Current Threats to UK National Parks and AONB

Huge expanses of countryside in the United Kingdom are protected under the possession of Her Majesty by the UK government, but some that are mismanaged (or not property of The Crown) can be under threat by external and internal influences.

Outside every national park, the government, local councils and park authorities negotiate new legislation not only to preserve land but also to better the local and national economy. With this comes a conflict between nature and society’s needs. For example, developers might want to build houses on the grounds of The Peak District, but this may mean encroaching on natural habitat or trees and plants. National park land is relatively very pricey to prevent further destruction. Plus, houses can be over £100,000 more expensive than properties in surrounding counties, in order to help keep national parks state-owned.

Existing property owners are restricted by what they can develop. Hotels that are grade-II listed buildings in national parks often go without central heating for this reason, which can put off guests and could end in hotels closing. The knock-on effects of protecting building can be a reduction in tourism to the national park, but heritage buildings are usually restored and turned into tourism centres such as museums.

Man vs Nature

The UK government tends to prioritise housing the population over preserving the environment, as a declining population around the national park increases overcrowding elsewhere in the country. The government loosened planning permission in 2015 to allow traditions barns in the Yorkshire Dales to be converted into modern housing and hotel B&Bs. However, The Dales are under threat from an increasing number of illegal barn conversions.

The state is sometimes powerless to protect certain land. The Scottish government has not yet given Galloway national park status due to financial restrictions, despite advice from environmental officers. Land being privately owned, and the responsibility to local landowners or businesses, can prevent government from protecting AONBs (areas of outstanding natural beauty).

However, wildlife and nature are also currently under threat in some supposedly protected areas too. Campaign for National Parks is a national charity that campaigns against mismanagement of national park areas in England and Wales. They released a report in June 2018 stressing the importance to national park authorities of stopping the loss of wildlife, as red squirrels, curlew and heath fritillary butterflies are becoming threatened in England and Wales. According to the report, this is due to the poor conditions of habitats.

Feeling the Effects

Some of the newest national parks are the least affected by loss of species. The newest national park in England is South Downs near Eastbourne. The birdlife and butterflies there, though rare, have lived in the upland woodlands for over 6,000 years without becoming extinct.

Many argue that tourists, who the land is preserved for, are ruining older parks over time. The current issue of concern is the damage done from tourists who wander into land where they are not permitted to rather than stick to designated pathways. Adventure obstacle courses and other commercial activities can also pose a threat to farmland and woodland.