Wales

National parks 'need clear direction', report author says

Brecon Beacons
Image caption Wales has three national parks including the Brecon Beacons

A clear decision is needed on the future management of Wales' national parks, the co-author of a 2015 review of protected landscapes has said.

Dr Ruth Williams said ministers needed to provide direction "at a time when Wales is trying to promote itself more than ever on the global stage".

A response to the review's findings has been delayed after several conservation groups criticised its contents.

Ministers said the report was a draft and discussions were ongoing.

A working group, chaired by Lord Elis-Thomas and involving figures from Wales' national parks and councils, as well as business and environment groups, had been considering how to implement the findings.

The review had called for national parks and other protected beauty spots to do more to "foster vibrant rural communities", attracting green businesses and affordable housing.

A draft of the report, obtained by BBC Wales, stated "its desire is to unlock the full potential of all landscapes in Wales", and that national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty have a pivotal role to play in the future prosperity of the country.

The Alliance for National Parks Cymru, which includes a number of conservation bodies, branded the draft "a mess" and said it made no mention of the main statutory purpose of national parks being to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area.

Image caption Dr Ruth Williams says the report needs to be clearer about the next steps

Dr Williams, an environmental consultant who has previously held senior roles with both the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and the Wye Valley area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), said she too was concerned at the omission.

"Unless we have that fundamental conservation safeguard then any additional development may very well kill off the goose that lays the golden egg," she said.

"There is a risk that if the conservation safeguard is removed then we would lose that international flagship for Wales."

Dr Williams also said the report needed to be clearer about who would take charge.

"There has been review upon review and inevitably this report is now recommending certain things have further reviews," she said.

"I think the Welsh Government now needs to make a decision on behalf of these really important assets that we have, and either say, it's business as usual, you're doing a great job, or to say very clearly but very carefully - here are the new steps that we're going to take but building in those safeguards."

More funding would be required to implement changes, Dr Williams added, pointing out that unless protected landscapes were well managed "we're actually going to be devaluing these very special assets".

Designated landscapes cover about 25% of Wales - with three national parks and five AONBs.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "It is important to remember this is a draft version of the report.

"The Future Landscapes Wales Programme has been highly collaborative in nature and has involved a wide range of partners, who have contributed to the discussions and the drafting.

"These discussions are ongoing as a final report is prepared for publication before the summer recess."

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