Champions of England's National Parks have expressed 'deep concern' that further government cuts will seriously damage the work carried out by Park Authorities. England now spends just 83.5p per head on National Parks, and there are fears that tomorrow's budget will further reduce this figure.
In the last five years cuts to park budgets of up to 40% have already had a major impact on transport services, visitor centres, environmental and educational programmes, and the mapping and maintenance of rights of way.
Fiona Howie, chief executive of environmental group the Campaign for National Parks, said the effects of the cuts meant that most National Park Authorities had already had to make substantial cuts to their services, and that any future reductions would have a severe impact on local communities and park management.
'Funding available for public transport programmes – that get people out into and around our Parks – have been cut; information centres are closing down or shortening their opening hours; public rights of way are not being maintained and grants for rural businesses – the lifeblood of the community – are being cut' she said.
'National Park Authorities should be spending time promoting our National Parks as our most treasured jewels in the crown and not having to look over their shoulder and deal with damaging, piece-meal year on year cuts.'
'We know the National Park Authorities are being proactive and trying to be creative about accessing new funding streams, but National Parks are nationally important assets. They need to be properly valued by the Government and supported financially to make sure they are able to continue to deliver important environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits to both local communities and the nation.'
Campaigners at the conservation charity Friends of the Lake District have echoed the same concerns. In budget week they have called on the Government to ensure that National Parks are effectively resourced.
Friends' Director Douglas Chalmers said:
'Earlier this year the Lake District National Park Authority faced severe criticism for putting some of its properties on the market [see UKH news here, Ed.] Although they should have given more reassurances that this land would be protected into the future, we can understand why they felt that they had to sell.'
'National Parks have to balance their budgets, yet since 2010 the Lake District’s funding has fallen from £7.275 million to £4.486 million – that’s a drop of 38%.'
'We like our Parks. 90% of us think they are important, and 96% of us want our children to experience them, yet public spending on them is now far less than £1 per person per year; putting their very infrastructure is at risk.'
'Our National Parks are national assets, providing economic, environmental, health, social and cultural benefits. Government must recognise this and the value we all put on them, and resource them properly.'
In a sign of the times, all the National Park Authorities across the UK have been working together to create a new company – National Parks Partnerships Ltd – devoted to identifying commercial opportunities, such as recent sponsorship deals with an air freshener brand and a US footwear company.