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31
May

Help Save Our Rivers!

Kayaking has given me so much. From friendships cemented with epics in far-flung places, to a way out of inner city London as a youngster to experience a different way and pace of life in the French Alps. It’s provided me with a sport I am good at (I definitely didn’t excel at football at school!) a passion for the great outdoors and a love for being in new and exciting places, as well as a career sharing all this with the next generation of paddlers.

pic by Tim Burne

First Ledge on the Wnion, a North Wales classic run. Pic by Tim Burne.

I currently live and work in North Wales, in one of the most accessible National Parks in the United Kingdom. In the area we have some of the most famous whitewater rivers in the UK. Boaters cut their teeth paddling the Llugwy and Glaslyn, develop on the Upper Conwy and Wnion and test themselves on the Ogwen, Mawddach and Fairy Glen. There is a river for everyone to enjoy, and this is one of the things I love about the area.

Like most paddlers I mainly spend my life ignoring politics, and campaigns, but my eyes were opened a couple of years ago when a multinational corporation tried to dam one of the most iconic British Rivers, dig through two kilometres of ancient woodland and build a small scale hydro scheme that breached several environmental guidelines and would have caused unknown damage to an exceptionally fragile ecosystem. This was stopped by people power alone, and being involved in this opened my eyes to how we can all make a difference.

The Afon Cynfal. A rite of Passage!? Pic by Tim Burne

It is these experiences that have caused me to stop and write a passionate plea to all of you. I believe in our collective power, and want to help to protect these places that have given me so much so I can share them with generations to come.

The Welsh Government are about to debate adopting a new report detailing how all the National Parks in Wales are to be managed in the future. The Future Landscapes Wales (FLW) report was leaked in draft form in March, the week before assembly members were due to debate adopting it (Note – prior to having even seen the report, Assembly Members were due to adopt the report – that should set alarm bells ringing…), and a huge public outcry was raised by saveourrivers and other conservation bodies, including the British Mountaineering Council and the Snowdonia Society. Cue backtracking by the Welsh Government, postponement of the debate and assurances that the report was only in draft form.

There was such an outcry over the initial draft as it failed to mention the Sandford Principle, a key conservation safeguard, enshrined in law as one of the defining characteristics of a National Park. The final version, despite assurances to the contrary, also fails to mention this key principle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the already murky history of the FLW, the Welsh Assembly has timetabled the debate to adopt the report on the 6th of June, two days before the General Election, whilst attention is elsewhere.

Pic from Save Our Rivers / Patagonia

If the Future Landscapes Wales proposals go forward unchallenged, we will be heading not only for the destruction of the purpose of National Parks, as we have known them for over 60 years, but also leave the Welsh Parks without any legal protection from unadvised development.  Without a clear restatement of the Sandford Principle, and without a clear commitment to the conservation of landscape, natural beauty, and wildlife, the National Parks in Wales will be relegated to a lower tier of Protected Landscapes as defined internationally by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Welsh National Parks could become “hub” areas for the development of intensive tourism, renewable energy, and economic development, at the cost of protected landscapes and the promotion of quiet enjoyment that the national parks were established for.

Multiple hydro schemes in all of our rivers anyone? Canalisation of rivers, as in the Alps? Even more limited access to the rivers, as commercial interests close out responsible independent adventure tourists? We can’t let this happen. Our National Parks surely mean more than a badge, a marketing brand, and a commercial asset to be exploited by faceless multinationals.

Pic from Save Our Rivers / Patagonia

YOU CAN DO SOMETHING TO HELP!

Action is needed before 6 June!

 Actions if you live in Wales:

Write to your five Assembly Members (that’s your constituency Member and all four of your regional Members) and ask them to help.

Click on this map to get the email addresses of your Assembly Members.

 Tell them:

  • Why you love the National Parks of Wales – Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast and how you benefit from their existence
  • That you hope they will be seen to stand up for National Parks in the debate on 6 June, which will be broadcast live on senedd.tv

Ask them to:

  • Stand up for proper protection, management, and resources for National Parks and AONBs in the debate on 6 June
  • Make landscape, natural beauty, wildlife, quiet enjoyment and cultural heritage central to the debate
  • Insist on a Sandford-type conservation principle so that, when there is an unavoidable conflict of purposes, conservation has the higher priority
  • Insist on full public consultation for any proposed changes to the purposes of National Parks
  • Point out that key conservation and recreation organisations, including the BMC, the Wildlife Trusts, Alliance for National Parks (Cymru) and many others are unable to support the FLW report because it excludes the Sandford Principle.

Make your email short and positive. Assembly Members are genuinely extremely busy people and short emails are more likely to be taken notice of.

 Actions if you live outside Wales:

Write to Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs  at [email protected] and copy your message to the other party spokespeople for environment – Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru) [email protected] and  David Melding (Conservative) [email protected].

Tell her: How much and why National Parks in Wales matter to you.

Ask her: To show that she understands the importance of protecting, conserving and managing our last big areas of unspoilt countryside. Ask her to move beyond the narrow and old-fashioned view that getting more benefits from National Parks means ‘freeing them up’ to more development and more concrete.

Thank you so much for doing your bit to protect our National Parks.

You can read more about the campaign to save our rivers here.