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People want England’s National Parks and AONBs to be richer in nature

David Hampson, Policy Officer at the RSPB, writes about new RSPB research which found that people highly value wildlife and nature of England's protected landscapes.

March 2022

England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are landscapes for everyone. Everyone should have a say in their future. With just over two weeks until the end of an important government consultation, we wanted to know how people in England felt about these special spaces.

In February, the RSPB commissioned an independent research agency to survey 1,750 adults in England. The results, set out in a report published today called Natural Parks?, show that people have a simple message for the government – they want these landscapes to be richer in nature. People value the wildlife and nature of these landscapes above all else and its restoration is their number one priority.

The headline findings include:

  • 65% of people said that wildlife and nature was the feature of National Parks and AONBs that they valued the most. The landscape and fresh air came second and third with 49% and 48% respectively.
  • Two thirds of people expected that wildlife would be faring better inside National Parks and AONBs than it is outside them and 85% were concerned to find that this wasn’t the case. As the government has stated, nature in protected landscapes is in long-term decline and they are now badly degraded.
  • Almost all respondents (90%) said it was important to them that the abundance of wildlife in National Parks and AONBs is increased. This rose to 96% amongst those who live inside these landscapes.
  • More than two thirds (68%) of respondents chose increasing wildlife as their top priority for National Parks and AONBs, far more than other objectives such as promoting cultural heritage.
  • 81% were supportive of doing things to achieve this that would change the way these landscapes look such as nature friendly farming practices that would restore wildflower meadows, reduce the number of grazing animals and increasing the number of broadleaf trees.
  • Only 7% of people did not want land management that is harming nature in National Parks and AONBs, but which some might argue is part of the cultural heritage, to change. Taken together with the above results, this strengthens the case that restoring nature should be the main objective of these landscapes and that other objectives should not be used to justify actions that are damaging nature – as advised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
    80% would like the people who sit on the boards that lead National Parks and AONBs to be recruited through open competition, based on their expertise. Even more (83%) want to see these boards have a balance of expertise across landscapes’ objectives. There was even more support for this amongst people living inside these places. This is significant because an independent, expert review for the government recommended this in 2019 but the government not yet committed to this reform.
  • 74% want to the government to give protected landscape authorities more money to help them restore nature. Most people would support AONBs, which get much less funding than National Parks, getting the bulk of extra money.

Perhaps above all, the survey shows that people do not want these landscapes to be preserved as they are today, in their nature-depleted state. They want them brought back to life. Many National Park Authorities and AONB teams are working hard to achieve this, but the government has not given them what they need. The onus is on the government to urgently change that.

The government’s consultation is an opportunity for all of us to demand more nature-rich National Parks and AONBs, so that we can all experience the wonder of thriving wildlife. Opportunities for transformative changes to these landscapes don’t come around often – we can’t afford to miss this chance.

      David Hampson is Policy Officer at the RSPB. 

      Follow: @DavidKHampson and @RSPBEngland.

      The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.