Seventy years ago today, Parliament passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, ground-breaking legislation that created National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty in England and Wales.
Introduced to preserve and enhance these iconic landscapes for the enjoyment and well-being of all, the then Minister for Town and Country Planning, Lewis Silkin, described it as ‘the most exciting act of the post-war parliament’. Also addressing public rights of way and access to open land, the Act was part of the country’s reconstruction after the second world war.
Since the designation of the Peak District in 1951, the National Parks family has grown to ten in England – including the Broads – three in Wales and two in Scotland.
In England alone, National Parks cover 10% of the country and contain almost 30% of the country’s internationally important wildlife habitat. They were where the first environmental farming payments were piloted. Nature and the environment are high on the agenda with 27,000 ha of peatland restored in the Peak District, Lake District and Yorkshire Dales alone, as well as 2,000 ha of native woodland planted in Northumberland since 2000. Exciting species introduction programmes include the water vole in the South Downs, England’s most recent National Park.
Unlike National Parks in many other countries, National Parks in England are also living working landscapes; home to 25,220 businesses, providing 170,312 jobs and generating £13.7 billion in turnover – equivalent to the size of a small city like Leicester. More than 98m visitors are welcomed each year, along with 115,000 school children.
Looking to the future, National Park Authorities in England want to connect with and inspire as many people as possible so that they can benefit from, value, and care for these special landscapes.
The four key ambitions of the English National Parks are:
National Parks England Chair, Carl Lis, said: “The 1949 Act protected these iconic landscapes but at the same time ensured they were accessible to everyone and that is still very relevant 70 years on.
“With the major challenges faced by society, from climate change and nature recovery, to the future of farming and sustaining health and well-being, our National Parks have a vital role to play. There are undoubtedly challenges ahead but the opportunities are greater.
“We are keen to start working with the new Government as soon as possible on achieving our ambitions to protect, enhance and invest in our National Parks as we look to the next 70 years.”
National Parks Minister Lord Gardiner said: “As we celebrate this momentous anniversary, I would like to send my congratulations to everyone involved in caring for our magnificent National Parks, which play a vital role in connecting people with nature and helping wildlife to thrive, and producing excellent food.
“We are committed to ensuring that we continue to look after these wonderful parts of the country for the enjoyment of all, and of course working with the local communities who look after these great places.”
National Park Authorities work in partnership with local communities, landowners and a range of other organisations and interest groups, including thousands of volunteers, to look after these special places for everyone. They share the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 with the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), which together make up the protected landscapes in this country.
National Parks England is the umbrella organisation that brings together the nine English National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority. It exists to support policy and practice by providing a collective voice for the views of the English National Park Authorities, raising the profile of their work, facilitating discussion on issues of common concern, and working in partnership with other bodies.
The ten English National Parks are: Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, South Downs and Yorkshire Dales.
For more information on National Parks England’s work see: www.nationalparksengland.org.uk
For more information on the UK’s fifteen National Parks go to: www.nationalparks.uk