Today, 1 April, is the third anniversary of the South Downs National Park and the second of the South Downs National Park Authority.
Yesterday Ramblers‘ campaigner Owen Plunkett organised a celebratory event: a six-mile walk from East Meon in Hampshire, with speeches, a toast, tea and cakes at the Sustainability Centre. Forty people attended in brilliant sunshine to remember the long campaign, by organisations and individuals, to realise the 1940s’ dream of Arthur Hobhouse and John Dower.
Alex Mannings, chairman of the Ramblers’ Inner London Area, spoke of the importance of the South Downs for those who live in cities and need to escape at weekends, for freedom and fresh air.
Owen had invited me to speak, in my capacity as Ramblers’ president, but I was unable to be there (it was my mother’s 96th birthday today), so I sent a message.
‘Warmest congratulations to the South Downs National Park Authority on its second anniversary, and on the third anniversary of the national park.
‘ The designation of the South Downs as a national park was a great achievement after more than 50 years of tireless campaigning – and just in time. As you look around today, it is clear that national park status is crucial in defending this unique and treasured countryside from suburbanisation and encroachment. Development eats away at the edges and our difficult task will be to defend the national park’s lovely setting from being ringed with bricks and mortar.
Islands of splendour
‘National parks must not become merely islands of splendour in a sea of degradation. The vital work of national park authorities in protecting and celebrating our special landscapes must be applied throughout the countryside.
‘So I wish the South Downs National Park Authority all strength and a long and effective future.’
And I hope that the intrepid Owen will continue to organise annual celebrations of the South Downs National Park, to remind us what a great campaign it was.