The government is asking for everyone’s views on changes to England’s protected landscapes – our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). RSPB Site Policy Officer David Hampson takes you through the survey … 

Wildlife has been vanishing from our protected landscapes, like it has across England. There are now 40 million fewer birds in our skies compared to the 1960s.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to bring wildlife back to our National Parks and AONBs. More wildflower meadows, more broadleaved woodlands and more birdsong. Landscapes brought back to life in all their colour and variety.

We have two options for you to complete the government’s survey – depending on whether you have 5 minutes or 15 minutes to spare. If you have time, we recommend that you take the 15 minutes option as this will have more influence on the government.

If you have 5 minutes …

Open the consultation, then enter your details in questions 1 to 5. We then suggest that you answer the following questions as follows:

Question 6 – tick ‘Yes’

Question 7 – say that the recovery of nature should come first over any other priorities

Question 21 – in the ‘Other (please state)’ text box say that the government should:

Increase the proportion of board members who are appointed based on expertise, including in recovering nature 

Reduce the number of members who are appointed because they are local councillors 

Make sure that there is a balance across all areas of expertise 

Question 22 – tick ‘Yes’

Question 23 – tick ‘Yes’

Question 25 – say that:

The government should increase public funding for National Parks and AONBs to restore nature

The government should take urgent action to restore nature to these landscapes including by bringing forward new laws

We explain why we recommend these answers in the 15 minute guide below.

If you have 15 minutes …

We have not provided guidance on every question in the survey. We have picked the questions that are the most important for nature. You can answer as many or as few questions as you like, so long as you fill in the personal details section before submitting your response.

Some questions have text boxes. We’ve suggested some comments you could make for these but we strongly recommend personalising this as it will strengthen your response.

Open the consultation

You’ll need to have the consultation open in a new tab but keep this guidance open as well.

This link opens the consultation page in a new tab

Click on ‘Online Survey’ and answer questions 1 to 5

Choose your privacy preference and fill in your personal details. Click ‘Continue’.

Question 6 – Should a strengthened first purpose of protected landscapes follow the proposals set out in Chapter 2?

This is asking whether National Parks and AONBs should have a new mission to recover nature. The RSPB supports this.

We suggest that you tick ‘Yes’.

Suggested comments:

Given how much wildlife has been lost from England’s National Parks and AONBs, the aim should be to actively recover nature.

You could add what would it mean to you personally to see more wildlife brought back to these places. Is there a particular National Park or AONB or species that you would particularly like to see restored?

Question 7 – Which other priorities should be reflected in a strengthened first purpose e.g. climate, cultural heritage?

This is asking what you think National Parks and AONBs’ other priorities should be, in addition to recovering nature.

Suggested comments:

Whatever other priorities the government gives National Parks and AONBs, the recovery of nature should come first.

The government should make sure that the other priorities cannot justify actions that are damaging nature.

For example:

Land management practices that are damaging important wildlife habitats, such as intensive farming or burning on peatlands, should not be supported in National Parks and AONBs.

Any action to combat the climate emergency in National Parks and AONBs should not make the nature emergency worse, for example by planting trees on valuable wildlife habitats such as heathland and peatland.

More people from all backgrounds should be able to visit these landscapes but this should be carefully managed so that increased numbers of visitors do not disturb sensitive wildlife.

Question 8 – Do you support any of the following options as we develop the role of protected landscapes in the new environmental land management schemes? Tick all that apply.

This question is asking about how future government schemes should reward farmers for the actions they take to restore nature and tackle climate change.

We suggest that you tick all the options.

Question 9 – Do you have any views or supporting evidence you would like to input as we develop the role of protected landscapes in the new environmental land management schemes?

Suggested comments:

National Parks and AONBs should be examples of nature friendly landscapes, where activities such as farming are in harmony with nature.

The government’s new environmental land management schemes could help farmers to make changes to their business which will benefit nature and their profitability, safeguarding small family farms and the cultural fabric of these landscapes.

It is essential that these schemes work for different types of farming, so that all farmers can be rewarded to deliver public goods such as thriving species, clean water and carbon storage.

These schemes need to be effectively monitored to ensure they are working as planned. They need to be flexible too so they can deliver environmental benefits.

National Park Authorities and AONB teams should be resourced to encourage, advise and support farmers to take advantage of new payment schemes for nature recovery.

Question 21 - Which of the following measures would you support to improve local governance? Tick all that apply.

This is a question about the people who sit on the boards that lead National Parks and AONBs. Most board members are local councillors. Only a small number of members have been appointed based on their expertise following a recruitment process. An independent review for the government found there are very few people on these boards who are knowledgeable and passionate about restoring nature.

We suggest that you tick all the boxes except for ‘Greater flexibility over the proportion of national, parish and local appointments’. We do not recommend supporting this as it could result in even fewer people who will champion nature on these boards.

Suggested comments for the ‘Other (please state)’ text box:

The government should increase the proportion of board members who are appointed based on expertise, including in recovering nature, and reduce the number of members who are appointed because they are local councillors.

The government should make sure that there is an overall balance on boards between the different areas of expertise.

Suggested comments for the ‘Please give reasons for your answer’ text box:

The options the government is consulting on do not go far enough. There needs to be an increase in the number of passionate nature experts on these boards so they can provide leadership on recovering wildlife.

Question 22 – Should statutory duties be strengthened so that they are given greater weight when exercising public functions?

This is asking whether public bodies that are active in a National Park or AONB should have a stronger duty to protect and restore these landscapes and their wildlife.

We suggest ticking ‘Yes’.

Suggested comments:

The current duty is too weak. It only requires public bodies to ‘have regard’ to National Park and AONB purposes, not to do anything to achieve them.

The duty should be strengthened to a duty to ‘further’ National Park and AONB purposes.

Question 23 – Should statutory duties be made clearer with regards to the role of public bodies in preparing and implementing management plans?

This is asking whether public bodies should have a new duty to help develop and implement National Park and AONB management plans. This means that they would be required to take action to recover nature and the other aims of the National Park and AONB.

We suggest ticking ‘Yes’.

Suggested comments:

This new duty will increase action for nature in National Parks and AONBs, and help avoid action that damages nature.

But this duty will only be effective if National Park and AONB management plans contain specific, ambitious targets and actions for nature’s recovery that are monitored and reported against. Actions should set out who’s doing what, where and by when. The government should require that management plans include this and give Natural England the role of scrutinising and approving these plans.

There should also be a duty for public bodies to report on how they are implementing this duty and the duty in question 22, and for Natural England to monitor this.

Question 25 – If you have any further comments on any of the proposals in this document, please include them here.

This is your opportunity to provide comments on the government’s proposals that have not been covered by the questions.

Suggested comments:

Funding

The funding of AONBs has always been inadequate but it has been cut by more than a third over the last 10 years. Each AONB team now only employs on average 4 people but it has responsibility to restore nature across a huge area.

AONBs make their limited resources go a long way for nature but to rise to the scale of the nature and climate emergency, their funding from government should be doubled. This was the recommendation of the Landscapes Review, an independent expert review for the government.

This should not mean a reduction in funding for National Parks, as they also need more resources to recover nature in their landscapes and have suffered cuts to their funding.

These landscapes are for the benefit of the whole nation and they deserve better funding from the government.

Urgency

We are facing a nature and climate emergency. Now is the time for action.

This means that the government’s promises to restore wildlife in National Parks and AONBs should be turned into urgent action. This must include making changes to legislation.

The government has pledged to protect and manage 30% of land for nature and halt the loss of species by 2030. But this will only happen if actions follow words. England National Parks and AONBs can help achieve those targets but only if the government gives the bodies responsible for those landscapes the purposes, powers, support, governance and resources they need.

The government’s actions and urgency will be key tests of whether it is showing true global leadership on restoring nature.

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