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A stronger future for our National Parks

A view across to Hathersage in the Peak District A view across to Hathersage in the Peak District Shutterstock

This year marks 70 years since the 1949 Act of Parliament which established the family of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that we know and love. This was the result of decades of dedicated struggle, including mass protests, national campaigns and political lobbying. It means that today our most beautiful countryside enjoys the highest level of protection, and can continue to offer space for nature, and tranquillity and recreation for all of us.

Today, 22 March, we’re joining the Campaign for National Parks, the Youth Hostel Association and other organisations, to mark this incredible achievement with a special 70th anniversary walk at Castleton in the Peak District, at the head of the Hope Valley.

The Hope Valley in the Peak District has a long connection to the story of the creation of our National Parks. Apart from running along the dead-centre of the first National Park to be established - the Peak District - it also hosts the start of the Pennine Way, which sets out from Edale. #

When in 1948, a 20-year long campaign for the establishment of National Parks threatened to peter out without a victory, Tom Stephenson, the Ramblers’ Association (as it then was) secretary, organised a three-day walking trip along the Pennine Way for prominent members of the Labour Government. The trek, and ensuring publicity, helped stiffen the resolve of the Chancellor Hugh Dalton, and the National Parks and Countryside Bill was introduced to parliament in March 1949.

Parliamentarians old pic webimage

Parliamentarians being led on the walk to hear the argument for National Parks (1948). Photo credit: Ramblers Association

The campaigners who fought to establish the parks came together to create one of the seminal environmental achievements of the past 100 years, an achievement which millions of people love and appreciate today. Today we come together again to celebrate the achievements of these campaigners, and to celebrate the beauty and wonder of the best landscapes England has to offer.

It’s also an opportunity to reaffirm the founding principles of our National Parks, and the work that needs to be done to make them accessible for everyone, and to ensure they are enhanced, improved and protected for the next 70 years and beyond.

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. But our research has shown that over a third of people in England live too far away from our current network of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to easily access them, including half of the most socially deprived areas of the country

This means that a large proportion of England’s population are missing out on all the benefits of these incredible landscapes. 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.

Spending time outdoors boosts self-esteem and mental and physical health: it is for the nation’s health and happiness that we have to expand access.

Whilst they do enjoy strong protection, our National Parks also face considerable threats from development: fracking at their borders and within them, roadbuilding and housing development. We have to be vigilant and strengthen these protections so we can pass this great natural gift on to future generations.

Despite the challenges that they face, our National Parks are an incredible achievement. They attract over 100 million visitors a year, continue to inspire artists and culture, and allow people from all over the UK and beyond to connect with their incredible natural beauty, tranquillity and recreation opportunities. It’s hard to imagine what the English countryside would look like without the protections afforded to places such as Exmoor, the Peak District, and the South Downs.

Establishing our National Parks was a difficult task, and was never a given. Today we’re celebrating the drive and vision of the campaigners that fought for them, and renew our pledge to protecting and improving their legacy for future generations.

Let's celebrate the drive and vision of the campaigners that fought for our National Parks, and renew our pledge to protect and improve their legacy for future generations.

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