A third (socio-economic) mission for our National Parks?

Norma Barry takes a look at the IWA’s recent report Living with our Landscape

Like everything else in Wales, our landscape is subject to change. It is continually affected by societal changes, environmental threats, such as global warming, and the need for economic development.

Around 25 per cent of the landscape of Wales is nationally protected by some form of environmental designation. Our spectacular and diverse National Parks comprise the majority of the designated areas. It is unrealistic to expect these areas to be immune from change, but we have a duty to future generations to make every attempt to preserve the unique and awe inspiring scenery of our three National Parks and maintain their tranquility.

The Campaign for National Parks grew out of the movement that was set up in the 1930s to campaign for access to the most pleasurable areas of our countryside.  Following the success of legislation in ensuring that the most spectacular tracts of our countryside are protected from harmful developments and that people are enabled to enjoy the beauty and facilities each Park offers, the Campaign has adapted its overall remit in order to protect and promote these areas.  Reconciling the economic and social needs of their communities with the desire to preserve the beauty of their landscapes is a tough challenge.

The IWA’s report Living with our Landscape, produced in partnership with the Countryside Council for Wales, recognises the challenges faced by the countryside in Wales and takes a brave look at the future. Many of us have been held back in fear from considering what our changing landscapes hold for the people of Wales.  However, inertia comes from fear and we need to overcome this in order to protect our landscapes for future generations.

The IWA report identifies six main drivers of change affecting our protected landscapes:

  • Globalisation
  • Climate change and the imperatives of sustainable development
  • Energy supplies
  • Food security
  • The European Common Agricultural Policy
  • Social and demographic changes

The report is important in stimulating a debate on these issues that we have needed to address in a holistic way for some time in Wales.  However, a debate is just that.  The challenge now is how can we maintain the momentum of these discussions and turn them into actions that will lead to management of our landscape in a way that protects its beauty and contributes to effective management of the environment, whilst meeting the social and economic needs of the people in Wales.  In the words of John Lloyd Jones, former Chairman of the Countryside Council: “The management of our natural and green infrastructure is now widely seen as being as important as developing our economic and social infrastructure.” So let us see this translated into policy and action.

As the report acknowledges, a number of policy decisions are already having an impact on the management of our landscape. For example, targets for reducing carbon emissions and renewable energy developments, the phasing out of CAP payments and the trend for more locally produced food.  In this context the report asks whether the remit for National Parks should move away from ‘protection’ to landscape management, whilst giving relative priority to socio-economic and cultural considerations. The Campaign for National Parks recognises the need for Parks to be living entities together with the need to sustain communities within their areas, as well as the obligation to protect each Park’s individual cultural heritage.

Another issue raised in the report is the contribution designated areas, such as National Parks, make towards carbon management. The mountainous areas of our Welsh Parks and some of the initiatives taken by the Park Authorities to reduce carbon emissions all play a role in overall carbon management within Wales.  We would welcome exploring further the role Park Authorities can play in managing their landscapes in a way which contributes positively to reducing and managing carbon emissions.  In this respect and in the light of the wider functions of National Park Authorities, the Campaign for National Parks welcomes the proposal for Park Authorities to be sustainable land managers.

For some years now, there has been a call for National Parks to have a third mission to promote sustainable forms of economic and social development of the communities within their areas. Whilst there may be merits in this proposal, the Campaign for National Parks has some concerns that, if adopted, this mission could detract from the existing purposes of National Parks.  A number of local authorities and conservation bodies also have reservations about National Parks being required to promote sustainable economic and social development within their areas.  This is primarily because Parks have been designated to conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, whilst promoting opportunities for public understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities.

Of course, we recognise the need to maintain living communities within our Parks. However, the introduction of the third mission has the potential to lead to the urbanisation of some of the most beautiful areas of Wales and to overshadow the other purposes. The Campaign for National Parks is supportive of actions to support the economic and social development of communities within National Park boundaries, but is concerned to ensure that this will not be at the expense of conserving the natural beauty and heritage of our Parks and spoiling their future enjoyment by all sections of society.

As the IWA report points out, this issue is also related to that of direct representation on National Park Authorities and has a link with the Welsh Government’s Making the Connections agenda for greater collaboration between public bodies. As illustrated by our recent Manifesto for the National Assembly elections, the Campaign for National Parks and the Welsh Park Societies are keen to support the Making the Connections agenda. However, on the issue of direct elections to National Parks, this would further politicise of the membership of National Park Authorities in Wales and could well lead to the loss of a wider viewpoint and an independent input to decision making.  It is paramount to focus on what is in the interests of protecting our National Parks and promoting their understanding and enjoyment to all sections of society.

Wales is blessed with many beautiful and precious areas of landscape. It is hard to differentiate between their beauty and cultural associations as every area has unique landscape, socio-economic factors and bio-diversity features, which appeal to different sectors of society. The IWA report notes movements for designation of areas not currently receiving statutory protection and raises the issue of the status of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whose management is subject to the policies of the local authorities concerned.

The report rightly brings up the importance of enhanced public and meaningful community engagement in the future planning and management of designated areas. The Campaign for National Parks supports this stance and is of the view that any changes to the governance of National Park Authorities should not work against the will to involve the public and communities in the planning and management of their National Parks. It is also vital that individuals are still appointed to bring a wider, national perspective to the Authorities.

The Living with Our Landscape report was written as a “contribution to the ongoing evolution of the policy and legislative context for conserving and enhancing the natural environment of Wales and its contribution to our economic and social well being”. The importance of managing the drivers for change holistically is stressed in the report. This is endorsed by the Campaign for National Parks. In moving forward, the first question is to what extent is the report being considered by our policy makers? And the second is: how are they engaging us, the wider community, in this consideration?

Norma Barry is Head of Welsh Affairs with the Campaign for National Parks

One thought on “A third (socio-economic) mission for our National Parks?

  1. Tragically the root of beauty is not understood. It relates to integrity and belonging. Our ancestors lived within nature’s means and, for example, their buildings reflected the terrain, climate, geology and flora in their siting and materials. The patterns of settlement reflected lifestyles meshed with natures resources and logistics. The town and country planing acts were responses to conflicts of interest in land use in the industrial era , eg conflict between residential and industrial use and these and environmental and recreational value. Remove the conflict and the need for planning returns to the need for rational arrangements. Living essentially within local natural resources returns the restraint and integrity to development. So why not end the senseless conflict to which national parks are prone because they dont understand what makes things beautiful and fall back on fossilising things as they are. Let Parks pioneer sustainability as the driver of evolving landscape beauty. Incase anyone thinks this is pie in a future sky, it is happening in my neck of the woods, a new vernacular is evolving without giving visual offense. And yes it includes the occasional small wind turbine!

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy