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ur national imagination has been shaped by our shared inheritance of natural beauty. Wordworth’s love of the Lake District, Edward Thomas’s attachment to the South Downs, R D Blackmore’s devotion to Exmoor, are all examples of breathtaking landscapes inspiring the writers who have helped define who we are.
And it’s because some landscapes are so precious, so beautiful in themselves, but also so valuable environmentally – habitats for threatened wildlife and homes for endangered species – that we, as a nation, protect them in special ways.
We have a network of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and other protected landscapes, which previous generations established for the nation as a whole.
They exist for all of us. There is almost certainly a National Park within an hour of your home. And one of the things which makes them so precious is that they are living environments which not only, by law, “promote opportunities for enjoyment” for visitors but also, crucially, provide homes for the farmers who keep our countryside both productive and beautiful. Unlike the wildernesses that other nations have for their national parks, ours are working countryside.
Which is why I want to ensure we do everything we can to protect them, and enhance the environments in which they operate. In order to ensure our protected landscapes are in the best possible shape to meet future challenges I have asked the acclaimed writer Julian Glover, a passionate advocate for the countryside and a resident of one of our National Parks, to lead a review into how we can guarantee our most precious landscapes are in an even healthier condition for the next generation.
The goal of Julian’s review is not to diminish their protection in any way, but to strengthen it in the face of present-day challenges. Are we properly supporting all those who live in, work in, or want to visit these magnificent places? Should we indeed be extending our areas of designated land? Could we do more to enhance our wildlife and support the recovery of natural habitats? These are among the questions Julian will ask.
We put enhancing the beauty and heritage of our natural world at the heart of our 25 Year Environment Plan, for very good reasons.
We know that time spent out of doors, appreciating the beauty of nature and the wonder of creation, is vital for our well-being. It improves both mental and physical health and re-connects us with the other species with whom we share this planet.
But we also know that the economies and environments in our National Parks and other special landscapes are vulnerable. They need support from all of us if we’re all to have access to these amazing national assets in the future.
A previous generation of enlightened politicians saw how critical access to beauty and the right to roam was to ensuring that the gifts nature can give could be enjoyed by all. Inspired by the great Liberal Sir Arthur Hobhouse, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was introduced as a “recreational gift to Britain’s returning Second World War servicemen and women” to recognise, conserve and enhance access to landscapes “of national importance and quality”.
I see Julian Glover’s work as in the tradition of Hobhouse – a report which will make sure our National Parks continue to flourish in the 21st century and beyond. And I want Julian explicitly to consider how we can extend and improve the protection we give to other precious landscapes.
The nation is in debt to Sir Arthur and other supporters of countryside access – including The Ramblers’ Association, the YHA and the Council for the Protection of Rural England – for recognising the true worth to the public of our protected landscapes.
It now falls to us to ensure that we do not just protect and preserve but enhance and extend the protection we give to our landscapes of special aesthetic and environmental value.