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Calling for a Chilterns National Park

Even before Covid-19, it was evident there is increasing pressure on landscapes like the Chilterns | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

In 2020, more than ever, we need our open spaces and the green ‘lungs’ around our cities, which provide tranquillity and revitalisation. They strengthen physical and mental resilience for countless people.

Even before Covid-19, it was evident there is increasing pressure on landscapes like the Chilterns. This is a globally significant environment for its chalk streams alone. There are only about 200 chalk streams in the world and 85 per cent of them are in Southern and Eastern England. We must do all we can to preserve them and the landscape which fosters them.

The effects of climate change, of national infrastructure projects like HS2 and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, and other developments threaten the ecosystem. Some of the first letters I received when elected in 1992 concerned low flows in the Chess and the Misbourne.

Long campaigning by many bodies is leading to improvements, like the decision by the Environment Agency and water companies to reduce water abstraction.

We have strong communities in Chesham & Amersham, with a wide range of voluntary bodies and individual volunteers working with statutory agencies across the Chilterns.  Growing pressures on the environment have been recognised with strengthened determination that mitigations must be carried out.

We must create more National Parks, because the pace of environmental damage should be matched by equal speed in repairing it.

Growing up in Derbyshire, I’d seen at first hand the extra layer of safeguarding coming from the establishment of a National Park. It seemed logical that our AONB would benefit from similar legislation. So I was delighted when the Chiltern Conservation Board and others, including readers of our local newspaper, the Bucks Free Press, agreed with my idea.

After meeting Julian Glover, I was gratified that his 2019 Landscape Review identified the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as a landscape which would benefit from becoming a National Park, with enhanced protections to ensure it can continue to flourish.  With unprecedented pressures on our open spaces, now is the time to put this policy into action.

In their response on 11 October 2019, the Chilterns Conservation Board said: “We recognise the huge potential to do more, and do it better.” They commented that the heart of the Chilterns AONB is just an hour from Trafalgar Square by tube, as well as close to other urban centres, and “we are also acutely aware of the opportunity and need to engage with more and a wider diversity of people.”

The first national parks came into being in 1951 with that aim. Sir Arthur Hobhouse, in his 1947 report, wrote: “It would be wrong to confine the selection of National Parks to the more rugged areas of mountain and moorland, and to exclude other districts which, though of less outstanding grandeur and wildness, have their own distinctive beauty and a high recreational value.”

It took a long time for those aims to come to full fruition and it is now ten years since the South Downs National Park was established.   We must create more National Parks, because the pace of environmental damage should be matched by equal speed in repairing it.

Why the Chilterns?  Apart from its being the third largest AONB, as this country prepares for the postponed COP 26 to take place in November 2021, we ought to take action about our own globally significant landscapes. Nor (and my tongue isn’t wholly in my cheek) should we forget the schedule to the Chequers Estate Act 1917, when Sir Arthur and Lady Lee gifted Chequers to the nation:

“ The inducement to spend two days a week in the high and pure air of the Chiltern hills and woods will, it is hoped, benefit the nation as well as its chosen leaders.”

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