- 1st April 2011
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Today sees the creation of the first new National Park in the UK since 2005 as 600 square miles of the South Downs across Sussex and Hampshire has been designated for protection. The new park is the fourth-largest of the 13 now established in England and Wales, but hasn’t been greeted with universal joy by those who live and work in the area.
For one thing, the new park is not like the other national parks. More than 108,000 people live within the park boundaries, and while much of the landscape is wild and remote it is also possibly the most commercially important of the national parks. The conurbations of London, Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton are all nearby and 85 per cent of the land within the park is cultivated. Cottages and renovated barns can fetch up to £750,000, even in a recession.
Establishing the park is the culmination of many years work for some local people. Many have been working on the project for more than ten years, and some have been calling for the area to be designated and protected since the first national parks were set up in the 1940s. Margaret Paren, the retired civil servant who chairs the South Downs national park authority, said: “We have been working towards this day for more than 10 years and it is going to be quite a big event – a community celebration – because people are incredibly passionate about the South Downs.”
However, not everyone is quite so enthusiastic. Local farmers, who have often farmed the land for generations, are unconvinced of the benefits to the local community and economy. Many fear that increased regulation will leave them with less choice over what they are allowed to produce, while others cite increased pressure from visitors as an extra stress on their resources.
The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the new park will aid conservation of plant and animal species. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is more positive: “We are strongly supportive of the park. We want it to succeed, it is extremely important for us. Public access is an issue which, if we are careful, can be managed. If people are going to appreciate the countryside, they have got to be allowed to go and see what it is like.”
Management of the public seems to be the key to the future success of the park, and with it the future of new national parks across the country.