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Renewing our vows to the humble country park

The woods in Black Park, Buckinghamshire The woods in Black Park, Buckinghamshire Photo by Alice Rosen / CC BY-SA 2.0

Emma Marrington blog

This week – you may be surprised to know - is the 50th anniversary of the Countryside Act 1968. I must admit I was surprised myself – mainly because after more than a decade at CPRE, I had never come across this particular act, let alone thought about its relevance to me. I’d hazard a guess that’s the case for the majority of people!

Despite its relative obscurity, it has had a huge impact on green spaces and recreation. It was the first piece of legislation to deal with amenity and recreation across the whole countryside, and one of its key achievements was the creation of the country park. It gave local councils power to designate country parks for people to visit and enjoy a countryside environment near urban or built-up areas.

I grew up in Hillingdon - a bustling metropolitan suburb of west London. It was, and still is, busy and noisy, and it lies under the shadow of aircraft from nearby Heathrow. However, at the weekends and summer holidays, my family would take me out into our nearby country parks on the edge of Buckinghamshire.

In particular, Black Park Country Park has a long link to my family. I recall my Mum telling me she would fish there with a friend in the ’70s and, as a child in the ’80s and ’90s, I often visited the park. I even lived in a ranger’s house there for some years. Now, I take my own stepson there for days out.

However, what is so special about this space is that it feels as if it is miles away from the city. The hammering of woodpeckers can be heard across fields; animals graze on the heathland; secret pathways wind through the woods next to babbling brooks. These are the recognisable sounds of the countryside, but the park actually lies between two large towns with a dual carriageway running along one edge.

A few miles away from Black Park is Denham Country Park, which I also associate with fond childhood memories. My mum and I would always take the same route - along the Grand Union canal from Uxbridge, then across agricultural fields towards Denham. There was a field of buttercups and cowpats, which of course caused great amusement to me as a child. On the far side of the field, there was a river where we would paddle.

Denham Country Park has changed a lot since I was a child: it now has proper paths, a small visitor centre and one of the large fields next to the stream has become a golf course (a familiar change of use). However, these changes have greatly improved the accessibility elsewhere in the country park.

Without the Countryside Act 1968, the green spaces I grew up with may not have been there as I have known them. They may not have been there for local people to visit and spend the day exploring, to get away from the hustle and bustle, or perhaps to introduce their young families to the great outdoors. It’s unlikely they would have been cared for in such a way that means they will continue to be there for decades to come.

There are more than 400 recognised Country Parks in England and Wales, attracting millions of visitors a year. The majority are owned and run by local authorities, but there’s a risk that cuts to green space budgets for staff and maintenance and a lack of funding and investment will mean that some country parks will face decline in the coming years.

That is why CPRE wholeheartedly supports the recently launched Charter for Parks, which calls on all politicians to adopt the six points of the charter, and champion our country parks. The charter aims to recognise the right of every citizen to have access, within walking distance, to a good quality, well-managed public green space; to embed effective protection from inappropriate development or use; and to encourage and enable community involvement and empowerment of local people and park users.

It is absolutely vital that national and local government renew their vows to the nation’s country parks so that this wonderful legacy can be protected and enhanced for future generations to enjoy. 

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3 July 2018

It is absolutely vital that national and local government renew their vows to the nation’s country parks so that this wonderful legacy can be protected and enhanced for future generations to enjoy.




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