Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant, and Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee
In April we attended a three day National Park induction course at Plas Tan y Bwlch in Snowdonia National Park. The course is held every now and again for new National Park staff and is aimed at sharing the National Park ethos and making connections between different Parks.
Some of the main themes we considered included UK National Park legal purposes which are:
- To conserve & enhance natural beauty, wildlife & cultural heritage.
- To improve understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public.
National Parks also have a duty to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities. If these purposes ever come into conflict, the first purpose should be paramount.
UK National Parks are about cultural heritage and character rather than wilderness per se, and they fall into the United Nation’s Protected Areas Category V. Most UK National Parks are man-made and man-managed landscapes.
We looked at a number of case studies focusing on the village of Beddgelert –
- Rhododendrons: There is a conflict of interests between tourism bringing coaches of visitors in to admire the masses of rhododendrons on the mountainside in flower over a few short weeks a year, versus conservation of the native species by the National Park through invasive plant species removal. National Park staff in Snowdonia think they have gradually won local people over to backing the protection of their native plants through education on their benefits, including a far longer flowering period from heather!
- Gelert’s Grave: The story of a faithful dog and its final resting place is not entirely true, being based on myth and legend, yet tourists flock from all over the world to visit the dog’s ‘grave’, sometimes in floods of tears. Should the National Park Authority as a public body always strive to convey the facts/provide correct information, or is it fair enough to encourage the colour and character surrounding the local culture to thrive?
- Tourism: In small villages parking and road capacity can be a big issue. Where as some locals want to increase tourism and depend on it for their livelihoods, others are fed up with the stress and hassle in the high-season around their homes. What stance should the National Park Authority take?
- Second homes: Many of the villages in Snowdonia National Park include a substantial number of second homes, which have artificially raised local house-prices, resulting in locals being unable to afford housing in their own patch. Affordable housing schemes have been introduced, however often the resulting architecture/styling is not so aesthetically pleasing as the traditional buildings. Is this an addressable?
One of the most interesting projects in action involves the National Trust who have purchased a lake-side farm in Snowdonia National Park with the aim of taking on an apprentice annually to run the farm. The intention is to encourage young people to take up farming because farming is in decline amongst the young, and allow them to practice before they take on a ‘real’ farm.
Our discussions revealed how similar the issues are across all of our National Parks, and the overall conclusion was that we need to work together to generate ideas and resolve problems. As National Park staff, together we have a wide range of experience, and cover vast tracts of land and water-way in the UK. Where there is an issue, another National Park has probably already tackled it and we should be linking up to move forward in each of our own Parks.