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International status of Wales’s national parks and AONBs under threat

Words: Roger Milne
Snowdonia / Shutterstock_152609951

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas has warned that Wales's national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) risk forfeiting their status as internationally recognised protected areas if contemplated reforms to the existing planning and designation regime are implemented.

That warning has been voiced by the organisation’s UK Assessment Panel. Its concern centres on the Future Landscapes report, commissioned by the Welsh administration and published three months ago.

The panel complained that the main thrust of that report diluted a key element of an earlier review carried out by professor Terry Marsden of Cardiff University, that stressed the primacy of the conservation purposes underpinning the landscape designations.

It said the latest report represented a big retreat from the clear messages and recommendations of the Marsden report. “There is no discussion of the purposes of designating these areas, and their conservation purpose is hardly mentioned at all. While the report does not disown the Marsden recommendations, its silence about most of them means that they now appear to be in limbo.”

The panel is particularly critical that the Future Landscapes document talks about national parks and AONBs as “catalysts for regional development in rural areas”. This was “a much less environmentally sensitive aim,” said the panel.

It concluded that the new report raised serious concerns. “It conspicuously fails to endorse the core recommendations from Marsden about the primacy of conservation, and sets out a questionable view of these designated areas as ‘catalysts for regional development’. If acted upon, the recommendations in the Future Landscapes report would make it impossible for the panel to continue to accord international recognition to Wales’s national parks and AONBs as protected areas.”

The panel stressed: “If Wales desires to maintain and strengthen the international recognition currently accorded to these areas, then we suggest that the Welsh Government base future policy towards national parks and AONBs on the recommendations developed in the Marsden report.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson, quoted in Wales Online, said: “We will consider the comments made by the UK Assessment Panel of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. They will also be forwarded to the Future Landscapes Wales chair, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, and the wide range of stakeholders involved in the Future Landscapes Wales programme so they may consider them as part of their ongoing deliberations”.

Ministers have insisted that the administration is considering whether legislation on designated landscape areas needs to be changed and if greater weight should be given to the importance of these areas and their ecosystems in decision-making. Also under discussion is whether governance arrangements should evolve to reflect local circumstances, rather than the current one-size-fits-all system.  

Read more:

Welsh ministers mull over new legislation for national parks and AONBs

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