Practical Help, Persuasion and Partnerships: The Peak National Park Experience
The Peak District National Park Authority is responsible for the 555 square miles of Britain's first National Park, designated in 1951. Unlike National Parks in many other countries, it is a lived-in landscape: 38,000 people live in the Park, and need jobs, houses, shops and leisure opportunities.
National Parks in Britain were designated for two purposes: to ensure the conservation of a distinctive high quality environment, and to make provision for its enjoyment by the public. In working to achieve these purposes, we must have regard to the social and economic interests of the local community. It is a difficult balancing act calling for skilful judgements, in which the conservation of these precious landscapes for future generations must always come first.
The Authority's strategic planning and land management policies embody sustainable principles. We aim to conserve and enhance the natural, historic and cultural qualities which make up the Park's distinctive character. Our objectives for tourism are to provide for visitors and local people seeking quiet enjoyment of the Park; to achieve a more even spread of visitors over the year; to increase the number of staying visitor; and to maximise local social and economic benefits subject to the conservation priority.
The Peak District National Park is precious and fragile landscape; in fact two different landscapes. In the north is the Dark Peak, harsh gritstone and wild moorland, a large part of which is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interests. Much of this area is hardly affected by Man, and is the nearest thing to wilderness in the Park, and probably in England. The southern White Peak is a very different country - softer, greener limestone dales, dotted with farms and woodland.
There are hamlets, villages and one small market town. Most buildings are of local stone. Each settlement has its own distinctive character, which Park policies aim to maintain, by strict development control and grant aid schemes.
With more than 22 million visitor - days each year, the Peak District is the most heavily visited National Park in Europe, and reputedly the second most visited in the world. The Peak is surrounded by industrial conurbation's and about 17 million people live within 60 miles of its boundaries, so a substantial proportion of visitors are day trippers from the surrounding towns and cities. Day visitors spend less than holidaymakers, so we are trying to encourage more people to stay.
95% of visitors to the Park travel by car. Traffic has increased by nearly 20% in the last five years. There are severe problems from congestion in popular areas, and increasing concerns about the effects of pollution.
Walking is the main activity of visitors, but there are also wonderful opportunities for climbers and cavers. The Peak has a range of important and unique attractions, including stately homes such as Chatsworth House, and Castleton Caverns. However, parts of the area are less well provided and most attractions close in the winter, meaning that jobs in tourism area seasonal.
The Authority encourages "green tourism" activities such as walking, cycling and climbing. But there are dangers in excess! Even "green tourism" can be inappropriate if it's scale is excessive or if everyone wants to visit on the same day. Many footpaths are suffering from erosion as countryside activities become more popular.
Tourism is a fundamental part of the Peak District economy, worth about œ75 million a year. It provides jobs for the local community and supports local services. However, visitors can be a mixed blessing for local people. Owners of car parks, camping and caravan sites, and those providing tourist accommodation or catering earn money from them, tourism can provide a useful supplement to declining farm incomes. But residents and farmers have suffered with problems from traffic jams, trespassers, disturbance to livestock, and litter left by visitors.
Partnerships and Initiatives
Within the National Park, the Authority provides planning and countryside services. All other local government services (education, highways, waste collection and disposal, social services etc.) remain the responsibility of the relevant County or District Council. Other agencies provide other public services in the Park just as they do elsewhere (eg water and electricity companies, Ministry of Agriculture.
Because of the nature of the Park, its organisation and limited budget, the National Park Authority has to work very closely with these other authorities and bodies. Over the years, we have developed or participated in a range of joint programmes of action which serve National Park purpose, often alongside the objectives of other organisations. We are strongly committed to continuing partnerships of this kind.
It often seems that conflicts between the different interests of conservation, tourism, and the local people are bound to happen. We believe that such conflicts are not inevitable and that creative management solutions can often be found. We have shown that apparently conflicting interests can their workshops to see the product being made, and visitors can take home hand-crafted products made within the area.
Education and Interpretation
Sustainable tourism is not just repairing footpaths and visitor management schemes; we have to help people learn about the environment and the ecology of the Peak, and about what sustainability means in practice. A key element of our activity is helping visitors understand the Park. Our Interpretation Strategy has been shared with partners and adapted to encompass the gateway towns outside the National Park.
Our working practice over many years demonstrates the crucial role authorities can play in addressing the issues and resolving problems. Locally devised solutions are more likely to take into account the complex local interactions between social, economic, environmental and recreational interests, and to find creative and sustainable solutions. Practical help, persuasion, partnerships and direct action are all important. More needs to be done; but we believe that we have demonstrated principles that can be followed in other places.