Government responds to the protected landscapes review

On Saturday (15 January 2022), the UK government published its long-awaited response to the Landscapes Review.

Announced in 2018, the Landscapes Review was an independent review of England’s protected landscapes led by Julian Glover, journalist and former special advisor to the Department for Transport.

The review, timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, explored ‘how these iconic landscapes meet our needs in the 21st century’ and came out with a series of recommendations. Alongside its response, the UK government has launched a consultation on their response to these recommendations. 

In responding to the review, the Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra, said “I am determined that our protected landscapes will be accessible to all”.

Key proposals for accessibility

Ever since we fought to establish our protected landscapes in the 1949 Act, the Ramblers has worked to ensure that the vision of Tom Stephenson, Francis Ritchie and the other national parks’ pioneers is fully realised. To this day, our volunteers work with the protected landscapes to achieve this mission.

The UK government's response to the review includes a consultation on a wide range of proposals. Key proposals for access and connection to nature include: 

  • A stronger statutory purpose for connecting all parts of society with the landscapes - including removing barriers, having stated public health and wellbeing outcomes, and a more active role for the landscapes in supporting access
  • A new national landscapes partnership (incorporating the National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Trails) to help the landscapes to work together on common aims and challenges
  • A new and more collaborative landscape designation programme
  • Testing the name change for AONBs to National Landscapes, recommended by the Glover report, with strengthened purposes, funding and governance
  • A new national landscape strategy and more aligned statutory purposes for the National Parks and AONBs, with a strengthened purpose for nature recovery
  • A series of specific social and nature connection interventions to:
    • Working with the Probation Service’s community payback scheme
    • Supporting capacity building in schools to engage with nature
    • Enabling protected landscapes to deliver for green social prescribing provision
  • Strengthening enforcement measures for antisocial behaviour
  • Exploring options for protecting green lanes, where they are vulnerable to damage by vehicular use
  • Strengthening the way in which public bodies support the statutory purposes of the landscapes.

There are additional proposals on changes to governance and funding but any consideration of expanding open access (freedom to roam) rights has been deferred until the open access mapping review, which is currently due to take place in 2024/25.

Our response to these new proposals 

The response promised that “the package of measures set out in this response will rise to the challenge before us and leave our protected landscapes in a better condition for future generations”.

While there is much to welcome in this response, we also have some concerns and, as always, the devil will be in the detail. We will be looking at the proposals in full over the coming weeks, and responding to the consultation.