Today is a day for celebration as we mark 75 years of campaigning for National Parks! With many achievements under our belts, but with equally as many challenges ahead, I thought I should reflect on some of our early campaigns, and what new tactics we will need to deploy in the future. Warning – I am not going to give away all of our trade secrets though!
The early National Park campaigners were self-confessed zealots in their fight to preserve nature and landscape and win rights of access for the majority. The main tools in their campaigning armoury were unbridled optimism, passion and enthusiasm, which in turn powered their eloquence and ability to articulate their case. With no internet or computers they relied on the production of pamphlets to set out their arguments and spread the word about their cause. Winning hearts and minds of post-war politicians was key to the success of their campaigns and at times politicians and campaigners seemed united.
But as well as targeting the sensibilities of politicians, our campaigning predecessors realised the importance of recruiting supporters to their campaigns. That spirit of partnership led to the setting up of the Standing Committee on National Parks, through which many organisations and individuals, united by a common cause, campaigned successfully for their shared goal of a National Parks Act. Their success would not have been achieved if those early pioneers had not played the long game and had the vision to see their campaign through – calls for National Parks were first made in earnest in the 1930s, but the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act did not come into being until 1949.
In modern times, while the paraphernalia surrounding campaigning has changed greatly, the basics remain the same – define your goal, find people who share it, gather evidence to support your campaign and publicise your efforts at every available step. As the policy and political context and campaigning techniques gain pace and sophistication, so must we campaigners adapt our skills and knowledge base. Our undergrounding campaign is a good example of where we have had to equip ourselves with highly technical knowledge – understanding the difference between high and low voltage lines and price controls helps our dialogue with the electricity industry and regulator and it’s also helping us to win campaigns and protect National Park landscapes. We are also keen to use social media more in our campaigning – expect a future blog on that.
We know that our campaigns have been successful and that our voice is respected and often listened to. Richard Benyon MP, government minister for natural environment and fisheries said at a parliamentary reception on 23 March 2011: “The Campaign for National Parks is a hugely professional campaigner, highly respected by officials and other tiers of government and the most professional campaigning organisation I have ever come across.” This makes me immensely proud of what we have achieved and how we have done it. But it also reminds me that we must retain a healthy distance from government, while remaining good friends and aligning ourselves where we can.
None of this means that we should at any time rest on our laurels and there’s no doubt that pressure on campaigners is growing as the fight for political and media attention and funding intensifies. A successful campaigning track record does not guarantee future campaign successes. We must continue to be bold, stay true to our national remit and accept that sometimes we may be unpopular.
We will need continual bursts of imagination as we seek to compete with powerful news stories such as that seen over the past few days (can anyone remember any news other than the News of the World?). The concept of blagging is new to me, and in the context of recent news stories has rightly been much derided. But I wonder if it might ever be used to good effect in our campaigning? I think I could make a convincing Secretary of State, announcing an accelerated process to extend the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks or a policy that all power lines in National Parks should be undergrounded immediately! But I fear that my Welsh accent might be a bit of a giveaway.
Happy 75th birthday Campaign for National Parks and here’s to many more campaign successes and the stamina, vision and passion to see them all through.