Inevitably, the dual purpose of national parks’ brings inherent tensions.
Landscapes must be preserved for visitors to enjoy but at the same time rural enterprise must flourish to underpin local jobs and this gives the bodies entrusted with their guardianship a tricky balance to strike. Now, their success in doing so is being questioned.
The Government is reviewing how designated landscapes are managed and according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), national parks must be “more than just museums for tourists” if they are to support vibrant and sustainable rural communities.
Tim Breitmeyer, president of the CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses, said: “These cherished landscapes are quite rightly recognised and valued for providing myriad benefits for recreation and wildlife. However, those who live and work within them often feel disregarded and unrepresented.”
Mr Breitmeyer insisted that the bodies who manage designated landscapes should support and advise, not hinder, residents or those whose livelihoods depend on the land, but that this was not always the case. He said: “Too much focus is put on the needs and views of visitors, while opportunities for sustainable rural economic growth are restricted.
“Rural businesses and communities must have the opportunity to thrive and not only cater for tourists. Land use must be allowed to evolve.”
Land use is a topical issue in Yorkshire’s national parks. As reported in The Yorkshire Post yesterday, developers and landowners want a “more flexible approach” from the North York Moors National Park Authority to house building in order to stabilise populations of towns and villages.
In the Yorkshire Dales, an ongoing affordable housing crisis has been forcing many young families to leave villages, bringing the future sustainability of communities into question.
Figures from umbrella body National Parks England suggest business growth is being supported in national parks, despite the CLA’s concerns.
In total across the country’s 15 national parks, the number of businesses rose by 10 per cent between 2012 and 2016, creating more than 21,000 jobs.
Paul Hamblin, executive director of National Parks England, said local communities are “essential” for the future of national parks, adding: “There are many examples of national park authorities working closely with local communities, businesses, farmers and land managers. To suggest we disregard those who live and work within our national parks is simply not accurate.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “Our treasured designated landscapes generate over £20bn for the rural economy, whilst supporting 75,000 jobs. We truly appreciate the importance they have to their surrounding communities which is why we have launched an independent review to ensure they remain fit for the 21st century.
“The review will look at how well National Parks and AONBs support communities, as well as whether there are opportunities to expand and strengthen the network, boost wildlife, and better connect people with nature.”
The Yorkshire Dales, covering 841 square miles, is England’s third largest National Park and contains 1,770 businesses with an annual turnover of £422m.
The Peak District was the first of Britain’s national parks when it was founded in 1951. Within its 555 sq miles are more than 5,000 businesses providing over 18,000 jobs.
The North York Moors covers 554 sq miles, contains around 2,000 businesses that employ about 11,500 people.