The beautiful part of Britain so dismayed at being overlooked that it declared itself an unofficial national park

The South Pennines Park isn't a legally enshrined National Park with a capital-N and a capital-P, but its passionate creators believe that it'll be no worse for all that — and could even show the way forward for protecting our most beautiful areas.

Rejected for National Park  status in the 1940s and a subject of discussion in Parliament again in 2019, can-do Northerners have taken matters into their own hands by ‘self-declaring’ the South Pennines Park.

This area of 460 square miles in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire includes the West Pennines and Brontë Country around Haworth, and councils, private-sector bodies and other stakeholders — who have been working together to secure funding for the past 40 years, eventually forming the company Pennine Prospects 15 years ago, which generated £45 million for the area — have come together to create a new vision that will contribute to Government targets to enhance the natural environment, biodiversity, jobs and human engagement.

‘It is an area of stunning scenery; a spectacular ever-evolving landscape that has been moulded and shaped by the people, the packhorses, footsteps of yesteryear; rich in industrial and cultural heritage,’ explains Helen Noble, chief executive of South Pennines Park.

‘There are 660,000 people living within its boundaries and 8 million within half an hour and you’ve got to take parks to people. The need for a park was absolutely clear because the South Pennines Park region needs a champion at national level to fight for it, protect it and seek sustainable investment.’

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‘To be clear,’ she continues, ‘we’re not trying to compete with National Parks and AONBs, rather to sit alongside them, to complement and augment. We’re the only upland landscape in England that is not designated — and that’s ok.

‘As we are not bound by legislation — in the same way that regional parks and NP cities aren’t — we’re more adaptable, entrepreneurial and agile when it comes to meeting the challenges of the day, be they climate, wellbeing, wildlife or community related.

‘Our designation is people-led and Nature-focused, capable of building the resilience of our landscape and communities through both public and private funding.’

Organisers believe the park’s novel management approach — with a smaller, high-functioning board, collaborative membership and adaptable business model — will inform the current model for National Parks and AONBs, as supported by the 2019 Glover Report. ‘We hope this blueprint will be rolled out not only nationally but internationally,’ they say.

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