In the past two weeks I have been lucky enough to spend time with two key groups involved in our National Parks – the voluntary National Park Societies who held their annual gathering in Buxton, on the edge of the Peak District National Park, and the statutory National Park Authorities, who met on the shores of Loch Lomond.
So were these just a couple of National Park jollies, or did anything more substantive emerge from them?
It’s always a privilege to spend time with our local network of passionate and expert National Park campaigners and there was certainly plenty to talk about when we met. Much of our discussion was inevitably dominated by the spending review and political context for this. Given the subject matter, the conference could have easily descended into gloomy introspection, but none of this – my fellow Park campaigners were as optimistic and forward looking as ever and we all came away with plenty of campaign ideas.
There was a recurring sense of frustration about the role of National Park Authorities. Now while there are many Park bashers out there, we are not among them. Instead, our concern lies with the limited role of National Parks on areas such land and access management, despite their obvious connection to delivering Park objectives. But there’s an opportunity to look at this afresh given the inevitability that in an increasingly constrained public funding environment ‘things will be different’. Of course that needs leadership if progress is to be made, both by the Park Authorities and by government in producing a mature response to any proposals.
In Loch Lomond, we learned much about local park issues and got our own taste of the dreich (or was it mochie?) for which the area is famed in a hot-footed ascent of the Cobbler. But the real value of the conference was sharing thoughts on how the National Park movement might respond to the impending funding squeeze.
Parks can’t be islands though, if they are to survive and remain relevant, and forging new partnerships and engaging communities should be essential ingredients in the new world order. The angst between some local communities and their Parks must be recognised and its root causes tackled. Will this autumn’s review of Park governance by Defra help or will it dodge the issues?
While we know that the Parks provide many benefits to the nation (clean water, fresh air, spiritual refreshment, a growing tourism economy, home for rare wildlife to name but a few) we can’t simply assume that everyone will attach the same value to these public benefits. It is our responsibility to help people to understand what the National Parks deliver for them for their own lives and value systems. Our National Parks should not be take for granted, neither should public understanding and support for them.
The Campaign for National Parks will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2011 and we’ll be hoping to use this anniversary year to spread the word about the value of the Parks, including through our new Park Protector award which will recognise, reward and celebrate one exceptional project or individual that has made a lasting contribution to the protection, restoration or conservation of our glorious National Parks.
But in embracing the value and good work of the Parks let us not become complacent about the challenges that lie ahead – our warming climate has already led to a new resident in parts of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park….the mosquito, who now joins the resident highland midge in its ongoing work to deter visitors. Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne recently warned that we have failed to communicate the dangers of climate change to the people – perhaps exposure to highland mosquitoes might help to get this message across in the future?
For me, Mike Cantley from the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Park Authority asked the most pertinent question, ‘In a world that is blinkered with short term objectives, surely our National Parks have something special to offer?’ Yes Mike, they do! But it’s up to us to persuade and convince others of this.