North York Moors included in radical plans for England's National Parks

North York Moors National Park near Danby
North York Moors National Park near Danby

A major review has called for the biggest shakeup of the running England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty since they were founded 70 years ago.

Recommendations include new powers, more funding and a new national mission to reverse decades of environmental decline and ensure the public get the best out of the much valued spaces.

The review calls for every schoolchild to be given the chance to visit the countryside and spend a night under the stars, stating far too many have lost touch with nature.

Seventy years after the Act of Parliament that created the first National Parks, a major independent review – led by writer Julian Glover – has called for bold action to reignite the founding spirit of our great National Park movement in order to make them greener, more beautiful and open to everyone.

The review published today (Saturday September 21) praises the brilliant work which has been done to maintain the beauty of places such as the Lake District, Exmoor and the Dorset coast.

But it warns that new challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and a changing, urban society mean that new approaches are needed to get the most out of England’s most-loved landscapes, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

Key recommendations include:

- A new National Landscapes Service to act as a unified body for England’s 44 national landscapes, including 10 National Parks and 34 AONBs.

- Creating a 1,000 strong ranger service to be the “friendly face” of our national parks and help engage schools and communities

- Giving every school pupil the opportunity to spend a night “under the stars” in these special landscapes to help more children to connect with nature

- New protections, responsibilities, titles and funding for AONBs to help them be greener, more beautiful and more welcoming to the public

- A new National Landscapes Housing Association to build affordable homes.

- A transformed approach to recover and enhance nature, working with farmers and conservation groups to reverse years of decline and bring landscapes alive

- Backing for a new National Park in the Chilterns and a new National Forest, taking in areas such as Sherwood Forest, as part of a drive to increase woodland spaces to fight climate change

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which commissioned the review, will now consider the recommendations.

Welcoming the findings, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said:

“These landscapes are the jewels in the crown of our countryside and are a cornerstone of our rural economy. We are committed to ensuring they flourish as havens for nature and sites that everyone in the country goes to visit for inspiration, adventure or relaxation.

“That’s why we asked Julian and his panel to conduct this review and I am very grateful to them for their efforts. I welcome and agree with the spirit of ambition, which is in line with our 25 Year Environment Plan, and we will now carefully consider the recommendations set out in the review.”

Julian Glover, who led the review, said:

"From the high fells of the Lake District to the wildness of Exmoor, England's most beautiful places define our country. Today we are setting out a big, bold plan to bring them alive to tackle the crisis in our natural environment and make sure they are there for everyone to enjoy.

“If we take action, we can make our country healthier, happier, greener, more beautiful and part of all our lives. Seventy years ago this year we created our national parks for a nation that had just won the Second World War. Now it's time to reignite that mission."

Today’s announcement builds on existing government commitments to protect and enhance the natural environment, which include a pledge to restore 75% of our protected sites to favourable condition, invest £50 million to help plant new woodlands through the Woodland Carbon Guarantee, and create a vast Northern Forest – which will see 50 million trees planted from Liverpool to Hull over the next 25 years.

Corinne Pluchino, Chief Executive of Campaign for National Parks said:

“We welcome the timely publication of this ambitious agenda for our most beautiful landscapes. There is an pressing need to address the urgent challenges in our National Parks. We will be reviewing the report in detail and will be working to ensure the momentum is maintained.”

AONBs and National Parks are some of England’s most cherished sites, spanning from the Lake District, which was recently announced as a UNESCO World Heritage site, to the picturesque Cornwall AONB.

They cover a quarter of England’s land and are home to over 2.3 million people – with more than 66 per cent of us living within half an hour of a National Park or AONB. They also generate more than £20 billion for the rural economy, and support 75,000 jobs.

The review is one of the key commitments of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which outlines our vision for improving the environment over a generation by connecting people with nature and helping wildlife to thrive.

It follows a call for evidence which received more than 2,500 responses on how England’s 10 National Parks and 34 AONBs meet the nation’s needs in the 21st century and whether there is scope for the current network to expand.

The review also makes recommendations to introduce more innovative, enterprising ways to generate funds that can be invested in these spaces, in addition to further government funding.