30 April 2020
The National Parks have been working hard to keep people safe and support their rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the message continues to follow the government’s instruction to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives, England’s National Parks – Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, South Downs and Yorkshire Dales - are living working landscapes that are home to 327,000 people and 25,220 businesses.
Support during these challenging times includes helping with deliveries of food and other vital supplies to the vulnerable and those living in remote areas, and connecting jobseekers with short-staffed rural employers. Staff in many of the National Parks are working closely with the emergency services on keeping people safe. The creation of local funds, along with signposting businesses to sources of financial support, have also been key areas in which National Park Authorities have been able to help their communities.
Providing virtual experiences are one of the main ways in which the National Parks have been able to continue to connect with people on a broader scale. Initiatives include online educational material such as podcasts and funzones, as well as using social media to connect with nature in people’s own gardens. Children have been challenged to use LEGO to build their own tors (a rocky outcrop / hill), while quizzes have encouraged social interaction.
The #OutdoorsIndoors campaign has been particularly significant in supporting people’s mental wellbeing. Videos, photos and articles have helped to bring the special qualities of National Parks to their at-home audience. People have responded very positively to being encouraged to post and share ideas.
National Parks England Chair, Carl Lis, said:
"Firstly, I want to thank the large numbers of people who are following the government’s instruction to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. While these are challenging times, the National Park Authorities in England are playing a vital role in both their communities and the wider national effort. We are doing what we can to provide practical support to the people that live and work in our National Parks, as well as connect with those who would normally be visiting at this time of year."
Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, who has responsibility for National Parks in England, said:
"These times are unprecedented because instead of congregating, as we do in difficult times, we must remain separated. That has not stopped the ingenuity and compassion of so many to play their part in caring for the vulnerable and the community at large. The National Parks family are at the heart of ensuring the communities in these beautiful and often remote areas are sustained at this critical time."
The work so many within the National Parks are undertaking is inspiring and I thank all for this dedication. We must do all we can to conquer this dreadful virus, and then we can return to enjoy the glories of these wonderful places, and support the recovery of local businesses and communities.
The following gives more detail on what each of the National Park Authorities have been doing to support their communities:
Navigation Maintenance - Broads Authority staff are working hard to continue work to maintain the 125 miles of waterways so that they are ready to welcome visitors and local boaters back when it is safe to do so. This work includes but is not limited to dredging, mooring maintenance and now that the warmer weather is approaching, water plant cutting. Much of this work is funded by toll income and the Authority is extremely grateful to private boaters who are continuing to pay their tolls despite not be able to access the waterways at this time. Whilst leisure use for boats is restricted, there are some people that have no choice but to remain on their vessels including those that live on their boats. Rangers are monitoring the waterways to keep everyone safe.
Nature in Lockdown - #NatureInLockdown is the Broads National Park’s campaign to stay connected with nature while keeping a distance from each other. Members of the public can share photos and videos of wildlife spotted on their doorstep (seen from windows, gardens or during daily exercise) using the hashtag, #NatureInLockdown. The aim is to share tips on how to stay connected to nature via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The campaign is supported by a blog, with links to downloadable activity sheets for children to identify plants, insects and animals from submitted photos.
Coronavirus Community Support Fund – this has so far given more than £5,000 to organisations in Dartmoor towns and villages that are helping to enhance social cohesion and reduce isolation. Support ranges from supplying locally-grown, seasonal veg to low-income households, to providing meals for the elderly and vulnerable, to an online arts platform to engage isolated people in creative task inspired by Dartmoor and Devon.
Learning in lockdown – this includes educational podcasts where people (especially young people) can learn about nature, the environment around them but also remain connected to Dartmoor. A range of activities for children of all ages includes a funzone for 5-12 year olds, through to more in-depth schemes of work.
Positive ‘virtual experiences’ – Dartmoor is using its digital channels to help people explore places on their doorstep. For example, Rangers have been using social media, particularly Facebook, to help people connect with nature in their gardens or the spaces around them. It is also an opportunity to talk about the work they do, such as looking after rights of way and working with volunteers on conservation, which gets really positive engagement and promotes an appreciation for nature. Social media has also been a forum for Dartmoor quizzes on Friday nights, as well as challenging children to build tors out of LEGO, which they then share on Facebook.
A bridge to lift the spirits – contractors working with Exmoor National Park Authority are starting site preparations for the replacement of Woodside Bridge near Lynmouth. Following government guidelines on how construction work should take place during the COVID-19 pandemic, new standard operating procedures have been designed to protect both construction workers and the public during the works. Backed by Julia Bradbury and Caroline Quentin, £65,000 was fundraised by the community through a partnership between the Lyn Community Development Trust and the National Park Authority’s CareMoor for Exmoor scheme. The bridge, which is being constructed in hardwood Exmoor oak, sourced sustainably from the National Park’s own woodlands, is significant for the infamous 1952 flood that destroyed much of Lynmouth and is locally commemorated by Middleham Memorial Gardens, to which the new bridge will link.
Thinking inside the box to feed families – the Moorland Federation of Schools is working with Exmoor National Park Authority to help families who live miles from a supermarket.Staff from the Federation’s schools – Exford, Cutcombe, Dunster, St Dubricius and Timberscombe – are making up and delivering food boxes containing essentials such as soup, bread, potatoes, beans, pasta, cheese, milk, eggs and tinned food. Rangers are helping to get deliveries to the most remote households. The pilot food box scheme, aimed at helping school children eligible for free school meals, is set to be rolled out across Somerset soon.
Food donations – the Lake District National Park Authority has donated spare food to the Trussell Trust.
Airbnb goes offline – the Authority led a successful campaign to get Airbnb to take properties offline, resulting in a UK-wide site change.
Collaborative patrols – working in conjunction with Cumbria Police, the Authority has conducted 300 patrols helping to reinforce the Stay at Home message and protect rural communities. Through the patrols, the team has been able to feed intelligence to the Cumbria Strategic Command Group (SCG) of which the Lake District National Park Authority has become a leading member. The Authority is also working collaboratively with the Strategic Media Activation Cell (SMAC), and the Business Resilience Group (BERRG).
Operating seven days a week – despite a large number of staff being furloughed, the National Park has continued to operate seven days a week.
Virtual planning service – the Authority receives over 800 planning applications a year and its planning service is a vital tool in protecting the New Forest for future generations. The New Forest National Park Authority is the first local planning authority in Hampshire and the first National Park in England to hold a virtual planning committee, with the first meeting live-streamed and the recording made available on its website.
Bringing the outside inside – the New Forest National Park Authority has been sharing #OutsideInside posts, bringing the New Forest to people at home. These include videos, photos and ideas to share on social media as part of people’s daily exercise. Staff members have been doing daily wildlife #localwalk tweets and have been asked to identify a couple of things such as milkwort, muntjac skull and a sand lizard that someone was really lucky to see. One lady tweeted that she's going to miss hearing her first cuckoo so a tweet went out to see if a resident can record one to share with everyone.
Supporting local businesses, delivering to the vulnerable – the Authority has also been promoting New Forest Marque businesses – New Forest Marque is an accreditation scheme that helps develop and promote the production, processing and distribution of local produce from the New Forest. People are being asked to support these 160 small businesses during such difficult times, highlighting how some of them have adapted by providing deliveries and services to their local communities. New Forest rangers and other staff have been helping with deliveries to vulnerable or local people in need.
Supporting the future of commoning in the New Forest – commoning is a way of life and essential to the maintenance of the New Forest landscape and cultural heritage. The New Forest Land Advice Service is assisting commoners with their annual Basic Payment Scheme claims – many of the claimants are not familiar with IT and usually do this work around a kitchen table.
#StayHome online campaign – the Authority has worked with the Hampshire Police and landowners such as Forestry England, Hampshire County Council and the National Trust to encourage people not to travel to the New Forest, with all visitor facilities and many car parks closed to ensure social distancing is adhered to.
Shared Forest education toolkit – A toolkit has been created to inspire children to connect with nature and explore the traditions of commoning through fun and creative activities. Families can download worksheets and work towards a badge.
#OutdoorsIndoors: sustaining people’s mental wellbeing – the Authority has rolled out a new social media campaign called #OutdoorsIndoors. It started with sharing photos, films and articles from extensive archives, helping to bring the unique, special qualities of the National Park to the at-home audience. Going forward it will feature themed days; Learning on Mondays, Natural History on Tuesdays and Fridays, Activities on Wednesdays and Heritage on Thursdays. Other themes across the week are People of the Park: profiling individuals and businesses in the Park who are still operating or who have adapted their business to function during COVID-19 #PeopleofthePark, and The Park Presents: profiling different people/groups from the arts sector and giving them a platform to connect to a wider audience through live or pre-recorded performances.
Northumberland National Park Neighbours – the Authority has also launched Northumberland National Park Neighbours to support the most vulnerable in its rural communities. It has worked with key members of the community to shape a programme to provide essential support for its rural communities, many of which are struggling with resources, finances and logistics. The plan includes a website that will allow residents to request support, and then be matched to existing services in their area. Services range from supply chain options for food and pharmacy goods to farming support and companion contact, and will be coordinated and implemented by National Park staff with support from trained volunteers. The Park will support established community hubs based in Falstone and Harbottle and there is the potential to extend to other communities within the Park. The Neighbours initiative has been developed in conjunction with Northumberland County Council’s Communities Together project, which launched recently to support the most vulnerable people in the county.
Lidar Landscapes, part of the broader Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership – more than 30 volunteers from both the North York Moors National Park Authority and the Howardian Hills AONB have signed up to take part in this home-based project. Volunteers will be given their own LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) 1km square within the Ryevitalise project area, to analyse and annotate for possible archaeological finds. Once verified, this could provide a chance to unearth new finds of historical interest and update current Historical Environment Records.
Rye Reflections – Inspired by the River, part of the broader Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership – the North York Moors National Park Authority is also collecting wildlife memories during the lockdown through its volunteering network and in communication with a number of community groups. They are documenting changes that have happened within the living memory of their community, that shape how they connect with their local river landscape today, and how their children will connect with the river landscape in the future. This will help with the planning of wider project activity after lockdown.
Supporting the community – Rangers have been engaging with local landowners in relation to encouraging responsible access. Many are volunteering including an apprentice ranger who has signed up as an NHS volunteer. The Authority has also mapped local food businesses that remain open, including those that have adapted their business model to provide new services, from pubs and tearooms now offering groceries in remote villages to the Michelin-starred restaurant delivering oven-ready meals to the door.
Working as part of the Fire Liaison Panel – the Authority has recently issued a fire alert, with Rangers putting up signs and spreading the message across the National Park, working closely with the local fire & rescue services.
Working in partnership to promote ‘Stay at home’ messaging – the Authority is working very closely and effectively with partners via the Derbyshire County Local Resilience Forum framework. An infographic generated by the Peak District National Park Authority achieved c.1.2million engagement. As well as extensive sharing of the stay home, protect the NHS, save lives messaging across digital platforms, Rangers have been involved in a multi-stakeholder ‘stay home / protect us’ video.
#StayhomeStaywild – a digital campaign that provides a connection to the National Park, as well as the natural world on people’s doorsteps. It includes a wildlife blog, lots of ideas for home-learning, a virtual Bogtastic experience from Moors for the Future, activities via the Junior Rangers Facebook page and a weekly physical challenge. Rangers have also taken to their smartphones to share video diaries of wildflowers, spring lambs and the dawn chorus with singing skylarks amongst other nature highlights.
Working with the Fire Operations Group – routine ranger patrols have identified fire risks and provided early warning of fire outbreaks to the local fire service. As well urging the public to stay away, messaging with the Moorland Association focused on suspension of seasonal burning activities in the uplands, and online social media drew significant attention to the risks of releasing sky lanterns in support of the NHS.
Supporting the local community, including farmers – the National Park’s farm advisers continue to support farmers and land managers helping them explore and access Countryside Stewardship and the Authority’s own small scale land management grant scheme. Delivery of Defra’s ELM Test has continued, albeit at a slower pace, working with farmers and land managers over the phone and experimenting with video conferencing. The Traditional Building Restoration Pilot Scheme support has continued, using safe social distance ways of working. South West Peak Landscape Partnership projects have moved increasingly on-line, including engagement modules for school children and youngsters. Apprentices are working from home collating survey data whilst they are unable to go out on site.
CoronavirusActionSquad – an initiative where staff from across the Authority can offer help. To date, more than 40 staff have volunteered and some really inspiring new initiatives have been kick-started.
Connecting our Communities Interactive Map – a cross-South Downs National Park Authority effort that maps out local businesses supplying essentials, as well as community hubs and other local resources. The interactive map has had more than 2,300 unique views and now features more than 200 businesses and 74 community support groups.
Visitor Economy Response – the Authority is working with the South East Tourism Destination Group to circulate and share information with the tourism sector to ensure a clear and consistent approach is adopted with businesses. The Authority is also part of the Visit England South East Task Force, which is feeding back information to government on behalf of the National Park Authority and others.
Bringing the National Park to people via social media – a range of activities refocusing how the Authority communicates, putting out inspiring and hopeful content. This has been extremely well received and the team has seen strong growth across all social media channels. Activity has included encouraging people to send in pictures taken before lockdown to share with others, an online quiz with 650 people taking part each day, website pages about how the Authority is operating and how to enjoy the National Park within government guidelines, and newsletters to 6000 subscribers with this type of content. Facebook live sessions have seen Rangers demonstrating how to create a bug hotel and bird box for the garden, and an online Q&A with a dog behaviourist.
Enjoying history online – the Authority has been working with a range of cultural heritage organisations and museums, to signpost people to their digital assets and so they can enjoy history online.
Educational resources – the education team are signposting schools to resources that will help pupils stay in touch with the great outdoors, including recording wildlife from home, creating colourful artwork of chalk grassland, and a fun e-book.
Job Seekers / Staff Searchers Project – although at an early stage, a combination of teams in the South Downs National Park Authority have come together to support local people to try and find work. Following reports from the recent CLA report ‘Feed the Nation’, they are working up a project concept to connect those in the Authority’s communities desperately seeking work (students, zero hour contracts etc.) with those businesses desperately seeking staff (growers, farmers, vineyards etc.).
Business Logistics Support Project (Saving the Growers Sector) – another project at an early stage, National Park Authority staff are working with FRIGSE and the Sussex Innovation Centre to develop a project to support the non-edible horticulture sector to find alternative routes to market. There is a strong health and wellbeing benefit; gardening is a top lockdown activity, but with garden centres shut many are struggling to carry on. They are investigating if opening up alternative growers markets could provide key resources to communities to keep growing.
Joint patrols – the Ranger Service of the Yorkshire Dales National Park has been working with the Police forces in North Yorkshire and Cumbria on joint patrols that are monitoring visitor / local movements regarding government guidance. This includes working with their communications teams on joint messaging.
Delivering food to vulnerable communities – staff have been involved in delivering 46 food parcels to vulnerable communities in the Park.
#OutdoorsIndoors – the National Park launched the ‘Outdoors Indoors’ campaign to keep people engaged in the Park and the work of the Authority. This has been very well received.
Information for tourism – the tourism team within the National Park Authority has developed a webpage with information for tourism businesses, signposting them to relevant sources of assistance and funding. Other areas where the Authority has been providing indirect support through the tourism team include: a blog with positive tourism messages, Dark Skies friendly businesses, and a new food toolkit for each tourism business that will also assist with promotion and recovery.
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