A Case for Preserving National Parks as Quiet Places

DSCF2250As keen walkers and lovers of the natural world, my partner and I seek out those remaining areas of the UK where we can enjoy the landscape and wildlife, in tranquillity.   On the Pennine Way, approaching the summit of Great Shunner Fell, it feels as if you are on top of the world.  All that can be heard is the rasping of wind through grasses, its gusting past your ears or the alarm calls of ground-nesting birds.  The valley bottoms of this precious national park are hidden from view, far below and the only people encountered are long-distance walkers or an intrepid few with the energy and appetite to explore the windswept uplands.  No tarmac roads means no cars and therefore an escape from the noise and air pollutants of the combustion engine – at least for a while.

In centuries past, prior to the landgrab by the powerful in society, known euphemistically as the Enclosure Movement, common land existed for the benefit of everyone.  Today, those who are not ‘landed’ rely upon the few remaining green spaces available to all.  National parks were formally designated to preserve in perpetuity the landscape and traditional ways of living and working, by demarcating unspoilt places of natural beauty to be held in trust for the nation.   The demand for such places means that millions of visits are made to them each year, demonstrating how great is the interest in and need for the benefits which they can bring.  Many studies1, 2, 3 have shown that mental wellbeing is enhanced by contact with the natural world.  My own experience accords with the research findings.  I feel a physical change in my body when we arrive in the National Park and I first glimpse the great contours of green interspersed with pale limestone, rising to high horizons in all directions.  It is as if my heart is literally lifted and my eyes soothed before a vision of the natural colours and materials I was evolved to look upon.

Of course, there are many environmentalists, including the likes of George Monbiot, who argue powerfully that national parks are too manicured and insufficiently biodiverse to be truly wild and a good case is made for their overhaul.  In the meantime, however, let us not underestimate the value of what we already have and ensure we protect the parks against sources of immediate threat.   I refer particularly to the increased presence of 4×4 off-roading along green lanes and granting of permits for scrambling bike circuits.

During recent visits to the Yorkshire Dales National Park we have encountered convoys of 4x4s, engines revving to negotiate deeply undulating bridleways as they gouge ever-deeper ruts in the ground.  Greatly dismayed we were too, when faced with a fleet of thrill-seeking quad bikers tearing along the Cam High Road, in Wensleydale, an ancient road built by the Romans where the original road surface survives in places.  And just for the record – these were no farmers rounding up sheep or delivering feed to their flocks.

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The Roman road known as Cam High Road

On another occasion, in Upper Swaledale which is served by no metalled road, the tranquillity of the place was wrecked by the whine of scrambling bikes scaling the fellside before descending steep gradients to race back to the start of another circuit.  Are not those activities which involve noise, pollution and even the erosion of historical artefacts incompatible with the ethos of the national parks?

Of course, it is possible to argue that national parks are victims of their own success given their popularity.  However, the scarce resources we have exist to be shared by all and there are some activities such as driving and riding motorbikes which can be done anywhere –  even within the boundaries of the national parks – on established highways.  And how those vehicles make their presence known on the roads and in the towns and villages!  You only have to be on the approaches to Hawes or Kirby Lonsdale to feel threatened by the would-be, death-defying bikers or to be offended by the roaring engines in their multitudes as they congregate.

For those people who need peace and quiet, respite from work and stress, is it not time to keep the fells, footpaths, byways, bridleways and green lanes for walking or simply being immersed in the natural world?

 References – accessed 15/04/2018
1 https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wellbeing/news/a180/mental-health-benefits-nature-outdoors-study/

2 http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/4513819616346112

3 https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/ecotherapy/benefits-of-ecotherapy/#.WtN5QJch3IU

 

 

 

 

 

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Life Sentence

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Did you see this?
Stripped of her dignity, she was.
A former beauty,
Scarred and disfigured
From beatings and rape.
Used as a plaything, it says,
Forced to go on giving him what he wanted:
His rights
His daily bread.
Her body driven over and left for dead.
In the end, she sets fire to herself.

And the brute that’s done this?
He’s gone down.
Reckons he won’t be able to live without her…
Only himself to blame.

 

© Angela Webb 2018

 

Who Cares About Spring?

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Image by David Adams Photos

‘Oh to be in England, now that April’s there’.

So wrote Robert Browning in 1845 when, having settled in Italy, he reflected on what it would be like back home in the Spring.  It was the natural landscape that he imagined and alluded to, where change was heralded by the signs of new life in trees, plants and animals.   At the time, despite the Industrial Revolution unfolding apace, people were still immersed in ancient traditions and seasonal observances.

But what is it that Spring means to those of us living in Britain today?  I fear that it has little to do with oceanic feelings of wonder in response to the beauty and power of the natural world.  I suspect the usual associations to Spring are more likely to be:

Changing the clocks
Shopping for this season’s fashions
Donning shorts and flip flops on the first sunny day
Heading for the airport for the ‘Great British Getaway’
Time to set up the barbecue
Chocolate eggs
The start of the wedding season.

While it might be a little different for those in rural communities, our largely urbanised society has less reason to marvel at the changes occurring in the natural world in Spring.  I mean, why would you even notice the cycle of life in flora and fauna if you live in a city or a town?  Green spaces that used to provide some counterbalance to concrete and metal are falling victim to speculative development.  Trees that line suburban streets are being felled to make way for increased traffic.

So why, having grown up in such surroundings, would you have cause to think that plants and animals are of any relevance to you?  Still less, why might you ever imagine that your life depended on the health and survival of the natural environment?

There are certain points of reference that demand our attention.  We are preoccupied by the insistent pull of social media, online shopping, fast food, celebrity gossip, football, coveting the latest electronic device, getting a ‘good job’, booking a bargain city break.

And the tragedy is that no connection appears to be made between these habits and climate change, the extinction of the white rhino or the state of the oceans.

It is an artificial lifestyle that we have manufactured, increasingly reliant upon gadgets and synthetic materials that we don’t need.   We expect immediate gratification without thought for the consequences.

Meanwhile our dear, precious home, this one Earth which gives us every last thing we have is steadily and rapidly dying.  With reckless disregard, we continue to plunder, pollute and kill its fragile balance.

I prefer to think that we really do not know rather than that we really don’t care.  Who in their right mind would kill the one on whom their survival depends?  But whatever the cause of the situation, it seems that the task of the utmost urgency is somehow to recover our collective right mind.