With the government’s welcome announcement last month that the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks are to be extended, another chapter in the long history of our protected landscapes closes. But the vision of Arthur Hobhouse in 1947 has still not been achieved in full. There is the unresolved question of the Cambrian Mountains in mid Wales.
I was there a few weeks ago for the AGM of the excellent Cambrian Mountains Society, and I walked with the society’s secretary, Michael Rolt, on the Monks’ Trod above the Elan Valley. It is wild and remote, with grand, sweeping panoramas. It struck me as extraordinary that the mountains have no landscape protection whatever. Indeed, if the Welsh Government had its way, they would be peppered with wind turbines. Fortunately the Westminster Government recently rejected five applications for wind farms in Powys; the Welsh Government might have responded differently.
The Report of the National Parks Committee (the Hobhouse Report) in 1947 recommended 12 national parks in England and Wales, and these areas have all been designated, albeit with different boundaries. The committee also recommended the designation of 52 Conservation Areas. Most of these are now protected as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), but two on the list are among the few still excluded: Plynlimon and the Elenith Mountains, which occupy a significant proportion of the Cambrian Mountains.
The National Parks Commission, the designating authority, in 1965 agreed to start the process of achieving a Mid Wales National Park, and this was taken up by the commission’s successor, the Countryside Commission. Eventually, amid opposition from the Country Landowners’ Association among others, the commission published an order designating the Cambrian Mountains National Park, 467 square miles of glorious countryside, on the centenary of the first national park, Yellowstone, in 1972.
Things went quiet after that until, in 1973, the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Thomas, announced that he had rejected the order. He gave no solid reason. However he did say that it would be more appropriate to designate the area as an AONB. Nothing significant happened until 2005 when the Cambrian Mountains Society was formed to pursue the campaign. For the last ten years they have done a great job and never miss an opportunity to argue the case.
A couple of encouraging things have happened in the last few weeks. Two days before the CMS AGM the Welsh Government released the report National Landscapes: realising their potential. This followed the review of the designated landscapes in Wales undertaken by a panel consisting of Terry Marsden, John Lloyd Jones and Ruth Williams, all of whom appreciate fine landscapes. The government sat on the recommendations for some time but has at last released them and it is good that the report spells out the value of Wales’s special landscapes to residents and visitors. Although it does not recommend new designations, it raises the profile of the protected landscapes and provides an opportunity for the CMS to promote its case for the Cambrian Mountains to join them.
The other piece of good news is that the Elan Valley Trust and its partners have secured Heritage Lottery Funding to safeguard the heritage of the Elan Valley and provide opportunities for people there. The Elan Valley is in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains and this funding will demonstrate how crucial this place is to the culture and well-being of Wales.
I have offered to help the CMS with its renewed campaign for an AONB. It won’t be easy. The decision maker is Natural Resources Wales, the successor but one to the Countryside Commission (the Countryside Council for Wales existed in between them); it is the designating body, but unlike the Countryside Commission it has been sucked into the Welsh Government, with the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission added to it.
We shall have to find the right arguments to persuade NRW of the importance of this task. And then the Welsh Government must confirm the designating order, so it too must be persuaded. But it’s worth the fight. This is an immensely worthwhile campaign and, until it is realised, the mountains will continue to be under threat. They too deserve proper protection.