Next week, on 16 December, we celebrate 65 years of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. They are certainly not ready for retirement, there are so many good things happening there. But it is sad to report that our finest landscapes are still under immense threat.
Less than two weeks ago, the government launched its Roads Investment Strategy which includes several schemes affecting national parks, in particular the Broads, Peak District and South Downs. As the excellent Campaign for National Parks (CNP) has pointed out, this is contrary to government policy on road building in national parks.
The UK Government Vision and Circular for National Parks and the Broads 2010 states:
There is a strong presumption against any significant road widening or the building of new roads through a Park, unless it can be shown there are compelling reasons for new or enhanced capacity and with any benefits outweighing the costs very significantly. Any investment in trunk roads should be directed to developing routes for long-distance traffic which avoid the Parks.
But now we have schemes which include the new dual-carriageway Mottram Moor link road, the A57 link road, dualling of the A61 and additional lanes on the A628—all affecting the Peak Park. In the South Downs there is the proposed dual-carriageway A27 Arundel bypass, and in the Broads the A47 Acle Straight widening and ‘improvement’. All transgress government policy.
And of course there continues to be the threat of potash mining in the North York Moors National Park, the new Circuit of Wales development right on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and zip wires and land sales in the Lake District. All these threats are being fought robustly and unceasingly, by CNP and the park societies.
So amid all this it’s good to mark the wonderful things that are achieved in national parks. Recently CNP presented this year’s Park Protector Awards, to recognise, reward and celebrate exceptional projects or individuals that have made a lasting contribution to the protection, restoration or conservation of the national parks of England and Wales.
This year’s winner was Plantlife, for its ‘Making small things count’ project whereby it enables thousands of people to learn about the Atlantic Woodlands of Devon and Somerset and discover the ferns, mosses, lichens and liverworts there.
The runner up was the North York Moors National Park Authority’s Buildings at Risk app. This ingenious device assesses the current state of the park’s grade 2 listed buildings for inclusion on the Heritage at Risk register. This has been taken up by English Heritage to be used across the country.
These innovative projects were just a few of the many which were entered for the awards. Sixty-five years on, national parks continue to inspire and motivate us.