National Parks; for the people?

England’s national parks are rated amongst the best in the world. They are spaces that are open to all for free to come and enjoy, exercise, and learn about the history and ecology of the area. Since 1951 these spaces have been set aside and conserved, away from the development projects that have so often changed the face of the cities. They are spaces of retreat, tranquillity and peace away from the noise and crowds found in many of Britain’s city. We should rightfully be proud of these spaces and enjoy them to their full. After all, it was the actions of our class in the mass Kinder Scout trespass of 1932 which paved the way for our public rights to roam the countryside. It was this that gave us these parks for conservation.

The benefits off things like fell walking for physical and mental health is well document. Aside from the obvious calorie burning, muscle building ascents and descents, there is the profound effect on mental health that exercise can provide – especially in places of solitude and natural beauty. At a time where more and more young people are suffering from poor mental and physical health, we could be looking to these spaces. Working class youth could see a side to the country they might not have even known existed. It is a shame that this isn’t being done anywhere near enough.

If you were to go to the Lake District, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a place exclusively for the elderly, or the well off. This strikes me as ridiculous. There is no entrance fee to use these parks and they are quite literally open for all. Why is it that the national parks have such a ‘closed’ atmosphere? For one, we can’t ignore the poor public transport into the areas themselves. Trains and buses with irregular service and high ticket costs severely limit the ability of those who cannot drive. Since fewer and fewer young people drive these days, fewer and fewer end up visiting. This illustrates a flaw with both the current public transport system, and the price that gets put on public transport as a service. A truly good public transport system would operate to provide not services that spin profits for the bus companies, but gear itself to the comfort and convenience of passengers. Needless to say, this is far from the reality with the privately owned bus companies today. Public transport routes from the cities to national parks should be made as easy as possible – publicly owned and run and made as cheap as possible.

The last decade of Tory cuts has massively reduced the chance for young people to truly enjoy our national park. Whereas in the past there might have been funded youth clubs that would have taken children and young adults on excursions and day trips out to the countryside, many have found themselves underfunded, with many closing down since the 2010 general election. This has created a vacuum for people to provide those opportunities, one which should be filled by community run groups like 0161 Community in Manchester. it’s vital that our young people get to enjoy these spaces, for their health and well-being, and it’s a sore waste if they aren’t given the chance to.

NB: 0161festival.com is a platform for sharing a variety of articles about sports, arts, politics, history and Manchester. 

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