National Park and AONB Review

The Government has announced a review of National Park and AONB designations and roles.  Malvern Hills AONBThe terms of reference for the review, that starts in June and will report in 2019, are:

  • the existing statutory purposes for National Parks and AONBs and how effectively they are being met
  • the alignment of these purposes with the goals set out in the 25-Year Plan for the Environment
  • the case for extension or creation of new designated areas
  • how to improve individual and collective governance of National Parks and AONBs, and how that governance interacts with other national assets
  • the financing of National Parks and AONBs
  • how to enhance the environment and biodiversity in existing designations
  • how to build on the existing eight-point plan for National Parks and to connect more people with the natural environment from all sections of society and improve health and wellbeing
  • how well National Parks and AONBs support communities

Expanding on work already underway, the review will also take advice from Natural England on the process of designating National Parks and AONBs and extending boundary areas, with a view to improving and expediting the process.

The terms of reference also state:

“In 1949, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act established these national parks, which the minister of the day described as “the most exciting Act of the post-war Parliament.” That legislation created a statutory framework for National Parks and AONBs. In brief, National Parks’ purposes are to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks. For AONBs, the primary purpose is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area. Now, as the oldest National Park approaches its 70th anniversary, comes a chance to renew this mission. That is the context in which this review takes place.”

The review will hear evidence from interested groups and individuals.

Quantock Hills AONBFunding of AONBs will be a key issue. Traditionally they have been the poorer relative, dependent upon support and finances from their local councils, whereas the National Parks are nationally funded.  With local government finances under increasing amounts of pressure for the last 10 years and competing demand for resources for education, social care etc, AONBs have really struggled to secure their positions. Many have had to reduce their staff teams and activities down to a basic core. At the same time an inherent conservatism amongst some residents of AONBs, many of whom will have spent significant amounts moving into a protected landscape, have made it difficult for AONBs to diversify their activities and create new economic opportunities. The government’s review is perhaps the time to put AONB funding on a more secure and sustainable footing.

Ten years on, the Tamar Valley trails are flourishing

Back in 2003 I started working with the Tamar Valley AONB, writing the business plan and funding applications for what would become the Tamar Valley Mining Heritage Project.

Tamar Valley Mining Heritage Project early logoIt was an audacious project, born of a dream to conserve the increasingly forgotten mining heritage of the Tamar Valley and give the public access to the adits, railways, calcifiers and beautiful landscape.

£6m investment in the Tamar Valley

The project finally started in 2007 with £6m from nine funders, seven delivery partners and agreements with multiple landowners. Along the way there were many challenges not least the withdrawal of financial support by a key partner, Devon County Council, straight after the 2009 elections which resulted in another partner, Morwellham and Tamar Valley Trust, being pushed into receivership. The loss of Morwellham Quay from the project was a bitter blow but the hard work and commitment of the AONB and other partners saw the project through and finally in 2013 we saw the official launch.

Tamar Trails are a success!

Now threee years later the project is bedded in.  The project legacy is managed by the Tamar Community Trust, a social enterprise specially setup for the purpose, while the visitor hub is run by Tamar Adventures, a local business that provides cycle hire, high ropes, canoe trips and a host of other activities.  Their video gives a great taste of what’s on offer.

And the project even extended to include a Mountain Bike Development Project and the stomach churning Gawton Gravity Hub (more successful business planning and funding applications).


Sometimes in this line of work it’s hard to point to the difference you make.  The timescales are long, many people are involved, sometimes projects end up doing something different to the initial intent.  But with the Tamar Trails the results and the difference are there and plain to see. Take a trip there and enjoy the place!


Does this change anything?

Last Monday I was asked to facilitate a discussion between the 70 or so people who had watched Naomi Klein’s film “This Changes Everything” hosted by Wiveliscombe Action on Climate.

The film makes the link between climate change and capitalism, essentially saying that the economic system has to change if we are to have any chance of addressing climate chaos. The New York Times described Klein’s book by the same name as “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring” so its clearly to be taken seriously.  But does it really change anything?

In leading the post-film discussion it was clear that we were amongst friends – everyone there was concerned about climate change, shocked by the impact of big industry on local communities and sympathetic to the general message that change was needed.

But one of the down-sides of getting older is that you see the same things coming round time and again. Another film, another talk, another group of people saying that something has to change. But what really changes?

In the 30 years since I first got involved in the environmental movement there has been much to celebrate.  The environment is now of mainstream concern, recycling is the norm, there is no lead in petrol, the concept of environmental justice is understood, river water quality is way better, the ozone layer is repairing itself, the car is no longer king, and so on. The voice of ordinary people has had some part to play in that.

But s*** still happens and seemingly on an ever-greater scale. Communities and environments are still being destroyed, governments back-pedal on the progress of their predecessors, climate treaties get ignored, the rich get richer and so on. And all this despite countless films, marches, letters, blogs and angst.  So what’s the point?

In the discussion I tried to get people to look at Klein’s argument from different points of view – to take a dialiectic approach.  In that way I hoped we’d come up with a more robust response to the film than just lots of nodding and hand-wringing. It drew out some interesting observations and a diversity of responses. But I still went away feeling that nothing had really changed; just a tendency to expect others to agree with us and then change what they do, but little appetite for more.

Some people (not necessarily those in the room last Monday) advocate a complete overthrow of our economic system, the ruling class and corporate power. But that sort of radical upheavel generally brings with it many unintended consequences. Other people propose nudges. One person who was present at the film talked about influencers in society – the people who will push us past the tipping point at which major change happens. People in the arts often take on that role, to greater or lesser effect, but sports people less so (although they probably have the greater reach). But still I wonder.

Are we just on the wrong trajectory? Is everything just stacked up against regard for the environment and communities as the powerful exploit all in pursuit of more wealth, more power, more consumption? Or is there something, some as yet unidentified thing, that we the little people (and little companies) can do that really would change everything.  If there is, please let me know!

And a final thought: Imagine the impact if David and Victoria Beckham traded in all their properties for a passivhaus, swapped their gas guzzlers for an electric car and went on a global pilgramage to persuade decision makers to address climate change. That might change something!