Countryside experts came together online for the first virtual conference of its kind to explore two major proposals in the Government’s 25-year environmental plan.
The event, organised by the Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas, based at University of Cumbria’s Ambleside campus, was named Landscapes for Everyone and probed plans to connect people with places of outstanding natural beauty and make these areas work for vibrant communities.
Conference organiser Dr Julia Aglionby, the university’s professor of practice, said the remote platform had allowed 140 delegates, including representatives from Defra, Natural England, national park authorities and academic institutions, to take part.
She said: “Thirty speakers, from a 15-year-old volunteer from the Chilterns to Julian Glover, the lead author of Defra’s National Landscapes Review, helped draw some important conclusions.
“It was agreed those involved in our precious national landscapes need to work together much more closely to be a countrywide co-ordinated voice, in the way arts and culture bodies have responded to COVID.
“Critical to the debate was why people from areas of deprivation, black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and those with disabilities often fail to access some of England’s best countryside and how barriers could be broken down.”
Communities living and working in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty also came under the microscope.
Dr Aglionby said income opportunities and quality of life were key factors and there was agreement that local people should be represented on the bodies who manage the places where they lived.
She added: “Julian Glover has called for bold action to reignite the founding spirit of our great national park movement and to do more for nature, more for communities and make more open to everyone.
“Our conference and the lively interactive panel event we staged, with nationally acclaimed adventurer Simon Yates, certainly went a long way in firing people’s passion and commitment.”