Parks for nature – Parks for well-being – Parks for peace.
The results for the European elections in the UK have left me somewhat depressed. The Greens did well I suppose – one more MEP, and beating the Lib Dems to the fourth position overall – but still less than 10% of the total vote. But the most depressing thing was the success of UKIP. So – what better moment than now to celebrate something European!
This Saturday, 24 May, was the European Day of Parks – a commemorative day for protected areas across Europe that was launched by the Europarc Federation in 1999. The aim of the day is to celebrate protected areas throughout Europe. It aims to bring people closer to nature and to raise public awareness of the importance of the natural beauty preserved in protected areas, and the importance of conservation and sustainable management of those places.
There were quite a series of events in protected areas across Europe, from Albania to the United Kingdom. In the Peak District, there were guided walks with rangers and family cycle rides. I know from my own rambles in our local limestone dale that May is a splendid time to visit – the Early Purple Orchids, Wild Garlic and Bluebells are at their best. But it was a wet, wet day this Saturday – at least the fragrance in the woodland is enhanced by the dampness! There is also a sort of misty magic in the low cloud. But I hope the weather was kinder elsewhere in rest of Europe.
Perhaps the most innovative event in the Peak District is a scheme asking local knitters and crocheters to donate red, white or blue woollen triangles to make woolly bunting to decorate the outside of a dry stone roundhouse at the Parsley Hay cycle hire centre, next to the High Peak Trail. This `kažun` was given to the Peak District in 2013 by the Republic of Croatia, to mark Croatia’s accession to the European Union, through the shared tradition of dry stone walling. It was constructed by Istrian craftsmen using Peak District limestone. The Croatian and British flags are both red, white and blue – hence the colour theme for the bunting. What a great way to celebrate our shared love of our distinctive landscapes and heritage across Europe! As always when reflecting on our national parks, I am struck by how much a sense of place and of local heritage combine with landscape and nature to create such passion and joy for people living in and visiting our most protected areas.
We are also fortunate that the two fundamental purposes of our National Parks – to conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities – manage to enshrine both conservation and access in equal measure.
When the National Parks and Access to the Countryside bill was first promoted in 1949, Lewis Silkin (then Minister for Town and Country Planning) said “This is not just a Bill. It is a people’s charter for the open air, ….for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside….. .With it the countryside is theirs to preserve, to cherish, to enjoy and make their own”.
Splendid, powerful words – from a government with real vision about people’s relationship with the landscape around them and their right to share in that sense of wonder and joy. Dare I ask what has happened to that vision today?