National Parks - 70 years on: 'if you make it about the people, you protect the place'

Logo: Campaign for National Parks

This year’s National Park Week (17-25 April) coincides with another special date - the 70th anniversary since the first National Park, Peak District National Park, was created in the UK on 17 April 1951. It paved the way for the creation of the 15 National Parks here today. The launch of Peak District National Park was closely followed in 1951 by Lake District National Park (9 May), Snowdonia National Park (18 October) and Dartmoor National Park (30 October).

Peak District moorland (Moors for the Future Partnership)
Peak District moorland (Moors for the Future Partnership)

Their designation was facilitated by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which Campaign for National Parks (in its earlier incarnation as Standing Committee on National Parks) played a big role in pushing for and shaping. As we await an update from the government on the Glover Review and potential new National Parks, we continue to have an important role to play in shaping the future of protected landscapes.

The first National Parks came at a time when the UK was still very much recovering from the impact of two World Wars and National Parks opened up access to the countryside in a way that had not existed before. Sound familiar? Fast forward 70 years and our country is, hopefully, just about coming through another major crisis in the shape of the global pandemic.

Once again, access has been limited – this time due to government guidelines to restrict the spread of the virus – and, once again, issues of accessibility for people living in cities and from more diverse communities has risen to the fore. It remains an important part of our campaigning work and ongoing focus.

Rod Gentry (Forestry England)
Rod Gentry (Forestry England)

Our successful Mosaic Outdoors project opened up our National Parks to hundreds of younger people and BAME groups which had very little previous experience of National Parks. While we no longer directly run Mosaic ourselves, we’ve seen some of the alumni take it forward and help lots more people to enjoy their local National Park. Yvonne Witter leading things in Peak District National Park and Mohammed Dhalech in Yorkshire Dales National Park.

And we’ve shared our learnings and resources on our website so others who wish to find ways to help under-represented groups to enjoy National Parks, see here

The past year of lockdowns and social distancing has seen a huge rise in first-time visitors to National Parks, or those who maybe visited once as a kid and are now returning. People have different motivations and ambitions when visiting National Parks and the National Park Authorities are facing the same challenge – how to engage with and retain these new audiences.

car parked looking out over mountains (Lake District National Park Authority)
Safer Lakes (Lake District National Park Authority)

Nominations to our Park Protector Awards show the huge efforts in this area – from innovative communications campaigns and using live-car park tracking to help people know where to go, to running free webinars and introducing Park ambassadors.

In what is a happy accident, the winner and two runners-up for this year’s Park Protector Awards (run in partnership with Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust) covered three of the four National Parks which celebrate their 70th anniversaries this year – Peak District, Lake District and Dartmoor.

The overall winner of £1,000 was Safer Lakes – an incredible partnership working approach to protecting Lake District National Park during the global pandemic, it involved huge efforts to open new communication channels and create what they called the ‘neighbourhood watch of the National Park’ – eyes and ears on the ground to highlight issues from illegal gatherings and litter to fires and irresponsible parking, it enabled teams to mobilise quickly and respond before things got out of hand. It saved the Park from the many of the major issues which overwhelmed other areas.

Despite the challenges around lockdowns and indeed severe weather, the Moors for the Future Partnership adapted and innovated to deliver £5m of planned peatland restoration work – which brings huge benefits for us all. These efforts saw it win a £500 runner-up prize.

person painting a bird nestbox (Be Wild Buckfastleigh)
(Be Wild Buckfastleigh)

Also receiving a £500 runner-up prize was a volunteer-led grass roots effort to connect local communities to Dartmoor National Park. Be Wild Buckfastleigh distributed hundreds of nature and wildlife activity packs to families via the local foodbanks, ran socially-distanced wildlife walks and bird-box building workshops for older residents and inspired people with an online programme of videos, fact sheets and more.

Volunteers have always played such an important role in protecting National Parks and this year was no exception. The People's Choice Volunteer of the Year vote returned Forestry England volunteer warden Rod Gentry as the winner for his work in Friston Forest in South Downs National Park. He was chosen out of a five-strong shortlist which included some brilliant candidates: Jess Davison from Northumberland National Park, David Bird from Snowdonia National Park, Vicky Pearson from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and David Bream from North York Moors National Park.

The judges were blown away by the nominations and while they had the tough job of selecting the winners from a very strong slate of nominees, they were thankful the volunteer decision was with the public!

As the winners of our Park Protector Award 2021 said: 'if you make it about the people, you protect the place.' - we couldn't agree more.

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