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Sir Gary Streeter MP: Restoring our national parks


Sir Gary Streeter MP (South West Devon)

Our national parks were created in the aftermath of the Second World War to preserve our most precious landscapes for the benefit of us all. They are the embodiment of our green and pleasant land, but wildlife in our national parks is in long-term decline and too many people are cut off from enjoying them. That’s why I’ve tabled amendments to the Levelling Up Bill to require our national parks to recover biodiversity and widen access to nature.


We’re are blessed with a rich natural inheritance. In Devon we have two of the crown jewels: Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks. But nature in our national parks has not fared well. Data obtained from Natural England shows that only 26% of protected habitats, known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, inside National Parks are in favourable condition, compared to 39% for England as a whole.


National parks must become more hospitable for wildlife if we are to reach the government’s targets to protect 30% of land for nature and halt the decline in species abundance this decade.


Julian Glover’s review of our protected landscapes, commissioned by the government, recommended that national parks be given an updated statutory duty to recover nature, with more effective management plans which include targeted actions for nature recovery. This was accepted by the government, and my amendments to the Levelling Up Bill would give this statutory underpinning.


The Environment Secretary is leading a brilliant team of ministers to represent the UK at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal next week, where nations are gathering to agree a new set of international biodiversity targets. The UK is hoping to secure a global commitment to protect 30% of land for nature. Updating the statutory duty of our national parks so they contribute fully to meeting this target at home will strengthen ministers' hand in Montreal as we push others to do the same.


Our national parks attract around 100 million visitors every year, making a significant contribution to our rural economy. Despite the obvious popularity of our protected landscapes, Glover’s review found that fewer people on lower incomes and from ethnic minority backgrounds visit our national parks.

This has implications for levelling up, as spending time in nature can help to improve health and wellbeing. According to Natural England, we could save the NHS more than £2 billion a year if everyone had access to green space.


Glover recommended the government set a stronger statutory mission for national parks to connect all people with our protected landscapes. I have proposed an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill to ensure our national parks level up access to nature, so more people can enjoy the wonders of wildlife and the health benefits of spending time outdoors.


The government has said it will take forward Julian Glover’s recommendations to restore biodiversity in our national parks and connect more people with nature. My amendments provide a legislative vehicle for doing so, and I hope ministers will support them.

 

Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to cameron@cen.uk.com.

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