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New Forest could see more visitors under government plans for national parks across the country in wake of Landscapes Review

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STRONGER powers to tackle anti-social behaviour and traffic are among some of the changes set out in the government’s plan to strengthen the country’s protected landscapes.

The proposals are in response to journalist Julian Glover’s Landscapes Review, commissioned by Defra and published in 2019, which looked at whether the protections for national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are still fit for purpose.

Amid visitor pressures, the government is considering giving national park authorities a greater range of enforcement powers as well as extra rangers.

New Forest National Park (51698117)
New Forest National Park (51698117)

These include fixed penalty notices for bylaw infringements, public space protection orders to deter anti-social behaviour, and traffic regulation orders to tackle damage to sensitive environments.

However, the review also likened national parks to “exclusive clubs” run by boards made up predominantly of retired white men, and argued large parts of society were made to feel unwelcome.

The New Forest NPA, for example, contains 22 board members who are entirely white and with only seven women.

In an effort to break down these barriers by connecting young people and increasing the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of visitors, the government wants to expand community engagement through campaigns, volunteering opportunities and closer working with schools, the NHS and the probation service’s community payback scheme.

The report said: “We will encourage sustainable tourism and national engagement programmes, supported by expanded ranger services and improved rural transport.”

While NPA boards would still be made up of national, parish, and local authority members, the government proposes the appointment process be given “more flexibility to balance diversity and expertise”.

The report stated: “We agree that for protected landscapes to benefit all parts of society, their boards must better reflect that society.

“We have begun to address this through improvements to the secretary of state public appointments process, which has significantly increased the proportion of candidates who are female and/or from an ethnic minority background.”

Reducing the number of NPA members was also put forward as an option, in order to “simplify decision-making processes and boost efficiency”.

Joined-up working between NPAs and the National Association for AONBs has also been advocated in an effort to “provide more consistent national leadership and set a clear mission”.

The current statutory purpose of NPAs to “conserve and enhance” was not strong enough, the report added, and did not reflect the fact nature has been in “long-term decline” in protected landscapes.

“A strengthened purpose would reinforce that these areas should contribute to our target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030,” it stated.

“By January 2023, new ambitious outcomes will be agreed for the role of protected landscapes in delivering on the government’s goals for nature recovery and climate.”

Further proposals included “unlocking” the economic value of national parks by attracting private finance through green initiatives and joint funding bids.

The New Forest NPA said it was already working on a number of projects that are in line with the government’s proposals, including Generation Green to connect young people to nature and the Farming in Protected Landscapes scheme which will provide funding for landowners.

It also said it was “aware of the challenge to make sure we hear different voices from across society”.

But the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust wanted more action, saying: “We must see government investment in nature’s recovery, especially to help farmers transition to farming methods that allow wildlife to flourish alongside food production.”The CLA, which represents landowners and rural businesses, also argued the plan did not go far enough.

“By viewing the countryside purely through an environmental lens, government is missing out on significant economic and social opportunity – which flies in the face of its supposed levelling up agenda,” said regional director Tim Bamford. “Put simply, the countryside is not a museum and Whitehall should stop treating it as such.”

To take part in the consultation, which closes on 9th April, visit consult.defra.gov.uk/future-landscapes-strategy/government-response-to-the-landscapes-review

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