Rural campaigner Colin Speakman says national parks need more money to deliver the government’s new eight-point plan.

THE last seven years have been extremely difficult for our national parks. With massive cuts to public expenditure, all unprotected departments of Government such as transport and environment, have had to suffer Treasury cut-backs of up to 40 per cent.

National parks have been in the front line of such cuts, with staff losses, centre closures, projects cancelled and much valuable education work abandoned. Unsympathetic Secretaries of State gave national park campaigners a feeling that national parks were out of official favour, and long delays in the promised extension of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks seemed to confirm this.

Suddenly things have changed. In March, the Government announced a dramatic new reappraisal of the environmental, social and economic importance of our national parks. Not only has the long promised extension of the Yorkshire Dales been supported but Government has now issued what is described as an eight-point plan for England’s national parks.

The report - which can be access at - sees the contribution of our national parks under three key headings: Inspiring Natural Environments, Drivers of the Rural Economy and National Treasures. But what makes this report so very different from similar Government statements in the past, is that it is emphatically people centred.

Under the first heading, Inspiring natural Environments, the first requirement is for national parks to connect young people with nature – to double the number of young people visiting our national parks, providing teaching materials and asking national parks to engage with at least 60,000 young people per year. Equally there is a requirement to create thriving natural environments by championing integrated management of the natural landscapes, showcasing the many benefits designated landscapes can bring.

Under Drivers of the Rural Economy, the Government intends to promote national parks as “world class” environments to attract visitors from the UK and from overseas, with a proposed 10 per cent increase in the number of visitors to generate an extra £440 million for local businesses in national parks.

There is also a commitment to increase the number of apprenticeships in national parks teaching conservation and rural management skills, with an aim of doubling the number of apprenticeships in areas like the Yorkshire Dales by 2020. At the same time, parks will be promoted as great food destinations, thereby promoting local produce and supporting farming within areas like the Dales.

Under National Treasures, the Government proposes not only completing the boundary extensions of the Dales and Lakes, but encouraging more diverse visitors to national parks. This echoes the outstanding work done by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust with its People and the Dales project and CNP’s Mosaic project.

Volunteering will also be strongly promoted, as will the 70th anniversary of national parks – in 2021. The Lake District’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage status will be supported as will celebrating the cultural landscape stories that parks represent.

And finally innovative schemes will be developed to show how national parks can support mental and physical health and well-being, and how their potential for outdoor recreation can be realised.

Elizabeth Truss, the Secretary of State for the Environment is on record as saying “National Parks can be inspiring landscape for everyone”. Her Under Secretary, Rory Stewart MP, as well as being a writer and broadcaster passionate about national parks, has a constituency that includes part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s new extension into the Orton Fells.

He declares “National Parks are the soul of Britain. They are the centre of our imagination. When people think of Britain, they imagine these landscapes.” Not even the Yorkshire Dales Society nor the Campaign for National Parks could have expressed it better.

But fine words cost little. Will Government now put new resources behind these aspirations to ensure they can be delivered on the ground?

As Ruth Bradshaw, policy and research manager for CNP, argues: “National Parks were created for the benefit of the nation so that everyone should have an opportunity to visit them. But for a significant proportion of the population that’s becoming increasingly difficult as a result of cuts to bus services.”

It could not be simpler. If the Government really wants to get people, especially young people, overseas visitors and those from different ethnic backgrounds into national parks in order to secure huge benefits for health and the local economy, then access for everyone, not just for car owners, needs to be available.

The report rightly praises the excellent Breeze the Downs bus service in the South Downs National Park. Yet in the Yorkshire Dales the comprehensive summer DalesBus network - supported by the Yorkshire Dales Society and managed entirely by volunteers - is on a far greater scale. But DalesBus will not survive beyond 2017 unless it can find a major new source of financial support.

Our own National Park Authority needs to rethink its priorities about public transport in line with the Government’s new thinking, especially in view of North Yorkshire County Council’s parochial “locals only” transport policies.

Volunteers of Dales & Bowland CIC who manage the weekend DalesBus services and also groups like the excellent Upper Wharfedale Bus CIC who operate the weekday Venturer services between Grassington and Buckden need support. Such support would also closely match the Government’s imaginative new policies for national parks.

But it can only happen if Government, via DEFRA, ensures that our national parks receive the financial support they need to deliver these outcomes.