28 July 2015

We're talking National Parks


The CJS Team is incredibly fortunate - we live and and work in the middle of the North York Moors National Park, surrounded by the largest area of heather moorland in England and Wales.  Despite a third of the National Park being taken up with this expanse of moorland it's an incredibly diverse landscape.  This diversity was commented upon in the 1947 Hobhouse report which stated:

“it contains, within a relatively small compass, an amazing wealth and variety of beauty.  Indeed there are few places elsewhere in Britain which can offer such extensive and remote tracts of wild and unspoilt scenery within such easy reach of populated areas.”

It was this variety that ultimately led to the Park being created in 1952, the sixth such area to be designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949.


All National Parks have two statutory duties (revised in 1995) - which can often be in conflict:
  1. Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
  2. Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the Public

The first duty is obvious all around in the wonderful landscape, the plentiful, often rare, wildlife and the imposing and occasionally quirky buildings often with an imposing history.
The second duty is also obvious in the number of facilities for visitors, the essentials (car parks, loos, shops) and  signage highlighting sites, explaining the special qualities before you and prompting people to behave responsibly.
The conflict between the two duties can be all too apparent.
However, according to the Sandford Principle  where these are in direct conflict conservation interest is supposed to take priority. The residents are not always sure the principle is followed! Over 20 coachloads of visitors in the village simultaneously, all staying for only half an hour, just long enough to use the loos, buy an ice cream, a fridge magnet and box of biscuits, and maybe a cup of coffee if the queue isn't too long.  On the one hand we can't begrudge them sharing our beautiful village and fantastic landscape but on the other hand it feels they don't really bring anything other than litter and pollution.  Dealing with the huge influx of visitors is difficult for all concerned and ensuring they are well educated in their surroundings, kept where they should be and ultimately repairing the inevitable damage caused by so many additional feet is an expensive business claiming a large proportion of available funds.  The obvious expenditure on tourists can make residents feel like second class citizens in their own homes particularly when the rules and regulations in place to protect this special environment prevent them doing what they would like. 

This glorious, celebrated landscape is loved by virtually all who set foot on it but...

It's under threat.


The most obvious is the recent planning committee approval of the application by Sirius Minerals (York Potash) to mine for potash, which we've watched (and are still watching) with interest and not a little bemusement.  Personally I still doubt whether it will ever come to pass, the final decision notice is yet to be published and the Authority is working to finalise the conditions which, I trust, will be stringent - the MoD had very firm requirements for approval, Natural England and Environment Agency were both against and will have conditions to be met along with the many other statutory agencies and some important elements of the plan are still to be finalised. (http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/planning/york-potash)
No matter how high profile this may be the bigger threats are not immediately apparent to either resident or visitor. The first is the steady decrease in Park funds which is not unique to the North York Moors but is causing concern across the whole National Park family, and news that the Chancellor has told all Government departments to draw up cost savings plans of 25 to 40% sends a shiver down the back of many Government Executive Agencies; defra is not the best funded department to start with and has many calls on its funding before National Parks. Expect even more radical cuts in the future.
The second major threat to the Moors is one unique to this Park, it's the little heather beetle.  Heather beetle is a problem across all heather moorland in the UK, outbreaks can destroy large areas of heather.  Further complicating and exacerbating this is the ever encroaching bracken whose management has been made even more problematic by the loss of the fer-specific herbicide asulox/asulam.  For a National Park which sells itself on its purple moors beetle and bracken together have the potential to be truly devastating.

Find out more about heather beetle from the Heather Trust here.


Once a year (should be more really) we celebrate our National Parks during National Parks Week.
The theme for National Parks Week 2015 is Landscapes of Plenty and there are lots of events across all the parks to showcase their special qualities, what it is that makes them deserving of their unique designation and level of protection afforded to them.  There's more here.

If you'd like to know more