Head for the hills

By Chris Howard, chair­man of the Sur­rey Hills So­ci­ety

Surrey Life - - Countryside Life -

Should the Sur­rey Hills be a Na­tional Park? In May, Sur­rey MP Michael Gove the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary, an­nounced that there would be a sweep­ing re­view of our Na­tional Parks and Ar­eas of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty (AONB) in­clud­ing the Sur­rey Hills. Since then the en­vi­ron­ment sec­tor has been ex­tremely ac­tive de­bat­ing this once in a life time op­por­tu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence to the fu­ture of our coun­try’s pre­cious land­scapes.

Nearly 70 years after the coun­try’s Na­tional Parks were first es­tab­lished, an in­de­pen­dent panel will look at how th­ese iconic land­scapes meet the needs of the 21st cen­tury. Michael Gove said: “Amid a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, changes in tech­nol­ogy, and a de­cline in cer­tain habi­tats, the time is right for us to look afresh at th­ese land­scapes. We want to make sure they are not only con­served, but en­hanced for the next gen­er­a­tion.”

The Na­tional Farm­ers Union (NFU) be­lieves that with­out a vi­able farm­ing in­dus­try there would not be the beau­ti­ful land­scape on which our pre­cious land­scapes are based. The NFU will make the case to the re­view panel that farm­ing cre­ates and main­tains the thriv­ing nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments sup­port­ing the beau­ti­ful, semi-nat­u­ral land­scapes of the Na­tional Parks and AONBS.

I re­cently at­tended the Na­tional AONB Con­fer­ence in Kent, where Ju­lian Glover, who is head­ing up this re­view, came to lis­ten to key AONB rep­re­sen­ta­tives speak about the pres­sures on AONBS. Cru­cial to the de­bate is the fact that AONBS re­ceive about a 10th of the fund­ing of Na­tional Parks. Judg­ing from the con­fer­ence, gain­ing con­sen­sus on the way for­ward is go­ing to be a chal­lenge.

Here in the Sur­rey Hills we are ar­gu­ing that due to the huge pop­u­lar­ity of this pro­tected land­scape so close to Lon­don, the need for more pro­tec­tion and re­sources to man­age the pres­sure on the en­vi­ron­ment from so many vis­i­tors is cru­cial to its sur­vival. Per­haps the Sur­rey Hills should be­come a Na­tional Park? I cer­tainly feel it is one of the most beau­ti­ful places in the world, but needs all the pro­tec­tion it can get to make sure the next gen­er­a­tion get to en­joy it too.

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