscapes can deliver more for climate, nature, people and places for the next 70 years and beyond, as we build back greener from the pandemic and level up all parts of the country.
A new national landscapes partnership will bring together those responsible for managing England’s National Parks and AONBs to collaborate, share knowledge and tackle common objectives such as nature recovery and improved public access.
By harnessing their collective strengths whilst preserving their independence, the partnership will support local leadership to work together nationally, including by carrying out campaigns, organising events and offering volunteering opportunities that bring people closer to nature.
The 12-week consultation will also ask for views on proposals to drive nature recovery within our landscapes and support for the communities that live and work within them, such as the design and delivery of new agri-environment schemes and an ambitious management plan for each area.
This announcement forms part of the Government’s wider action to recover and restore nature, delivering on the pledge within the 25 Year Environment Plan to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030 and commitments to achieve net zero by 2050.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are amongst our nation’s greatest and most cherished natural wonders. The comprehensive set of measures set out today represents a new chapter in the story of our protected landscapes and we have worked closely with stakeholders to carefully form our response.
“These reforms will play a pivotal role in meeting our international commitment to protect 30% of land for biodiversity by 2030 as we build back greener.”
The package of measures announced today reflects many of Julian Glover’s recommendations, as part of a renewed and strengthened focus on nature recovery in our protected landscapes and to make them greener and more accessible to everyone.
Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper said: “From the beauty of the sandy beaches of the Scillies to the rugged glory of Northumberland, our protected landscapes are integral to our national identity, our health and wellbeing and our country’s prosperity.
Pivotal role for Natural England
“As Government’s statutory landscape advisor, Natural England has a pivotal role in making sure our National Parks and AONBs are beautiful, thriving places. We welcome this package of measures which will help them deliver even more for the whole of society and combat the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. We look forward to playing a leading role in the national landscapes partnership and working closely with Government, protected landscape bodies and stakeholders to deliver these ambitious proposals.”
Julian Glover, who led the review, said: ‘This is our chance to make England’s landscapes more beautiful, better for people who visit and live in them and far more alive with nature. Our countryside is there for all of us, but from the heaths of the New Forest to the high fells of the Lake District, it is under pressure in an urban world. It won’t be enough just to try to conserve what we have inherited – we can change the story from decline to recovery, to make them greener, more welcoming and full of hope. The review I led showed what needs to be done and I’m pleased the Government has agreed to act.”
Protected landscapes play an essential role in tackling climate change, protecting biodiversity, and supporting the nation’s health and wellbeing. Evidence from Natural England shows that almost half the population say that they are spending more time outside than before the pandemic, while the majority of adults surveyed by Forest Research agreed that their level of happiness when in nature has increased.
The proposals however, have met with some Opposition Country Land and Business Association president Mark Tufnell said: “This announcement is a missed opportunity for the countryside. Designated areas make an important contribution to maintaining our national identity and rural heritage, protecting the countryside from unnecessary and undesirable development. Yet all too often they can be used to hold the countryside back from sensible and sustainable development, depriving those who want to live and work in rural communities of the chance for a good home and a good job. We know that young people are leaving these areas due to lack of opportunity, taking their talents with them. Nothing in this announcement will entice them back.
“By viewing the countryside purely through an environmental lens, Government is missing out on significant economic and social opportunity – which flies in the face of its supposed Levelling Up agenda. Put simply, the countryside is not a museum and Whitehall should stop treating it as such.
“We strongly encourage the Government to show some ambition for the countryside – including supporting businesses in designated areas. Allow us to protect its inherent beauty, but help us to create jobs, share prosperity and strengthen communities at the same time.”