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."
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 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.