Countryside campaigners have called for better and more affordable transport links to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to ensure poorer families in large swathes of England can enjoy the benefits of “our finest landscapes”.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has today released research showing that 36 per cent of England’s population live too far from the current network of 10 National Parks and 34 AONBs for these areas to be classified as “easily accessible”.
Its maps also highlight a strong correlation between levels of social deprivation and a lack of access to such beauty spots, with almost half of the most socially deprived areas in the country falling outside of the accessible range.
The physical health and mental wellbeing benefits of such areas – which were protected for the benefit of all society in the post-Second World War era – are therefore lost to lower income families, it is suggested.
Visitors to National Parks overwhelmingly rely on private transport to reach them and get around, with 93 per cent of journeys made by car.
However, the majority of areas where less than half of all households own a car also fall outside of the accessible range of these landscapes.
This leaves the majority of people who live furthest from England’s most beautiful countryside reliant on public transport to reach it.
But affordable and frequent rail travel is not always possible to National Parks and AONBs, and almost always requires onward travel options, such as a reliable bus service, CPRE argues.
Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at CPRE, said: “When the most beautiful parts of England’s countryside were given National Park status, or designated as AONBs, they were done so as a public good – so that everyone could enjoy the benefits that access to them can bring.
“But the mapping demonstrates that a huge amount of people are currently missing out.
“Regular interaction with the natural world – fresh air, exercise, escaping the stresses and strains of urban living, just being in the great outdoors – is inextricably linked to increased levels of health and happiness.
“By increasing the provision of affordable and sustainable transport options to and around these places it would not only create a countryside for all, but also help to combat isolation among communities within National Parks and AONBs.”
An independent review of England’s National Parks and AONBs, led by journalist and writer Julian Glover, is currently being undertaken.
CPRE hopes that the final report and recommendations from the review, due out this autumn, will consider how to enable greater access to these landscapes so that they can benefit more people.
Mr Glover, said: “Seventy years ago parliament voted to protect our finest landscapes for everyone’s benefit.
“Now it is time to renew that mission.
“We need to preserve and enhance their beauty, help people who live in them and turn around the decline in the natural environment.
“We also need to make sure they can be understood and enjoyed by all parts of a changed society. These are big challenges and I hope the review I am leading will make progress towards meeting them.”
CPRE is calling for increased resources for outreach and engagement programmes to provide equal opportunities for access to National Parks and AONBs for everyone.
The countryside charity would also like to see a network of accessible, stile-free paths that are wheelchair-friendly created in all National Parks and AONBs, as well as opportunities for all school children to visit and learn about the areas as part of the national curriculum.
CPRE’s mapping, created by LUC, considers which areas are within 15 miles of a Protected Landscape when travelling on the existing road network.