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National parks review sparks call to government: 'Put your money where your mouth is'

Commoner Robert Stride (left) rode out last year during a visit by national parks review chair Julian Glover (right)
Commoner Robert Stride (left) rode out last year during a visit by national parks review chair Julian Glover (right)

PUBLICATION of a major review of England’s protected landscapes has prompted a call from the New Forest for the government to “put their money where their mouth is”.

The 168-page document recommended how better to look after the country’s most special countryside – including a unifying National Landscapes Service, 1,000 new rangers to liaise with land managers and residents, and a special housing association.

The report by Julian Glover, which was commissioned last year by former Defra secretary Michael Gove, praised efforts to build affordable homes in the New Forest as well as explicitly recognising its special commoning traditions.

The result was broadly welcomed for recognising the pressures faced by national parks – but also sparked calls for more cash.

Gale Gould, vice-chair of conservation group Friends of the New Forest – formerly the New Forest Association – welcomed the review as an “opportunity” but wanted money to back up the proposals.

She said: “It’s great having this review and it’s great to have these opportunities. But they need to put their money where their mouth is.

“What it really needs is more conservation effort. We need to protect more of what we have got – like our wetlands. It’s rarer than tropical rain forest.”

The report looked at the type of items discussed by NPA boards and found that in the three New Forest NPA meetings to 19th August, nature and landscape issues did not come up once. Finance was on the agenda seven times.

It also noted the “confusing array” of signage in national parks and pointed to the New Forest where Forestry England signs dominate without explanation to visitors that they are in a national park. Entrances were often too modestly marked, it added.

The report highlighted how average house prices in the New Forest were the highest in England’s national parks at £525,000 – a premium on surrounding areas of £115,000.

It pointed to a pair of homes built in 2016 in Bransgore by the NPA – the first project of its kind in the country. It also praised local efforts to involve volunteers.

The New Forest National Park Authority welcomed the findings
The New Forest National Park Authority welcomed the findings

New Forest NPA chair Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre responded: “It is encouraging to know that our protected landscapes are supported and appreciated by so many people.

“We are pleased it has highlighted the importance of commoning in maintaining the extensive wildlife-rich landscape in the New Forest and that our affordable housing scheme at Bransgore, innovative health and wellbeing, and volunteering programmes were recognised in the report.”

He said the NPA would use the report to inform the revised version of its National Park Partnership Plan, which includes how recreation is managed in the New Forest.

Key findings, Mr Crosthwaite-Eyre said, were the role of national parks in leading nature recovery and improving people’s physical and mental health, and challenges such as the lack of affordable housing.

Mr Glover came to the New Forest as part of the review which found key issues in national parks of ageing populations, public transport cutbacks, and housing costs climbing without affordable homes being built to add to the supply. He is pictured (right) with commoner Robert Stride.

One of those he met was Tony Hockley, chair of the Commoners’ Defence Association. Mr Hockley said more rangers were “desperately needed” in the New Forest and welcomed the recommendations for more joined-up management of national landscapes.

Mr Hockley said: “If it is acted upon then it could create real opportunities for each landscape to do much better than today, without dictating how this is done.”

Debbie Tann, chief executive of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, pointed to the New Forest facing “untenable recreational pressure”. She said: “It’s time to get to grips with this challenge and put nature’s recovery at the heart of our national parks.”

Margaret Paren, chair of umbrella group National Parks England, said she looked forward to working with the government on the issues raised by the review.

She stressed: “This includes the means and resources required to achieve thriving national parks, which are truly enjoyed by everyone.”

The report called for a new financial model with more money that was more secure and with a “more enterprising” approach.

Mr Glover said: “If we take action, we can make our country healthier, happier, greener, more beautiful and part of all our lives.”

The report coincides with the 70th anniversary of the National Park Act. The government said it would respond “in due course”.

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