The search for a new national park for England has been announced as part of a plan for nature set out by Rishi Sunak.
Critics have said the environmental package – which includes woodlands and food production covering 200,000 hectares of land – will be unable to hide the “true state” of the UK’s natural landscapes.
The scheme has received a lukewarm response because government funding for nationals parks has fallen by 40% in real terms in just the last decade, reported the Campaign For National Parks.
Critics also pointed to the state of the UK’s waterways, rivers and coastlines with increasing levels of sewage dumping, which the government has admitted is “unacceptable”.
Earlier this year, England’s environmental watchdog, the Office For Environmental Protection, strongly condemned the government’s record on climate and nature – finding the Tories were not “demonstrably” on track to meet a single target.
As part of the new project, an allocation of £15m will be shared by England’s 10 existing national parks and 34 National Landscapes.
Natural England will assess a list of possible national park sites, while there are plans to create two community forests in Derbyshire and the Tees Valley.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled the efforts “to protect these much-loved spaces” ahead of Thursday’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai.
But shadow environment secretary Steve Reed said the Tories had been overseeing the “destruction” of the British countryside.
He added: “Under their watch, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and waterways face the highest levels of illegal sewage discharges in our history.”
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Mike Clancy, the general secretary of the Prospect trade union, which represents a range of professions including engineers and scientists, also highlighted the conditions of the UK’s waterways – and Tory funding cuts to the Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs.
“Bold-sounding initiatives can’t hide the true state of our rivers, shorelines and natural landscapes,” he said.
“Without adequate funding for the guardians of our natural environment, there is little chance the government’s rhetoric will be able to meet its stated ambition.”
In August, environmentalist and author Guy Shrubsole, who lives near Dartmoor National Park, told Sky News “we need a balance of areas” to allow habitats to thrive.
He said: “Our national parks are in a pretty shocking state for nature… they’ve actually found that on average, they’re in a worse condition than nature is, outside our national parks.”
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