Designated landscapes review – National Trust response

The Government is currently reviewing National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England. Over half of the land we care for lies within designated areas, and we know first-hand how important they are to the people who live, work and holiday in them. In this blog, Simon Pryor, our Head of Landscape Scale Conservation, and Georgina Holmes-Skelton, Head of Government Affairs, explain the key points we have made in our response to what is becoming known as ‘the Glover Review’.

Walkers at Wasdale, in Lake District National Park, with the vast expanse of Wastwater in the distance. ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish.

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, passed in 1949, was a ground-breaking piece of legislation to give protection for many of the outstandingly beautiful landscapes in the UK. The National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) that were designated as a result have stood as England’s most cherished landscapes, enabling people of all walks of life to experience the natural beauty, history and culture that these places hold, and for which England is world-renowned.

Nearly 70 years later, in January 2018, the Government launched their 25 Year Environment Plan. Within this Plan they committed to undertake a review of National Parks and AONBs in England, to ensure that they are achieving the purposes for which they were created and are up to the challenges of the 21st century.

45% of Trust land lies within National Parks and 27% lies within AONBs. These areas are home to 2.3 million people, including National Trust tenants, and visited by more than 260 million people every year. The Trust sees everyday how important natural and cultural spaces are to the people that enjoy them, and we want to make sure that England’s most cherished landscapes remain special for everyone who lives, works in or visits them. We have taken several ways to engage with the Review, including meeting with the Panel and a visit to the Peak District. In late October, a formal call for evidence was launched, and we’ve now published our response.

Our conclusions and recommendations have been informed by experience from all around the Trust, and we have sought to come to a holistic view of how England’s designated landscapes are working. However, we are very conscious that there is a large degree of variation in terms of approach and practice. Different places face very different challenges. It is important that they are working with and properly supported by local and national government to achieve their aims and priorities, and that they have the needs of the nation as a whole in mind. While there are some fantastic examples of really great work out there, there are also some areas where we would like to see improvement.

Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak, Derbyshire in the Peak District National Park. ©National Trust Images/Neil Jakeman.

It is well-documented that nature worldwide has been in serious decline over the last fifty years and it is a tragedy that despite being designated as National Parks or AONBs, these most precious landscapes have fared little better than undesignated land. The SSSIs within these landscapes have generally been well protected, but despite a lot of agri-environment funding, wildlife across the wider National Parks and AONBs has drastically declined or been lost. This is the biggest failing of the legislation, and the highest priority for this Review to fix. Our designated landscapes offer huge potential for the restoration and protection of our natural environment at a time when it has never been more under pressure; they can, and should be, demonstrating best practice, acting as reservoirs of high quality habitat and biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services in abundance. We therefore want to see clear vision set for how designated landscapes can become bold exemplars of landscape scale restoration, so that once again they are renowned for their abundant, diverse and vibrant wildlife.

There is a need to strengthen some of the tools that exist to help the protection of the special features of these sites, particularly for AONBs, who have particularly suffered from reductions in local authority funding and pressures to deliver new housing and infrastructure. We would like to see AONBs strengthened, particularly in terms of influence over land management, and granted greater independence to protect and manage their landscapes.

It is also important that these places deliver for people – not only those living within the landscape and in local communities, but also those who live further afield. It should be easier for people living in towns and cities to access and enjoy these places, and benefit from the opportunities for connecting with nature and experiencing our shared cultural heritage that they offer. A clearer focus on how our designated landscapes can benefit everyone today would be welcome.

A visitor enjoying the view from Highveer Point near Heddon Valley, within Exmoor National Park. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

There are several practical ways that we propose to help enable designated landscapes to better support nature and people, such as a review of funding and governance structures, supplementary guidance on major development planning, and increasing the power and quality of management plans. The world has also changed significantly in the 70 years since their establishment, and there is perhaps a need to be clearer on the role of National Parks and AONBs in addressing some of the most pressing concerns of the 21st Century – climate change, public health, and wellbeing for example. We would like to see central government set clearer expectations about how National Parks and AONBs should be engaging with these issues – which may require refreshing or reinterpreting their statutory purposes.

Most importantly the Trust believes in the value of these places, and the work that our National Parks and AONBs are doing. These landscapes mean so much to so many, and we want to see them delivering on their potential now and for future generations.

Read our response in full here: Landscapes Review: National Trust Response December 2018

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