Business ploughs a green furrow to safeguard national parkland

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The Independent Online
The mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington and the environmentalist Sir Jonathon Porritt are backing a radical green agenda for Britain's national parks involving private funding for energy-saving and landscape-protection schemes, chemical-free farming and reduced car use.

As the parks struggle with budget cuts and a myriad of commercial and people pressures, the Council for National Parks (CNP) - the charity which fought for their establishment nearly 50 years ago - is trying to set a fresh agenda for England and Wales's finest countryside. It wants the 11 park authorities to work more closely with companies to head off damaging changes and for Whitehall departments to demonstrate their own "duty of care". It also repeats the demand for national park status for the South Downs and the New Forest.

Sir Chris, the CNP president, stressed the importance of getting across messages which made "links between urban lifestyles and the impacts on beautiful rural areas". He added that the CNP had been trying to get board- level commitments to national parks.

Sir Jonathon warned that the pressures of modern lifestyles could bring "dramatic and irreversible changes to the landscape, wildlife and cultural heritage of the parks".

Damaging trends identified by the CNP study included power projects, such as hydro-electric schemes in Snowdonia, lines of pylons and even the proliferation of wind turbines, intensive farming and the pollution of water with nitrates, quarrying - particularly of limestone for road aggregates - and Army war games.

The council wants to see the spread of schemes similar to those in the Norfolk Broads, where Anglian Water and the detergent industry are helping fund the UK's largest lake clean-up project; in the Lake District, where North West Water is helping tackle nutrient enrichment; and in Northumberland where Northern Electric is partnering a pounds 40,000 energy-saving scheme. In the Peak District, electricity companies have spent pounds 1m over the last 15 years on a 50-50 deal with the park to bury power cables underground in areas where pylons would be particularly ugly. Meanwhile water companies are paying half the salaries of a number of rangers, in exchange for their logo appearing on park vehicles.

Privately, national park officials argue that much of this has been on their agenda for many years but point out that companies are keener to offer logo-blazing sponsorship with a good PR pay-back than they are to accept curbs on quarrying and unsightly buildings.

Officials also criticised the council for failing to find new solutions to the problems of coping with the millions of visitors and their cars. Subsidised public transport systems have been operating in some parks for decades.

The Government estimates that more than 100 million visits are made to national parks each year. But a recent study by consultants Deloitte & Touche concluded that the annual figure for the Peak District alone could be 31 million - and most travel by car. The Lake District runs the Peak a close second.