Speaking with The Sunday Times over the weekend, Cox said national parks were not delivering for wildlife and were often in worse condition than areas outside the parks. “They aren’t being monitored, lack funding and have no clear purpose,” he said.
There are 15 designated national parks in Great Britain – 10 in England, three in Wales and two in Scotland, covering nearly 22,000 square kilometres. They were created alongside national nature reserves and sites of specific scientific interest through the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
In response to the Sunday Times, DEFRA said only 32% of protected nature reserves in national parks were in good condition, and that there have been “widespread, long-term declines in many species”.
Funding for the management of the parks has been slashed by £6m since 2010 to £48m in 2018, according to figures revealed by environment minister Thérese Coffey in parliament last week.
Cox blamed government policy as the main factor responsible for wildlife losses, such as those encouraging the use of chemicals and the intensification of livestock and crops.
Trevor Beattie, head of the South Downs National Park authority, said national parks were little more than planning authorities and called for more powers.
He told ENDS: “The greatest barrier to our ability to improve wildlife in national parks is a lack of legal powers to act to restore and protect habitats. Our planning powers are an important, but by no means the only tool in our pursuit of our purposes and duty. As we do not own any of the land, an additional ability to ensure action is taken to positively improve habitats and wildlife would enable us to fight harder for nature.”