‘Absolutely Gutted!’ Are the only words I can find right now. What am I talking about you may wonder, but that’s probably because the subject of which I’m about to air my concerns have been discussed in parliament sneakily hidden under the shadow of a general election and also masked by the terrible events in the UK these past few weeks.
So what is it I’m so concerned about?
Future Landscape Wales. In March this year, conservationists criticised a draft report on the future of Welsh National Parks, written by Future Landcapes Wales, a working group set up by Welsh Government in 2015. Environmentalists are concerned that the report makes no mention of the "Sandford Principle", which outlines that the main statutory purpose of national parks is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area. (Extract from UKHillwalking.com)
"Where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and public enjoyment, then conservation interest should take priority"
This principle was updated in the 1995 Environment Act, to say;
"If it appears that there is a conflict between those purposes, [the National Park Authority] shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area"
In other words: If there is a conflict between protecting the environment and people enjoying the environment, that can't be resolved by management, then protecting the environment is more important.(extract from above link)
The report was debated on the 6 June and passed with an amendment to the effect that 'any change in the legislation governing National Parks should be taken through the Assembly as primary legislation'. A tiny consolation in my books.
The vote on the amendment for regrets that it didn’t include the Sandford Principle was a close one it was still not agreed.
I fear it is the beginning of the end for Wales as I know it and I dare say I’m not the only one concerned. I may not be Welsh but I’m sure there are many thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people out there that see the Welsh National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as one of the main attractions of Wales.
The National Parks are the epicentre of adventure and recreation; the cornerstone of the great outdoors a place for parents to introduce their children to the wonders of the natural world. Memories and experiences that will stay with people for life in a positive way; experiences that should surely be encouraged given the world we live in now, the sadness we experience in the media almost daily. We should be taking every opportunity to enjoy and immerse ourselves and our children into the wonders that our national parks provide. For many it is the start of something wonderful and fulfilling, it provides escape from the day to day routine that life sometimes brings. If they are respected and enjoyed responsibly then they could continue to provide positive life changing experiences.
You wouldn’t imagine Pippingford Park in Sussex to be a place of wonderment, not to the same level as great National Parks if you have experienced them. However it is a beautiful country park with a manor house and grazing sheep and dear. One particular navigation session saw me teaching a group of school children from London. As I stood waiting for them in the car park I could feel my excitement for them building as the many dear continued without a care on the arrival of the coach. I could not believe my ears when I heard the excitement from some of the children, not one mention of the many dear. The excitement instead was at the sight of the sheep, more than half of them had never seen sheep. I was astounded; I think I even stood open mouthed for a while. One even commented, ‘Wow look at all the trees, this is amazing’. I realised just how lucky I’ve been.
My group and I spent much of the day talking about the animals, flowers, trees and lakes rather than navigation. I was much happier engaging with them on something they were genuinely excited about rather than the map reading forced upon them. I spoke of Wales and its mountains on that very day too, because it’s something I’m passionate about and wanted to share it with them. I distinctly remember thinking I would probably be in trouble with many parents as they expressed their urge for a new holiday destination rather than Spain or France.
That day in Pippingford Park might have little to do with this new Future Landscapes Wales report but it just goes to show that if the future of Wales, the National Parks, their influences and all they have to offer are no longer appealing then the appeal of Wales itself may very well be under threat.
The Snowdon summit alone has over 500,000 visitors each year with over 10 million visitors to the National Park itself, generating over £1.1bn. Of course it’s not just the honeypot of Snowdonia under threat it’s the other places that may be effected more, the likes of the less well known AONB or the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.
Having read the report, one word stands out repeatedly very early on, ‘Stakeholders’ the evidence is in the word itself; they hold a stake, a vested financial interest. I have attended stakeholder meetings in the past and they all have one thing in common, they are not aimed at the interests of the masses, they are quite literally a meeting of self licking lollipops. Lollipops that were probably rubbing their hands together over the announcement of that convenient cloak, the general election.
It may well all work out ok and my worries may not come to fruition but I certainly haven’t got the confidence I once had in the overall protection of these amazing places. The ‘Sandford Principle’ in conjunction with the ‘Silkin Test’ are excluded from this new report on the Future Plans of the Welsh National Parks and AONB could well be the beginning of the end of the Wales I know and love.
Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments below and do me a favour spread the word by sharing it from the button below.
Following feedback on Twitter. I received these links below and it's encouraging to see that there are motions in place to protect and improve the overall appeal of Snowdon and Snowdonia and it's encouraging that people that care are getting together. But lets not forget that it's the parks as a whole not just the honeypots.