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Landscapes Review: The Highlights

“Our landscapes should be open and free to all…but can feel exclusive”

After a long period of consultation and research, the long anticipated ‘Landscapes Review’, led by Journalist and special adviser to the Government Julian Glover has been launched.

The review has examined the role of our National Parks and AONB’s, making recommendations for their future, some 70 years after the National Parks & Countryside Act brought them into being.

British Canoeing is warmly welcoming the report and many of its proposals. It appears that the challenges around access and our collective concern for the health of the environment has been heard.

“It feels wrong that many parts of our most beautiful places are off limits to horse riders, water users, cavers, wild campers and so on”. (p98)

The Landscapes Review made the headlines following its launch, as it makes some exciting suggestions about the future of ‘landscapes’ in the UK. Many of the papers and news reports instantly picked up on the proposal to give every school child the opportunity to experience a night under the stars in our National Parks.

However it is the aspiration to create a new ‘National Landscape Service’ (NLS) supported by a 1000 strong Ranger Service that really is one of the key pillars of the report.

This central proposal would “bring together National Parks and AONB’s together as one family of national landscapes, served by a shared National Landscape Service (NLS)” bringing these designations together to give them a “bigger voice, bigger ambition and a new way of working to meet new challenges”.

For paddlers, throughout the report there are many points from which we can take heart. Having submitted a detailed and considered response to the call for evidence in 2018, British Canoeing was pleased that many of the points we made were included in the review:

“We heard from canoeists how access is restricted to a tiny percentage of waterways which increases the pressure on ‘uncontested waterways.' There is a lack of consistency between national Parks with some considered to be promoting shared and fair access, others less so”. (p81)

Critically within the report, there is an acknowledgement that our society and our recreational habits have changed dramatically since the formation of the National Parks in 1949. “The way we visit and use the countryside is changing” (p65) and “…a changing nation needs new ways to come together to support natural beauty and access” (p20)

British Canoeing has argued that the way the Government addresses the matter of access on inland waterways is simply not fit for the 21st century. Participation in outdoor recreation, specifically paddlesport has changed immeasurably over the last decade; we now must have a new approach which commits to fair, shared, sustainable open access – not division and exclusion to all but a few.

Our argument has been, that our National Parks should be leading the way in championing fair access for all users, but currently this simply isn’t the case.

“Our National Landscapes should be alive for people, places where everyone is actively welcomed in and there are unrivalled opportunities to enjoy their natural beauty and all it offers; landscapes for all” (p82)

The role that a National Landscape Service plays in providing for our health and wellbeing is a very strong theme in the report.

Figures and insight into the types of users accessing our parks make highlights the lack of diversity amongst users. With one of the founding principles of the National Parks being that “access to open space not only enhances quality of life, but physical and mental wellbeing as well”, much, much more has to be done to connect people from all backgrounds with our cherished landscapes.

“A lot more must be done to meet the needs of our fellow citizens who do not know the countryside or do not feel welcome in it, but should be able to enjoy it” (p9)

To tackle this, proposals 7-16 in the report all aim to tackle access and connection to our ‘landscapes’ for the broadest sense. Long term programmes to encourage greater ethnic diversity, better information and signage, more volunteering opportunities and sustainable tourism are all proposed for consideration.

Pleasingly for paddlers, proposal 16 states “Consider expanding open access rights in national landscapes”. It then goes further to say

“We hope that as part of the Government’s commitment to connect more people with nature, it will look seriously at whether the levels of open access we have in our most special places is adequate” (p98)

Protection and enhancement of our environment is another key theme that features throughout the report.

“National Landscapes…should lead the way for nature recovery, in line with the 25 year Environment Plan. They should do this through management which protects and enhances their special qualities…shaped by humans and natural activity”.

British Canoeing warmly welcomes the proposal to strengthen and modernise of the wording to describe the purpose of National Parks to be Recover, conserve and enhance natural beauty, biodiversity and natural capital, and cultural heritage”. This new proposed wording recognises that our environment has and is in decline and simply ‘conserving and enhancing’ is no longer sufficient.

“The countryside can seem open and welcoming…But we don’t think it is good for the countryside or society that there are people cut off from the possibilities” (p68)

Clearly how this extensive review into our National Parks is taken forward is the key. The proposals and observations made by Julian Glover and the panel of experts are heartening to our own campaign cause. It is positive that the key principles British Canoeing made in its Clear Access, Clear Waters Charter are reflected in this review; protection and enhancement of the environment, greater acknowledgement of the wellbeing benefits of the countryside - and vitally the need for equal and fair access for all users.

Above all, there is a strong sense that change is needed to meet the demands of our society. It is up to the paddling community to seize that opportunity and demand a 21st century approach towards access on water in England and Wales.

We look forward to seeing how Defra plan to take this forward.