Theresa Villiers vows to put National Parks at heart of thriving rural economy

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers sent a recorded video message to the delegates at the UK National Parks conference being held by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers sent a recorded video message to the delegates at the UK National Parks conference being held by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers has promised to put National Parks at the centre of a thriving rural economy as policy-setting powers are repatriated to Whitehall for the first time in more than 40 years.

The Chipping Barnet MP could not honour her predecessor Michael Gove’s accepted invitation to speak at the UK National Parks Conference near Skipton yesterday due to other commitments, but in a pre-recorded video address she said protected landscapes have a vital role to play in realising the Government’s vision for the environment.

National Parks account for 10 per cent of land in England and welcome 94 million visitors a year. Picture by James Hardisty.

National Parks account for 10 per cent of land in England and welcome 94 million visitors a year. Picture by James Hardisty.

Mrs Villiers said: “Clear goals of this Government are nature recovery and protecting biodiversity... an entirely new system of farm support which focuses on rewarding our farmers for the produce they give us and also for the stewardship of the natural environment and our beautiful landscapes, and also the goal we have of connecting more people with nature. I know that National Parks will be playing an important part in all three of those.

“I also look forward to continuing the work of Julian Glover and his team around what more we can do to safeguard and preserve our beautiful landscapes and to ensure they are at the centre of a thriving rural economy.”

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Mr Glover, associate editor at London’s Evening Standard newspaper, is leading a review into the UK’s designated landscapes. The review is looking at how protected landscapes can be improved, how those who live and work in them can be better supported, their role in growing the rural economy and whether the current network of 34 Areas of Outstanding Beauty and 10 National Parks can be expanded.

Speaking on the opening day of the conference at the Coniston Hotel, Marie Southgate, the deputy director of land use policy at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said she could not confirm when the findings of the review would be published, only that they were “very imminent” and that the findings “will urge a lot of ambition”.

Nature recovery will be at the heart of the Government’s decision making post-Brexit, she said, adding: “Protected landscapes can be the hubs of new nature recovery network.

“As we look to connect more people from more sections of society with our beautiful natural environment, National Parks can be more ambitious in reaching out to all of modern Britain as part of a dynamic rural economy.”