Old allies rekindle the campaign for national parks

Large group of people together on top of a large hill

Two years ago, I enjoyed a wonderful day in the Peak District, close to where I grew up. It’s a place I always love returning to and have missed hugely over the past year.

I was visiting for an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside (1949) Act and the campaigners who made it happen. The organisations present on that day had been involved in campaigning for the original Act all that time ago. It had marked a significant milestone in improving peoples access rights and enjoyment of the countryside and resulted in the first National Parks, including The Peak District which celebrated its own 70th birthday just a few weeks ago, as well as the first national trails and definitive map.

We started with a couple of hundred walkers gathering in a car park in Castleton. There was some excitement in the air for the walk ahead, but also because of the presence of Countryfile TV cameras.

From Castleton we walked to nearby Hollins Cross and, at the top, members of the Sheffield and Manchester Ramblers recreated a much-loved historic Ramblers photo. It was a little windy and the letters were more difficult to attach to the feet than I’d expected (!) but everyone was very patient, and we got there in the end.

Seated people lined up on the grass with letters on the soles of their shoes, spelling Behold ye Ramblers

Following the walk, we made our way back down to the excellent Castleton YHA for some warming food and speeches.

Celebrating the anniversary was a reminder of our shared cause and history in campaigning for the 1949 Act, and the value in coming together to create positive change. It was also a chance to reflect together on the challenges for National Parks today, including pressure from damaging major development, changes to land use practices, biodiversity loss and a lack of easy access to those without a car. There has also been a renewed focus on making sure that everyone, from whatever background, feels welcome in our National Parks.

In honour of  the seminal 1949 Act, the Ramblers, YHA, CPRE, Campaign for National Parks and Open Spaces Society signed a pledge that day to work together to emulate our historic collaboration in the 21st Century for the greater good of the National Parks. It read:  

‘We the undersigned, pledge to continue campaigning for a stronger future for the National Parks of England so that they remain just as beautiful for current and future generations to enjoy.

Our shared vision is that there will be more and better access to these landscapes so that they can benefit even more people, improving their health and wellbeing, as well as instilling a love for these special places.

We will work together to encourage and enable partners, businesses and our networks across the country to play their part in creating thriving National Parks both for the people who live in them and those who visit.’

Since then we have continued to work together, most notably, to influence the outcomes of the Glover review of protected landscapes which was published in September 2019. The report itself was full of ambition for how our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty can meet our needs in the 21st century. As an independent review however, it makes no promises for government action and despite initially being welcomed by the then Secretary of State, we are still awaiting the official government response, rumoured to be coming out very soon.  

Whilst we wait, we remain as committed as ever to working together - as those campaigners did all that time ago - to ensure our precious landscapes are richer in nature and open to all, so that everyone can benefit from them for generations to come.