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A life-long love for England’s National Parks

Grasmere, Lake District National Park Grasmere, Lake District National Park

It is National Parks Week, an annual celebration of these wonderfully beautiful landscapes. It is that bit more special for me, as not only do I look after CPRE’s work on National Parks, but I’ve been lucky enough to grow up experiencing them from a young age – sadly not something every child gets to do.

Emma Marrington blog

I used to be taken youth hostelling quite often; we could hire a sheet sleeping bag for 50p and sometimes sleep in a ‘family shed’ with rickety bunk beds. It was always such an adventure and I relished the freedom. If it wasn’t the odd weekend away, always by public transport (no mean feat to organise before the internet), then it was a week or two in a National Park over summer.

We often visited the Peak District and the caves around Castleton; I particularly remember Speedwell Cavern, and the excitement of going by boat through a narrow passage to get to the big cave chamber. I have fond memories of the North York Moors and taking the steam train to Goathland (famous for the TV programme Heartbeat). The darkness at night was quite a shock to me, as a child that grew up near Heathrow Airport. The North York Moors is now recognised as one of the best places in the country to go star-gazing, and holds annual Dark Sky festivals.

I remember the feeling of awe when I discovered Derwentwater in the Lake District, the waterfalls, and the tarns on top of the rugged mountains, and the babbling streams. I was very fortunate that my Mum made the effort to take me to these amazing places and experience the absolute joy of freedom in our wonderful National Parks. It was these experiences that led me to want to work for CPRE so that I could do my bit towards securing a bright future for our National Parks (and indeed for all landscapes).

Emma NPW Emma in the Lake District as a child

So, you could say that it was coming home to lead CPRE’s campaigning work in the few years prior to the South Downs being designated as England’s 10th National Park in 2009. CPRE began campaigning for this National Park as early as 1929, and were instrumental in the effort by a wide range of national, regional and local organisations under a coordinated South Downs Campaign.

It certainly was not plain sailing; at one point, there was concern that an area known as the Western Weald, in the Hampshire part of the park, would not be included in the final National Park boundary. Nevertheless, we were delighted when the then Secretary of State Hilary Benn announced that the Western Weald would form part of the new South Downs National Park. It has been wonderful to see the National Park go from strength to strength and we were delighted when in 2016 it was awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status for its lack of light pollution. Moreover, we are pleased that they are standing up against proposals to build a bypass of the A27 around Arundel that would impact countryside both within and in the setting of the National Park.

Western Weald webimageProtests calling for the Western Weald to be included in the new South Downs National Park

This is an exciting time for our National Parks, with many opportunities on the horizon. There have been some positive changes in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) announced earlier this week and we were particularly pleased that the Government listened and reinstated wording that gave our National Parks, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ‘the highest status of protection’.

The Government has also announced a review of designated landscapes, a commitment made in the 25-year Environment Plan, which will be led by Julian Glover. We are developing our thinking on how we can better protect and enhance both our National Parks and AONBs, and we are very keen to see how there can be a more holistic approach to planning in AONBs. The review will also consider whether there are cases for new designations, such as the long-standing campaign for the Forest of Dean to become an AONB and for the Dorset and East Devon AONBs to become a National Park.

Next year is the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, legislation that led to the creation of our wonderful National Parks, and there is much to look forward to in the coming years.

My hope is that in years to come, our beautiful National Parks will be even more beautiful, bustling with wildlife, accessible to everyone and with thriving communities, so that they will leave an indelible mark on people’s hearts just as they have on mine.

My hope is that in years to come, our beautiful National Parks will be even more beautiful, bustling with wildlife, accessible to everyone and with thriving communities

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