National Parks a dying landscape

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It is an odd time in the nations National Parks at the moment, they seem to be confused as to their purpose, their reason for being. It comes at a time when funding is being cut from central government and the political and economic mood of certain ascendant sections of society are for profit.

The latest furore to hit social media is the Thirlmere Zip Wire. People resigning in protest from organisations, business manoeuvring to get their way in the dash for cash. In the Peak District it’s now about false tartan, in plush cafes with cuddly toys on the shelves for the grandparents to buy before they set off back to Sheffield or Derby. Meanwhile the BMC take people out on to the moors at night to educate and illuminate, raise funds for path repairs and generally act as guardians of the park.

Commentators speak about going back to the original reason for the national parks and often quote Sandford in support of one stance or another. One thing that is familiar with the Thirlmere Zip Wire argument is that lots of people speaking against it were never actually born there, but moved there because of its beauty and their own love of the place, they often quote Wordsworth in their argument to keep the Lake District in aspic.

One thing that is striking about the White Peak is how empty the villages are and how many cottages, its always the nice ones, have their doors and windows painted in those pretend national trust colours so favoured by the middle classes. The gentrification of the White Peak is gathering apace, cottages inhabited by retiring oldies who pop off every friday in their Disco’s to shop at Waitrose and come back in their 4×4 laden down with frozen goods to stock up their Wickes kitchens with the granite worktops. Apart from the chintzy names that now adorn the cottages another sign to be seen is the country holiday let. A small plastic holder with leaflets or tiny cards giving the contact details of the owner should you want to book. It usually accompanies an old milk churn, or scythe, something that can add “authenticity” to the “look”. Walk through any village now and you can count on more than one hand the number of such dwellings.

These ghost villages once provided housing and work for young people, who had families and kept things alive. Now the villages are bereft of life, part of a landscape that is now a set in a giant government funded theme park. The locals forced out by low wages and high house prices and no employment. The national park seems to be a landscape that is dying, killed by the very people who profess to be its protectors. It’s now just a photo opportunity and a means to make money.

Perhaps we need to go back to Wordsworth, often quoted in any Lake District battle to preserve what people want as the status quo.

When responding to the proposal to build a railway to Windermere to bring tourists to view the wonderful landscape and bring in much needed revenue for the local economy he said, and I paraphrase, that members of the working class would be unable to appreciate the beauty and character that the area had to offer and concludes that bringing so many travellers in would destroy the landscape.

He may just have been correct.

Author: Paul Besley

Writer I have spent most of my life escaping into the Peak District National Park, I have grown to love the solitude it can bring. I also have an interest in the growing field of psychogeography particularly, in post-industrial landscapes. I am the author of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press. I am also studying Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.

7 thoughts on “National Parks a dying landscape”

  1. Thanks for stopping by. Interesting points. When I talked about government funding I wasn’t thinking about the national park grant, it is insignificant in the scheme of things and has no impact on gentrification, so why bother mentioning it, but about government policies aimed at benefitting the middle classes.

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  2. I don’t totally disagree that it is time to re-examine the role of national parks and the authorities that run them, but I think that there are two separate factors here. It’s very true that national parks (and other tourist areas including some areas of outstanding natural beauty) have seen second homes make housing unaffordable for local people. This is largely due to successive governments of all political colours adopting laissez faire policies towards housing, ignoring affordability especially for people already living in popular areas. This has reinforced a cycle of gentrification as you observe (not totally dissimilar to some urban areas, for what it’s worth, albeit due to differing factors that make areas desirable to the economically prosperous). But there is a wider set of social, industrial and economic trends since the second world war (mechanisation, globalisation, the rise of multinational corporations, increased leisure time, and the motor car amongst them) that have led to a precipitous decline of rural employment that is not confined to national parks. Go to less fashionable rural areas, and there aren’t in my experience necessarily any more, or any better paid, jobs for local young people (and there may be even less employment of any description). The decline in government funding for national park authorities has certainly driven an increase in commercial activity around visitor centres etc., not all of it However the majority of national park enterprises are private and do not bring direct benefit to the national park authorities. The overall economic impact of Peak District tourism was estimated as £541m in 2013; government funding for the Peak District National Park Authority was about £7m at the time. To suggest that it is a government funded theme park is both misleading as to the level of direct subsidy, and also understating the impact of commercial enterprises and the investment behind them. It would be more accurate to say that government planning and economic policies have encouraged both a degree of fossilisation of landscape, and growth in the tourism industry that does not necessarily benefit local people.

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  3. ‘There was a valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, as divine as the vale of Tempe; . . . You enterprised a railroad through the valley – you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone and the Gods with it, and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere.’ John Ruskin

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  4. A very good and thought provoking post. Landscapes and heritage should be preserved, not ruined by tacky exploitation, or cheapened by commercialism. Sadly I can only see it getting worse.

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  5. It is Paul. It’s the young I feel sorry for, they have had a community taken from them, housing, jobs, services, leaving villages empty and desolate. Preserve and conserve yes, but it has to be balanced with the local population and their needs. And I don’t see much evidence of that in our national parks. The average house price in the Peak is around £235k way beyond the means of young people and there is precious little social housing to be had. A sad state of affairs.

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  6. Always a shame when the line is crossed Paul when places like the Peak District, Lake District are not able to be appreciated for what they are.

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