national parks of the uk: Why we must spare a thought for britain's own forgotten wonders By Alex Koscian

The United Kingdom is home to over 64 million people, 69 cities, and the fifth best national economy in the world. These colossal figures are unlikely to shock anyone who lives here, however a fact that may come as a surprise to many, is that spread across Britain are 15 National Parks, occupying a higher percentage of the country than urban areas. From northern Scotland to the southern coast of England, “Britain’s breathing spaces” offer areas of natural magnificence entirely unique to their specific location, and unlike anywhere else in the world. National prides such as these should be cherished beyond comprehension; however recent years have seen a substantial decline in empathy toward our National Parks, and subsequently a diminishing respect from councils and large business owners.

Glenmore, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

In October of 2015, Sirius Minerals where controversially granted mining access just west of Whitby, on the coast of the North Yorkshire Moors. Expected to be completed by 2021, the mine is predicted to become one of the world’s leading fertilizer producers, aiming to produce a staggering 10-20 million tonnes of potash each year. “Potash” is the term given to various mined minerals containing potassium (the word potassium is derived from potash), with Sirius Minerals seeking polyhalite specifically. It is not the fruits of this mining endeavour that spark outrage in opponents, however, it is the trend that a development of this scale may create.

A National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) conceived in 2012 outlined the protection of our National Parks, allowing large scale developments within the parks in exceptional circumstances and in the public’s interest, only. According to the CNP (Campaign for National Parks), the potash mine did not pass the development tests laid out in the NPPF:

“[Sirius Minerals] failed to demonstrate a national need for their product and did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate why alternative sites outside the National Park were not suitable or to justify their claims for exceptional circumstances. Nor did they demonstrate that they could satisfactorily alleviate the environmental damage to the National Park.”

The National Parks are home to some of the UK's most phenomenal views. Industrial developments would inevitably spoil these aesthetic marvels, tarnishing the landscape forever.

Levisham, North Yorkshire Moors

Brimham, Yorkshire Dales

Loch Morlich, Cairngorms

If companies are being allowed to develop in the National Parks without the proper justification the NPPF requires, then what hope do they have? Each of the 15 parks have their own unique splendour, sporting views and natural majesties simply unimaginable before visiting. It is the aesthetic of the parks, typically, that grants them the tourism, promotion, and ultimately income, that they do. Therefore, the development of large scale eyesores will directly affect the future of their residing locations – regardless of the underlying environmental factors that of course should be considered – by diminishing one of the major reasons for their upkeep: their natural beauty.

According to the official governmental website for the National Parks, it is the wildlife and the scenery which, unsurprisingly, is the key factor in attracting tourism. As well as the obvious issue mentioned above, there could be another grim knock-on effect for having less tourism in the parks. When there is a profound interest from the public on a certain area of the world, there is inevitable pressure on local councils to keep the land as it naturally is. If that interest were to drop, however, the local councils will be under less pressure to preserve the areas, and could seek a more ‘economically attractive’ development in its place.

So WHat Exactly are the risks?

In addition to the recently proposed development of Sirius Minerals’ potash mine in the North Yorkshire Moors, fracking has also been given the go ahead in the Parks. Fracking is the process of extracting oil or gas from deep within the ground via a process of injecting high pressure liquids into rocks. After proving revolutionary in the USA for years, fracking has recently become the most sought after gas extraction method for many energy companies in the UK, too. It enables the company to access gas and oil that was previously unreachable using any previous methods of extraction. Pro-frackers also argue that it could potentially create thousands of jobs – an argument that could be seen as very persuasive to business owners and the public alike.

The environmental repercussions of fracking, however, surely outweigh the positives. Firstly, before the act of fracking is even initiated, countless tons of water must be transported to the site, at its own environmental penalty. The process itself has a high chance of risk, seldom considered when initial proposals are set into motion. The reason for this ignorance, is no doubt, the fact we cannot physically see it. If a leak occurs, methane – one of the gases most responsible for our global climate change – escapes into the atmosphere at the cost of the entire planet. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in today’s society remain ignorant to the facts if they are not there in plain sight, literally. As long as gas remains invisible, the problems are non-existent. The fracking process also contains potentially toxic chemicals at almost every stage. If any errors occur during the process, these chemicals can easily leak into the natural environment, poisoning local wildlife, killing plants, and even tainting local water supplies – something that will have a major effect on local residents, in addition to the environment.

What’s more, is that staggeringly, fracking has no evidence to suggest it will even lower energy costs, at all. Contrastingly, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, have been almost entirely shunned by the government in recent years, despite hard evidence suggesting that further development could lead to us becoming a country ran solely on solar. As for those thousands of jobs a proposed fracking site could create, well they could very easily be conceived still with further renewable energy developments. Yet the government and major energy corporations remain hooked on their fossil fuel needle, hell bent on extracting each and every last drop from the helpless planet’s withering core.

Another threat faced by not only the National Parks, but by the United Kingdom as a whole, is deforestation. The term is often associated with South American and West African countries; the deforestation currently occuring in the Amazon Rainforest is an injustice the whole world appears against (yet, the problem still persists to get worse by the year). However, trees in the UK are being felled at an alarming rate, with more old trees facing the chop than new trees are being planted. Environmentally conscious Brits are often reassured by the statistic that only 7% of the country is considered urban, meaning built upon, and essentially, concreted over. That leaves 93% of our isles left to its own devices, free and natural, under the omnipotent thumb of mother nature herself, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, this is far from the case. While only a very moderate 7% of the nation resides under cities, a staggering 70% of the country is used for agricultural purposes. A farmer’s field of crops aside his free range herd of cattle - separated only by a row of shrubbery - may seem serene and blissfully environmental, however farmland is almost as anti-nature as cities themselves. A number of species of plants and animals do thrive in these areas, but regrettably they do not account for the countless numbers of species that have been compromised at the land’s expense. What would once have been vast meadows and dense forests, is now only emulated in the thin line of shrubs outlining fields, and the sporadically found trees. The lonely old oak found at the foot of a crop field providing a fitting metaphor for vast reduction of woodland lost in its lifetime.

Pictured: Glenmore Forest Park, Cairngorms

Earth has a relatively simple reparatory system when compared with the complexity of the human lung. In short, a single breath takes 365 days – one year – as trees absorb noxious carbon dioxide, and release fresh, life-giving oxygen. With this in mind, the importance of trees to our planet cannot be ignored, and no feat of human engineering has (yet) managed to replicate the gift given to us by trees. And why would we need to – evolution has provided us with the perfect atmosphere-cleansing device, found plentifully across the globe in almost every different habitat.

It is vitally important that we as a species do not continue to fell trees at the current rate, for we are suffocating ourselves in our own home, by increasing the amount of Co2 being pumped into the atmosphere every year, while we decrease the number of trees. No superior scientific breakthrough is required to buck this trend, we simply must contradict the current correlation by decreasing Co2 production, while increasing the amount of trees. Fortunately, there is an upside. Many local councils in the UK, particularly in the National Parks, have begun tree planting programs, spreading empty land with new trees, creating our forests of the future.

Pictured: Aviemore, Cairngorms

Environmentalist and self-proclaimed advocate for outdoor activities, Alex Fisher, spoke to us about his personal thoughts and experiences relating to the National Parks, their threats, and the global threats our environment faces today.

To begin with, what were the initial reasons for you becoming passionate about the environment?

A.F: "It would have been when I was younger, my mum and dad were massive outdoor enthusiasts so our weekends normally consisted of going on walks or bike rides, then watching Countryfile or a David Attenborough documentary in the evening. And the older I got the more I realised how important and wonderful the outdoors are, and going off on my own adventures and learning about the environment more."

Have you ever visited any of Britain’s 15 National Parks?

A.F: "I live on the south-west side of Sheffield, so the Peak District is a 15 minute drive from where I live, and for such little effort and driving, you end up in a place of unbelievable beauty. Being that close to such an incredible place is very lucky and myself and most Sheffield’ers take advantage. I've Also been to the Yorkshire Dales recently and Dartmoor in Cornwall."

What would you say were the main reasons for your visits?

A.F: "The fact that the place appeals to me for its beauty and its mystery. You can do so much from having a little adventure to taking pictures. If you're having a bad day or bored you can just go for a drive or walk through these places and you suddenly feel so much better and cleansed."

Environmentalist Alex Fisher enjoying the views at Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire Dales National Park

In 2015, it was announced that fracking would be allowed in Britain’s National Parks. Would you consider yourself for or against this decision, and why?

A.F: "Against. The pros for fracking is that it would bring jobs and make our economy better, but its the loss of our beautiful countryside and landscape that get not only damaged, but ruined forever and cannot be rebuilt making it not resourceful at all. Its a disgusting dangerous process that should never have been considered in the first place."

What would you say are the main reasons that people should become more environmentally-conscious?

A.F: "The short answer is that we only get one shot to protect and maintain our environment and once its gone, its gone. Ecosystems will be wiped out and humanity will suffer immensely, and our beautiful land will become ruin."

The population of the UK is expected to increase by 10 million over the next 25 years. With such a rise in the amount of individuals, it is inevitable that there will be a need for more housing to be built – much of which will likely be developed on none-urban areas. What would you say to someone who argued that the environment must be compromised in order to sustain a healthy, happy, population with a good quality of living?

A.F: "I say that there needs to be a big plan and think ahead for the next century. They should expand smartly onto land, but only with the intention of creating sustainable living spaces that should be buildings. If we start to create housing going upwards instead of across then we can save so much land. If we start by building fantastic buildings for the population to live in that also can have trees and plants growing on the side, then it should be heavily invested in. [Singapore] I believe has already started doing this."

Through measurements taken through glacial ice, scientists have learnt that the atmosphere currently has more carbon dioxide in it than it has done for millennia – with the most increase coming over the last century or so (since the industrial revolution). Do you agree with many major political figures in saying that climate change is a myth?

A.F: "Climate change is not a myth. The only argument is that our climate for millions of years has changed many times before, but this time it's because we caused it, and it was not a natural occurrence. Its dangerous for political figures with so much influence to say these ideas."

Do you believe that anything can be done to stop it, or is it just an inevitability at this stage?

A.F: "I cant say, but it can definitely be halted, or the process slowed down if we changed our ways now and drastically."

The parks provide more than just a home for wildlife - tourists cherish the natural landscapes and outdoor activities on offer. From hiking to mountain biking, rock-climbing to kayaking, and photography to painting, each park offers tourists activities seldom available to them anywhere else in the country. (Click on images to view them larger)

The future of the National Parks in the UK are at a crossroads. A glance in one direction shows a morbid depiction of Grey Britain; a dystopian future in which the natural environment has been all but compromised. It began with just a few, small scale developments – the allowance of fracking, burgeoning of mines, and sporadic deforestation, slowly shrinking habitats and limiting biodiversity. These first actions became the pioneers for a story that the future generations simply cannot fathom, as they set a snowball effect in motion. A look across the once pure, serene valleys of the North Yorkshire Moors now depicts not woodland, but a littering of huge concrete constructions, the towering cranes reminiscent of the grand birches that once dwell here. The streams and rivers that run through the land, once supported whole ecosystems. But the veins of the country are now clogged – the clear, crisp waters now run an impenetrable shade of black. No life can survive on this; perhaps it is fortuitous that there is no longer any life that does depend upon it, for the resident wildlife has long since been upheaved. The National Park organisation disbanded some years ago, as more and more companies developed on their borders without proper justification. The land they protected were previously areas of natural significance, but they could only stand idly watching in horror, as “Britain’s Breathing Spaces” became ironically shrouded in an omnipresent, noxious smog of leaking gases.

It is not too late to avoid this dire fate, though. A look into the opposite direction at the crossroads visualises a very different future – but we must act quickly, for the lights have now turned from green to orange. The route is dwarfed by the enormity of the conifer forest running parallel to the road on one side, with a white-water river flowing on the other. There can be people seen on this side, too. They ooze happiness, as a group of friends carefully navigate the river in kayaks, while a family walking in the woodlands can be seen serendipitously encountering a young roe deer; their faces depicting a joy unlike any other.

It is time to make our decision. The paths are laid out before us, but the direction is yet to be confirmed. Do we choose Grey Britain, or do we choose GREAT Britain. A country of rolling green valleys. A country of vast meadows. A country of endless woodland. A country of pure waterways. A country brimming with flora and fauna. A country of life.

Just a tiny glimpse into the flora and fauna that can be found within the National Parks. (Click on images to view them larger)
Created By
Alex Koscian


All photography by Alex Koscian

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