This post is by Andrew McCloy, chair of National Parks England and the Peak District National Park. A version was first published by the Campaign for National Parks.
“National parks are the best idea we ever had…they reflect us at our best, rather than our worst.” Writer and environmentalist, Wallace Stegner, was describing America’s national parks, but his observation has universal application, including to the UK’s 15 National Parks.
Just think about it for a minute. Here are landscapes whose natural beauty, wildlife and heritage are so important that they are designated and described in national terms, not local. They are given the highest level of protection, managed sustainably, not just for conservation but also for education, health and enjoyment. It’s an implicit recognition that our finest landscapes have the ability to inspire and enthuse and, by extension, show how we can and must live with nature, not against it. And don’t forget that they account for a large area of land, as well. National Parks and other similarly protected areas cover around six per cent of the earth’s land surface. In the UK, National Parks cover seven per cent of the land area of Scotland, almost ten per cent of England and 20 per cent of Wales.
Where better to showcase what we can do?
These thoughts are at the forefront of my mind on COP27 Solutions Day. Surely, in the global brand that is National Parks, we have a readymade, recognisable and popular platform to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises? Where better to showcase innovation, inspire behavioural change and chart the route to net zero with nature than through our National Parks? Of course, ultimately we need wider societal change, just as we need nature to thrive everywhere, but it’s about leadership and inspiration – and landscape itself having a role.
As many as 100 million visits are made to the UK’s National Parks each year. That’s an awful lot of people that can be sent home with powerful messages about what a low carbon economy looks like; how to live sustainably; the value and wonder of nature; and with a better understanding of how climate change impacts on people and nature, and what we can all do to adapt and mitigate it.
Indeed, this is what National Parks are already setting out to do. We have all carried out baseline assessments to accurately measure and assess our carbon footprints and plot our route to net zero, while English National Parks have an ambitious climate leadership delivery plan that addresses decarbonisation head on, as described in Richard Leafe’s recent blog.
Sometimes solutions are not as complicated as people make out. The prime minister’s promise at COP27 that there would be no backsliding on the government’s pledge to tackle global warming, as well as its undertaking to address the nature crisis, is very welcome.
National Parks can influence and inspire millions of people
So, Mr Sunak, here’s a way forward. If you want a tenth of England on a guaranteed path to net zero, the opportunity to influence and inspire millions of people, as well as to shape a rural economy where sustainable farming and conservation go hand in hand, then support our National Parks. If you want a flagship climate change project right now then look no further than our super ambitious, landscape-scale programmes, restoring the damaged peatlands of northern England, or the rivers and chalk downlands of the south.
What we are attempting to do is exciting, visionary and vital. We are showing that nature-based solutions are integral to developing resilience to climate change; and we want to help lead a wider behavioural change to make the necessary adjustment to more sustainable lifestyles. National Parks have a plan in place, and the energy and commitment to go with it, and all that we need are the resources to match this ambition. We simply cannot fulfil our potential and deliver for the nation if our funding continues to diminish and we are forced to downsize. If this is indeed the time for bold climate leadership, then give National Parks the support they need to truly fulfil their national remit.
Ultimately, if we are serious about facing up to the climate and nature crises then we have to start with our National Parks. We must find practical and lasting solutions to bring about meaningful change, and show how the environment, farming and economy can all work together. If we can’t do this in our National Parks then there is little chance of success elsewhere.
Campaign for National Parks has written to the chancellor warning of the severe consequences that continued funding cuts will have for the future of National Parks in doing more to combat climate change and nature decline.