Chris Packham, the TV presenter, has concerns about the fate of the New Forest National Park. Mr Packham, who lives on the park boundary, is losing sleep over what could happen as visitor pressure increases, according to the Southern Daily Echo.
Mr Packham?s proposed solutions include closing certain roads and car parks to restrict access to sensitive parts of the New Forest ? an echo of the US approach to national park management, where people park on the periphery and then walk in. His other proposals include restricting dogs to certain parts of the Forest to protect ground-nesting birds, more deer culling and the tighter management of free-range ponies and cattle.
A local born and bred, Mr Packham reportedly says the New Forest has deteriorated significantly in his lifetime: Visitor pressure is increasing and the world has changed, and is changing rapidly.
Certain bird species have all but vanished, and butterfly populations are down. But there are some things that have come in and colonised from parts of southern Europe, such as damson fly species and bird species, so it?s not all doom and gloom. It?s still a unique environment. It?s a beautiful, wonderful place, but my job is to make sure it?s as good as it can be, now.
He has urged the New Forest National Park Authority, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, Commoners? Defence Association and the Verderers to get together for the good of the National Park.
I don?t think anybody could accuse Mr Packham (a vice-president of the RSPB) of being a ?get ?orf my land? type. His concerns are heartfelt and deserve to be treated with respect. I sit on the board of a National Park, so I have some personal experience of the creative tension (let?s put it like that) between the two fundamental purposes of UK National Parks, which are conservation and enjoyment (which in practice means access).
A sustainable balance
Under a convention known as the Sandford Principle, if those two aspects clash and cannot be resolved, conservation is supposed to take precedence. This is based on the logic that if the landscape isn?t conserved then, ultimately, it won?t be there to enjoy. So it?s a matter of achieving a sustainable balance. Unlike American or African National Parks, which are state-owned wildernesses, our UK National Parks are privately owned cultural landscapes, shaped by farmers, graziers, foresters and gamekeepers over many generations. This distinction escapes many visitors, brought up on a television diet of wildlife films. Moreoever, most of our wildlife lives ? and most live quarry shooting takes place ? outside protected landscapes, on ordinary farmland.
I have seen research indicating that one of the main barriers to visiting the countryside is concern about where we can go, and whether we will be shouted at if we get it wrong. This is despite the fact that the UK now has more official public access ? in the form of the right to roam over mapped access land, public rights of way and permissive paths ? than at any time within living memory. As one poster, Granville, wrote on the Shooting Times website forum recently, ?there is a perception of being locked out of the great British countryside. He is right.
The crucial problem is that we are a crowded country. Indeed, England (as opposed to the UK) has recently overtaken Holland to become the most densely populated country in Europe. This has implications for fieldsports. As far as I know, no pack of hounds closed as a result of the Hunting Act, but a number have closed or merged because their hunt countries ceased to be viable due to new housing estates and roads.
We need to achieve the right balance in the countryside between competing interests. If we don?t, then activities such as shooting will suffer at the hands of those policymakers who refuse to accept that it helps to maintain landscapes that are enjoyed by the public at large.
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