Protecting our finest landscapes

We’re celebrating seventy years since the Act that led to the creation of our National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Trails. Last week a final Glover Report was published. This review of England’s landscapes takes measure at how well we’ve protected these special places since 1949, and what needs to be put in place to address the significant challenges facing our landscapes in the new millennium. We’re delighted that National Trails are properly recognised within the Review as an integral part of our national landscapes family

SWCP Association Director Julian Gray talks about the role of the National Trails within the wider family of protected landscapes as the Julian Glover Review is published.

In 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed – an ambitious piece of legislation that helped shaped the conservation of our finest landscapes. Seventy years on a review of England’s landscapes has been underway to take measure at how well we’ve protected these special places, and also looking forward to see how fit for purpose our future management and protection measures are against the significant challenges of a new millennium.

Walking the dogs over Countisbury, Exmoor. Photographer: Tor McIntosh

Headed up by writer Julian Glover, much of the review is rightly focussed on our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which cover a quarter of the English countryside. In the South West this includes Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks; and the Blackdown Hills, Cornwall, Dorset, East Devon, Isles of Scilly, Mendip Hills, North Devon, Quantock Hills, South Devon and Tamar Valley AONBs.

As Britain’s longest National Trail, the South West Coast Path National Trail wraps its way around the region connecting people to, and through, these outstanding landscapes. Over 70% of the Coast Path is itself within National Park or AONB. Not to forget the other regional, national and international designations around the coast of the South West  – two World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO Biosphere and Geopark, five RAMSAR sites, Seven Special Protection Areas; 13 Marine Conservation Zones; eight Special Areas of Conservation; 50 Nature Reserves; and 100’s of SSSIs – recognising what a special pace this is.

As the charity charged with championing the Coast Path and a proud participant in the family of National Trails, we’re delighted that Julian Glover and other members the review team took the time to talk with the National Trails and hear our stories and challenges – all within a significant consultation process resulting in over 2,500 submissions to a call for evidence. The result is that National Trails have been properly recognised in the Review as a key part of the protected landscapes family.

This is a great win for the South West Coast Path and wider National Trails family as it gives us a clear mandate to engage with government to show how we can clearly deliver not only key parts of the 25-year Environment Plan but also significant proposals set out in the Glover Review. I’ll write more on this in a future blog.

The timing of the Glover Review coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act gives us a once in a generation opportunity to make sure our finest landscapes are protected and enhanced for the future – especially in light of the challenges of mitigating climate change impacts and development pressure.

Overlooking the sea at Trebarwith Strand. Photographer Dan Martin

The challenge for the National Trails is to ensure we deliver our important role in connecting people to, and with, these amazing places. This is not just important for our current health and wellbeing, our experience of the countryside inspires future champions and underpins the emotional drivers behind tourism.  In our role within a national landscape service we also need to address equity of access to give everyone the opportunity to experience our iconic landscapes.

“In the 70 years since the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, our country has changed immensely. One thing has remained the same, however: the affection of
a large and varied part of our fellow citizens for the places this review covers. They really are England’s soul and we should care for them as such.” Julian Glover 2019

Click here to access the full final report.

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NOTES: In addition to more general access/equity of access issues, National Trails are mentioned specifically in proposal 15: Joining up with others to make the most of what we have, and bringing National Trails into the national landscapes family. 

This is set out in more detail starting on P81:

During the review we have met many of those involved in looking after England’s National Trails.

Long distance footpaths were a central, founding part of the movement 70 years ago. The 1947 Hobhouse Report established the idea of long distance paths which were seen as integral to proper access to and through national landscapes. Seventy years on, there are 13 National Trails across England delivering longdistance paths that help people access, experience and enjoy our finest landscapes. They are very popular and attract people from around the world. They will gain an exciting addition when the England Coast Path is completed. 

They have much in common with our National Parks and AONBs – they cover our most beautiful areas and help connect people to nature. They also share in common small amounts of funding. With only a few staff (albeit working with many volunteers and partners), they have appeared a little lost in the system, a disparate but passionate group of people who lack the resources to do more.

And again on P 95-97

There is scope for our national landscapes to do more with the other public bodies operating in their areas, from Natural England on SSSIs and National Nature Reserves to Forestry England on public forests. We see the National Landscapes Service having a core role in supporting national level conversations to make these links and join things up.

Within this, we think there is a very strong case for bringing National Trails into the national landscapes family.

Doing so could help develop the links between national landscapes and their surrounding areas, forming the basis for accessible networks of routes linked to these long distance routes and imaginative ways to encourage enjoyment of these special places. We believe the stronger links and wider relationships will also help National Trails with issues we’ve heard of, for example, walkers facing difficulties finding accommodation when providers want a minimum booking of three nights. 

We think they should be brought squarely into the fold of the new National Landscapes Service, supported by funding, giving them a national voice and focus.

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