The European Diploma of Protected Areas has been awarded for the 45th year to the Peak District National Park, one of only five areas in the UK to hold the accolade.
Heard of it? Us neither. According to the Council of Europe's website this award, created in 1965, is given to protected areas because of their outstanding scientific, cultural or aesthetic qualities; they must also be the subject of a suitable conservation scheme which may be combined with a sustainable development programme. It's not easy to achieve. At present there are 70 zones spread across 26 European countries, and only four other areas in the UK have the diploma – Minsmere Nature Reserve in Suffolk, Purbeck Heritage Coast in Dorset, Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve and Fair Isle National Scenic Area.
The Council of Europe has renewed the Peak District's diploma for 10 years in recognition of continuing conservation work in the National Park to protect rare wildlife, distinctive landscapes such as upland bogs, limestone dales and heathland, heritage sites, listed buildings and the vitality of local communities and businesses through advice, grants and planning policies.
In addition to conservation, the European diploma recognises educational and socio-economic work, which means everything from school field-trips and guided walks to visitor centres.
Jane Chapman, head of environment and economy at the Peak District National Park Authority, said:
'I'm delighted this prestigious diploma has been renewed for 10 years – it's a recognition of the sterling work being done by hundreds of people across the National Park.
'That includes everyone from our major partners such as landowners and environmental organisations, to farmers who care for our landscapes, gardeners who create wildlife habitats, and householders, community groups, churches and parishes who look after historic properties. All of them are vital to the national park's status as a protected area, and together we are now developing the new National Park Management Plan for 2012-2017, which will strengthen and build on what has already been achieved.'
One major achievement since 2003 is the proportion of Sites of Special Scientific Interest deemed to be in favourable or recovering condition, which has increased from just 28 per cent in 2003 to 98 per cent now (nearly 50,000 hectares in all).
Further improvements might be expected after the next Peak District Biodiversity Action Plan (2011-2020), to be officially launched in September, which will encourage everyone involved in land management to widen and link up wildlife habitats.