Deborah Clarke

Blog: Putting National Parks at the heart of nature recovery

Posted: 19th April, 2024

How much do National Parks contribute to conservation? Ruth Bradshaw (Campaign for National Parks) shares findings:

2024 marks the 75th anniversary of the legislation which created the first National Parks in England and Wales. From the peaks of the Lake District and the ancient rainforests of Eryri to the wild moorlands of Dartmoor and the waterways of the Broads, these are the places which should contain the best protected, and most healthy, parts of our natural environment. But Campaign for National Parks has recently completed a detailed assessment of the state of nature in the National Parks which reveals that even in these special places, nature is struggling and desperately needs a lifeline if it’s to recover.

Our Health Check report is the first time anything on this scale has been attempted and the findings include that:

  • Only a quarter of Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in National Parks in England are in ‘favourable’ condition compared to a national average of 38%.
  • Only 6% of all land in National Parks is currently managed effectively for nature when considering the total area of SSSI sites in National Parks assessed as being in ‘favourable’ condition.
  • In 2022 the amount of sewage released from storm overflows within the boundaries of National Parks in England and Wales totalled 7,367 days.
  • National Parks contain 38% of the peatland in England and Wales, but the vast majority of this (between 70% to 80%) is likely to be in poor condition thus severely limiting the benefits it provides for both carbon storage and wildlife.

Just getting hold of the data we needed for our analysis was a challenge and it proved particularly difficult to get any details on how the presence of species in National Parks has varied over time. However, information from the NBN Atlas provides evidence of the importance of National Parks for some of our most threatened species. For example:

We also identified some great examples of initiatives aimed at helping threatened species thrive. Beavers are now present in all but three of the National Parks, often following reintroduction programmes such as the one in Cropton Forest in the North York Moors. Beavers were released here in 2019 as part of a five-year scientific trial which has demonstrated they are having a positive impact on the local environment by creating dams that are superior to man-made flood barriers.

Our research showed that National Parks often provide the last refuge for species, such as curlew, hen harrier and cuckoo, which are on the brink of extinction, Now, we need to ensure they become the places from which these species recover and are able to spread.

How do we make that happen?

While there are some excellent nature recovery initiatives already underway in the National Parks, our analysis also demonstrates that there are some serious challenges to be overcome in order to maximise the contribute these places can make to addressing the nature and climate crisis. And our report sets out a series of major reforms which are needed to address the scale of these challenges.

Most importantly, Governments in both England and Wales need to provide stronger laws and additional resources, including a doubling of the core funding for NPAs. They need to make it absolutely clear that National Parks are nature designations as well as landscape designations. This will require a complete transformation in the way these areas are run to ensure there is a much greater emphasis on nature recovery in all the decision-making relating to them.

As well as better enforcement of existing laws in National Parks, we need new laws to crack down on wildlife crime and end damaging practices such as burning on peat. All landowners should be incentivised to adopt nature friendly practices including through much greater levels of support for nature recovery in agri-environment schemes.

We also need to ensure that National Parks are places where everyone feels welcome and connected, so they can understand exactly why they are so important for nature’s recovery.

Finally, bodies like Natural England and Natural Resources Wales must make it far easier to get hold of the evidence needed to understand the state of nature in National Parks in future. This is something which could be put right very quickly, and which should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

All of us can take action to ensure National Parks do more for nature recovery. We’ve created this online toolkit so people can write to their MP and Senedd member demanding positive change for people and the planet.

- Ruth Bradshaw, Policy and Research Manager, Campaign for National Parks

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions