Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

From the mountain tops of Snowdonia, to the seas and coasts around Pembrokeshire and the winding wooded valleys of the river Wye, the importance of Wales’ designated landscapes – Natural Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) – for nature and people cannot be overstated. Which is why we are so happy that the Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn’s statement – Valued and Resilient – seeks to make these places better, by building resilient environments, communities and ways of working, for nature’s sake, as well as ours.

This is a world away from last year’s worrying situation, when a different report (published as the conclusion to a lengthy review process RSPB was involved in) failed to adequately highlight the role designated landscapes need to play in nature recovery, and put their legal mechanisms in jeopardy. You can read more on that review and our concerns here.

Thankfully, this new report from Welsh Government contains the positive aspects from the previous review that we supported, and crucially it addresses all the shortcomings we were concerned about.

Better for Biodiversity

In launching this report, Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn, has made it crystal clear that designated landscapes have a critical role to play in conserving, restoring and enhancing biodiversity. This is hugely important and something we are really excited about.

Designated landscapes cover almost 25% of Wales’ land mass, and if these areas can fulfil their potential for protecting and restoring nature, this would have a massive knock-on effect across the remaining 75% of land, and could also benefit coastal and marine ecosystems.

Management bodies for National Parks and AONBs are being called on to ensure biodiversity decline is halted and reversed, for its intrinsic value, as well as for its role in underpinning ecosystem resilience, and delivering benefits for the public.

Designated landscape laws safe

The commitment to retaining the original legal purposes of National Parks and AONBs along with the ‘Sandford principle’[1] is perhaps the most significant point to celebrate in the new report, especially considering last year’s proposals to “re-purpose” designated landscapes.

The Valued and Resilient report takes a much more positive stance. It recognises and respects the “enduring value of safeguarding the nation’s most spectacular areas” by keeping the original legal purposes and principles intact. It is then free to satisfy the “appetite to innovate” and ensure focus on Wales’ well-being goals and ecosystem resilience from the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and Environment (Wales) Act, by introducing a new legal duty to pursue sustainable management of natural resources (SMNR) on top of this established legal basis.

It is unclear at this stage what sort of difference a purpose to pursue SMNR would make to the function of designated landscape bodies. We hope it would enable the bodies to play their crucial role in recovering nature as well as ensuring developments, economic activities and tourism are appropriate and consistent with the designation and aligned with the purpose to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.

How does it make a difference on the ground?

The Valued and Resilient report is a very positive policy document, and contains encouraging commitments and proposals for financial resourcing to achieve its ambitions for designated landscapes. As ever with policy documents however, the theory needs to be backed up by action to have any real meaning.

For example, the report recognises the role designated landscapes play in supporting our protected sites for nature – such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). As a next step, we would expect National Park and AONB management bodies to be working with a range of partners and especially Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the nation’s statutory biodiversity champion, to turn ambitions into reality, and secure appropriate management and favourable condition of all protected site features within these areas.

NRW has just launched an ambitious biodiversity strategy of its own, Vital Nature, and a logical course of action would be for the designated landscapes management bodies to work in partnership with NRW to support achievement of ambitions for nature where they can.

Valued and Resilient is a hugely positive vision from Welsh Government on the future of our National Parks and AONBs. Now the challenge is to capitalise on these warm words and ensure nature within and outside designated landscape boundaries really is recovered.

[1] The Sandford Principle means if there is a conflict between activities designed to enhance people’s understanding/ enjoying of the environment against protecting it (that can’t be resolved by management), then protecting the environment is more important.