Do you know someone who would appreciate a present that will help protect the future of accessible green spaces for all?
Anniversaries are opportunities. So writes our general secretary Kate Ashbrook in her Opinion piece in the spring issue of Open Space. Ninety years ago this April, the trespassers on Kinder Scout in the Peak District made a brave bid for freedom. It is sad that government has not marked this event with a strong statement on access in its long-awaited response to the Glover Review on protected landscapes.
Instead, the words from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are hesitant and woolly.
Glover called for the expansion of open-access rights in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Defra limply refers to the access-map review which is due to happen anyway.
What about offering new access, such as to woodland and water? Or making the agricultural funding schemes pay for more, better, and permanent access on a much larger scale than the current, limited and short-term Farming in Protected Landscapes grants?
Defra talks of ‘a stronger mission for connecting people and places’, removing barriers to access for all parts of society, and taking a more active role in supporting access. Fine words—but how will it happen? How about action to remove the gross inequalities among those who visit protected landscapes?
Our designated landscapes should be truly welcoming, and encourage exploration. We need many more rangers on the ground, and good, affordable public transport to enable people to visit sustainably.
Funding is crucial. Government must recognise the need to invest in protected landscapes, for our health and well-being, climate-crisis mitigation, nature, and rural communities.
But Defra admits that its core grant cannot fund its vision, and expects protected landscapes to ‘develop and harness … commercial and sponsorship opportunities’. So, the parks will become fund-raisers, threatening Disneyfication of our wild areas, and in competition with the voluntary sector. What has happened to ‘public funding for public goods’?
The Welsh government is taking advantage of an anniversary. This May we celebrate ten years since the opening of the splendid Wales Coast Path, the first route to embrace an entire country (though still not a national trail—we are calling for this).
Led by Huw Irranca-Davies, Senedd member for Ogmore, the review will determine practical actions, thus enabling Welsh government to maximise the route’s potential to generate all-round benefits for the next ten years.
In the footsteps of the Kinder trespassers we must mount a renewed campaign for better, funded access throughout England and Wales. The protected landscapes, and national trails must lead the way.