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On 13 March the Minister for the Environment in the Welsh Government, Hannah Blythyn, confirmed unequivocally ‘that all the existing designated landscapes will be retained and their purpose of conserving and enhancing natural beauty will not be weakened’. This came as a considerable relief to us because over the last few years the future of Wales’s designated landscapes—its national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty—had been uncertain.
In 2015 a review of the designated landscapes, led by Professor Terry Marsden, resulted in an excellent report with recommendations for strengthening their role and the protection they offer. But the government did not act on this and instead instigated a further review by Lord Elis-Thomas. We feared that that this would result in a weakening of the purposes of designated landscapes. There was also a threat that the Sandford Principle would be removed. This principle has, since 1974, required that, in national parks, primacy must be given to the conservation of natural beauty in the event of conflict with promotion of enjoyment. We joined with the Alliance for Welsh Designated Landscapes in calling for stronger protection of these landscapes, and retention of the Sandford Principle, and we lobbied Assembly Members before a debate in the Senedd last June.
Now the environment minister has confirmed that the Sandford Principle will be retained along with the existing purposes of national parks and AONBs. She wants to see ‘a more diverse and wide-ranging cross-section of Welsh society feeling that they have a stake in these nationally important landscapes and recognising the benefits we derive from them’.
She is ‘minded to introduce legislation at a future opportunity to require the park authorities and AONBs to apply the principles of sustainable management of natural resources, in particular when preparing their statutory management plans’.
This is all good news for the wonderful Welsh landscape.
You can read the full statement and subsequent plenary discussion in the Senedd here.