Head for the hills
By Chris Howard, chairman of the Surrey Hills Society
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.