Last week I went to a reception at the House of Lords to celebrate England’s national parks. It was held in the Attlee Room, under the shrewdly benign gaze of Clem Attlee whose portrait hung on the wall. Since he was prime minister at the time of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, this seemed entirely appropriate.
I recalled an event organised by the Outdoor Industries’ Association in 2012 in the Strangers’ dining room. There hangs a fine painting of Chequers by Marcus May, who was commissioned to paint official residences. That too was relevant for the event, for it features Beacon Hill behind Chequers where, with some difficulty, we won the freedom to roam under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
Last week’s reception, called Love your national parks, was organised by National Parks England. Unusually (and refreshingly) there was no ministerial speech or politicians’ pap, it was just a good opportunity to meet parliamentarians, national park chairmen and women, national park officers and other like-minded people.
We were reeling from the announcement that day that the government will not call in the decision on potash mining in the North York Moors National Park after the authority decided, by one vote, to allow it. The Campaign for National Parks is leading the coalition, which includes the Open Spaces Society and Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), against the world’s largest potash mine in one of our top landscapes. There was a certain hypocrisy about being exhorted to ‘love your national parks’. We must do much more than merely love them, we must fight for them too.
Clem Attlee might not have looked so benign had he known of this threat to his government’s creation.