Happy 70th Birthday to England’s First National Park
April 17th is the 70th anniversary of England’s first National Park in the Peak District. Dorset National Park Patron Professor Michael Dower CBE was its director from 1985 to 1992.
He notes how the Peak District National Park was actively committed to its main duties - to protect the landscape, wildlife and heritage of the area, and to promote outdoor recreation within it: but that it also took very seriously its duty to ‘have regard to the social and economic well-being of the people who live in the Park’. “I knew that the best way to look after a landscape and to welcome visitors was to work with the people who own and manage the land and who live in the villages. So, I helped the farmers in the Park to secure Government grants towards their work in maintaining drystone walls, woodlands, ponds and other features and helped them to diversify their income through tourism and other activities. Within two years, half of the Park’s farmers were receiving significant grants while the Park’s rangers also played an important role in troubleshooting between farmers and visitors.”
“In the villages, we worked with parish councils to identify the need for new affordable houses, to persuade local landowners to offer sites for that housing, and we pressed the government agency to provide funds for housing associations to build the houses. We set up an association of village shops and the Peak Park Producers Association so that member enterprises could publicise their products to visitors. We created small industrial estates to provide rental workshops for local enterprises. The Park was and is a thriving community, a living and working landscape.”
“In Dorset, a National Park would replace the existing Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and would work as closely with the Dorset Council as the AONB now does. The crucial difference is that the National Park would have far higher funding from central government. The AONB Partnership made plain in last year’s Report that it lacks the funds to do its job properly in looking after the precious landscape, habitats and heritage features in its area. The National Park would bring in those funds, without cost to local people and businesses.”
“The Government has committed to establish new National Parks. When we see what the Government proposes, we can all work together to ensure that any Dorset National Park has the duty, the imagination, the resources, the staff and the appropriate democratic control to achieve true stewardship of the County’s magnificent heritage, to welcome visitors to its countryside and historic towns and villages while addressing tourism pressures, and to promote the well-being of its local communities and economies.”
In 1992, Michael moved to become Director-General of the Countryside Commission, the government agency responsible (inter alia) for advice to government about policy and funding for National Parks and predecessor of Natural England. He now lives in Beaminster in West Dorset, and is active in planting trees and other local initiatives in that part of the county, and as a core team member of the Dorset Climate Action Network.
Photo of Peveril Castle, Peak District National Park