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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
David Batty

English national parks welcome £4.4m funding boost from government

A woman with a backpack walking in the Cheviot Hills
Walking the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland: the national park authority says it has been under significant financial pressure. Photograph: Alamy

England’s national parks are set to receive £4.4m from the government to help them protect the environment and support tourism.

England’s 10 national parks will share the funds equally, using the money to support park rangers and maintain visitor and education centres, as well as helping improve public access to the countryside through new trails.

The grant has been awarded in recognition of the role national parks play in conserving wildlife and natural landscapes and boosting the regional economy, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The funding comes after warnings from campaigners that national parks are facing an existential crisis as a result of cuts over the last decade, with some planning to shut visitors centres and reduce ranger services as well as selling off publicly owned land.

The Campaign for National Parks charity said park authorities from Northumberland to Dartmoor have sounded serious alarms about their financial viability. Its chief executive, Rose O’Neill, said: “This bailout throws a much-needed lifeline to our national parks during desperate times – it must be the start of a new deal coupling greater powers with long-term funding.

“We are pleased that the government has recognised the vital importance of these beloved national assets. With funding for nationals parks having fallen by 40% in real terms over the last decade, this uplift – amounting to about 10% of the overall annual budget – is hugely welcome.”

O’Neill warned that this could not be a “one-off” and that the country needs a properly funded national park network. The extra cash must, she added, be “combined with new powers to drive investment from water companies and other bodies”. This will help the parks in terms of “sustainable economic growth, tackling the climate and nature emergency and enhancing people’s health and wellbeing”.

The Dartmoor national park authority, which was facing a £500,000 funding shortfall, said the new funds could help them keep a visitor centre open.

Its chair, Pamela Woods, said: “This is very welcome news and provides us with the money we need to maintain core services for the immediate future. Our top priority for this money will be to keep the visitor centre at Princetown open. But we need to remember that this is, in effect, a sticking plaster. A one-off payment does not solve the underlying problem of how to sustain core services in the face of 12 years of real-term cuts.”

Tony Gates, chief executive of Northumberland national park, said the funding is very welcome at a time when his authority faces significant financial pressures.

“While we welcome this news, we want to emphasise that it is one-off funding and will need to be backed by adequate funding for national parks over the medium and longer term,” he said.

The 10 national parks, which will each receive £440,000, are: the Broads, covering the rivers and lakes of Norfolk and Suffolk; Dartmoor and Exmoor in south-west England; the Lake District; the New Forest in Hampshire and Wiltshire; the North York Moors; Northumberland; the Peak District; the South Downs; and the Yorkshire Dales.

The environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said: “Our national parks are the jewel in our cherished landscapes. They support thriving communities, economies, wildlife and are important places for public health and wellbeing. This additional £4.4m of funding will support the important work that national park authorities do across our countryside, and allow local people and visitors to enjoy these much-loved spaces.”

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