Seventy years ago this week, Parliament passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, ground-breaking legislation that created National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty in England and Wales.
Introduced to preserve and enhance these iconic landscapes for the enjoyment and well-being of all, the then Minister for Town and Country Planning, Lewis Silkin, described it as ‘the most exciting act of the post-war parliament’. Also addressing public rights of way and access to open land, the Act was part of the country’s reconstruction after the second world war.
Since the designation of the Peak District in 1951, the National Parks family has grown to ten in England – including the Broads – three in Wales and two in Scotland. Northumberland National Park was officially designated in 1956, becoming England’s northern most National Park.
In England alone, National Parks cover 10% of the country and contain almost 30% of the country’s internationally important wildlife habitat, with Northumberland National Park covering 21% of the county. The Parks were where the first environmental farming payments were piloted.
Here in Northumberland, nature and the environment are high on the agenda with the equivalent of 241 football pitches of peatland being restored on the summit of Cheviot, as well as 2,000 ha of native woodland planted in Northumberland since 2000. In July 2017, Northumberland National Park opened The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre in 2017 to enable more and different people to enjoy our National Park. The Sill aims to provide 30,000 activity days per year many of which will be made up of school visits.
Dark Skies tourism in the UK is also on the rise amongst National Parks, with Northumberland International Dark Sky Park being credited with bringing £25 million into the region, as well as being named one of the UK’s most pristine dark skies.
Unlike National Parks in many other countries, our national parks in England are also living working landscapes; home to 25,220 businesses, providing 170,312 jobs and generating £13.7 billion in turnover – equivalent to the size of a small city like Leicester. More than 98m visitors are welcomed each year, along with 115,000 school children. In Northumberland, there have been 1.63 million visitors to the UK’s most tranquil landscape, with a contribution of £170 million to the local economy.
Looking to the future, National Park Authorities in England want to connect with and inspire as many people as possible so that they can benefit from, value, and care for these special landscapes.
The four key ambitions of the English National Parks are:
1) To be at the heart of nature recovery
2) To shape the future of farming and land management
3) To lead on the climate change emergency
4) To be Parks for everyone
Glen Sanderson, Chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority said: “We are very proud to be part of the fifteen UK National Parks and Northumberland National Park is a shining example of the objectives and aims of the 1949 Act in action. From our conservation work on the Cheviot Hills, to the outreach and education work of The Sill, our National Park is a park for everyone. We are especially proud of everyone living and working in the Park who make it what is. A huge congratulations to our fellow National Parks – here’s to an exciting future!”
National Park Authorities work in partnership with local communities, landowners and a range of other organisations and interest groups, including thousands of volunteers, to look after these special places for everyone. They share the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 with the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), which together make up the protected landscapes in this country.