National Park Extensions – a change for the better The other night, just before dusk, I spent some time repairing a gap in one of our dry stone walls. A very practical, down to earth, and restorative way of ending a day mostly spent in an office. Then it struck me that this was about to become a very “special” wall, because from next Monday, 1 August 2016, it will be part of the boundary of the newly extended Yorkshire Dales National Park. From that day, our farm will “adjoin” and “overlook” a National Park – in fact we will adjoin it on three sides and overlook it from our house.. And here I was re-establishing the wall between us and it. I had to smile as I remembered some of the comments made over the years by those who have tried to block or oppose National Parks, often farmers and landowners. Our National Parks were established in the early 1950s. In 1952, Farmer & Stockbreeder carried an opinion piece entitled “Land Should Throb”. “That is the plain truth. The real point is, the countryside should be alive, and life means work, movement and change………………… The earth should throb with life, an earthy, fruitful life. ………………The preserving amateurs are nearly always opposed to change; ………………. in short, rural England should be embalmed like a corpse.” Heartfelt? Certainly. Informed? Maybe not. Sixty years later, when the current extensions to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks were being discussed and going to Public Inquiry (following sterling work by Friends of the Lake District I should say), the language might have changed but there were still those in the farming and landowning communities who were unhappy that their land was going to be designated. Their first major fear was that all of a sudden they would face restrictive planning decisions that would affect their ability to run their businesses. No one can argue against the importance of the rural economy and its underpinning of the environment and local communities, but these areas are some of our most spectacular landscapes, and have always been worthy of designation. Planning Officers will have been aware of the value of these landscapes in making their determinations up to now, so we are not going to move from “carte blanche” development to none at all. Existing Local Plans will remain in place. There will not be a moratorium on everything, but by considering the policies relating to National Parks we can expect appropriate development that protects and enhances these landscapes for future generations. The other objection was also understandable, but I now believe wrong for other reasons. They argued that if the land was worthy of designation, it was because of their land management and that of preceding generations of their families, so why was there any need to change? Hang on – who was it who said that the countryside should be allowed to change? But more importantly, our land may have been well-managed by people who have cared for generations, but our current land managers are facing uncertainty and threats greater than any in the past. Economically, farm production in our Uplands areas has been struggling for a century. Climate, soil type, topography and remoteness from markets and suppliers all contribute to this problem. Subsidies is not a word that can be applied at the moment, but for many years various support schemes have acted effectively as a social payment to keep farming families in the hills, thereby sustaining others in our remoter communities. Latterly, this support has been from the EU as Basic Payments and additional money for environmental work. Even before Brexit, we knew that these funds would become less and also more targeted, but what does the future hold now? As the third most densely populated country in Europe, the pressure on our land and space can only increase. People will always want somewhere to live, work and play. Infrastructure projects – and we know all about the current threat to the Lake District from pylons and perhaps in the future from roads - can only increase. And climatically? We are still witnessing damage caused by Storm Desmond and others last Winter. Our rough, tough and rugged landscape is anything but. Designation flags our National Parks as “special”. If future funding is to be targeted, designated land will surely be at the front of the queue. In other National Parks, there has been a better interaction between farmers and visitors, a greater appreciation, understanding and respect for our land managers and food producers. This is a big change. We are being offered opportunities. Failing to take them may indeed lead to our glorious countryside being “embalmed like a corpse”. Because we’ve let it die. We are still seeing occasional flurries of negative comments from doom-mongers in some quarters, but surely now is the time to embrace the extensions of our National Parks in Cumbria as both positive and exciting. I know that I am. Even if I am the other side of the wall.