The 70th anniversary of the North York Moors National Park
By Tom Hind, Chief Executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority
Seventy years ago, the then Minister for Housing and Local Government (one Harold Macmillan) signed into law the North York Moors National Park (Designation) Order, thus bringing about the creation of the latest in a series of National Parks that were formed in the wake of the Second World War.
I have recently explored some of the documents regarding the designation history of our National Park. The North York Moors in fact only made the ‘B list’ of potential reserves in John Dower’s report on National Parks in 1945. A shortcoming addressed sensibly by Sir Arthur Hobhouse in 1947, who paved the way for the designation of 12 National Parks, including the North York Moors, over subsequent years in England and Wales. A lengthy process of consultation ensued which ultimately led to the current boundaries of the North York Moors and the affirmation of its statutory purposes. These are:
1) To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area.
2) To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the North York Moors by the public.
As we look back over the last 70 years, we can chart deep societal changes. We’re now a significantly larger and more urban population, tuned into technology that was unimaginable in those days that were pre-television, let alone internet. Do our National Parks remain as relevant as they did in the post-war years? Absolutely. We are a population that is increasingly attuned to the impact of climate change and species loss and wants to see landscapes like National Parks work harder for the environment. We are a population that has, in many cases, found a new appreciation for green, open spaces and the benefits they can bring to our wellbeing (physically or subliminally through the arts for example). We are also a more diverse population, and one of the greatest challenges to the relevance of National Parks is how they can reach and benefit all parts of society.
A highlight of our 70th anniversary celebrations this year was a walk organised in partnership with the Muslim Hikers, which saw close to a hundred people from a range of backgrounds walk the Cleveland Way National Trail from Clay Bank to Swainby. You can see a brilliant video from the event on the North York Moors YouTube channel. For some participants, walking was already part of their DNA. For others, it was something of a first. For all, it was about the enjoyment of company and a shared connection with the great outdoors. A truly uplifting experience.
Our anniversary year has also coincided with the publication of the National Park’s new Management Plan, which was launched in July at the Inspired by… gallery, with the stunning backdrop of the Woodland Sanctuary exhibition by photographers Simon Baxter and Joe Cornish. As the images around us celebrated the beauty of the National Park’s forests and ancient trees, we reaffirmed our objective to work towards becoming a carbon negative economy by 2040, capturing and storing carbon through new wooded areas and healthy peat habitats. It’s true to say that our anniversary has been less about looking back at the last seven decades as it has looking forward, focusing on how we address the challenges of climate change, nature recovery and the balance of competing interests in a modern world.
Will our National Parks remain relevant in another 70 years? I hope so, but I am aware this will only happen if we meet society’s deeper expectations and can connect with everyone in our communities. The Management Plan sets out a vision for the National Park in 2040, along with a set of actions and priorities to get us there. We must achieve that vision and keep going. We must be a place that lifts the nation’s health and wellbeing. A place that embraces diversity. A place where nature flourishes, communities thrive and heritage is recognised and appreciated.
It's impossible to predict what society will look like by the end of this century, how technology will move on and what new challenges will we face. Those two statutory purposes remain unchanged, but the world in which we deliver them requires us to do more.
If you’d like to find out more about how we care for the North York Moors National Park, how we’ve celebrated our anniversary year and how you can get involved with our work, please visit www.northyorkmoors.org.uk
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