Peak District National Park leaders welcome one-off Defra grant but warn of long-term budget pressures
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On Wednesday, March 1, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced a £4.4million package of support to be split equally between ten national parks.
PDNPA chief executive Phil Mulligan said: “We welcome the news of this one-off Defra funding package which will provide an equal benefit across England’s national parks at perhaps the most challenging time financially, and operationally, in our history.”
The grant funding is not limited or restricted to any specific project or area of the authority’s work, meaning it can be used to support services such as visitor centres, park rangers and trail maintenance.
Announcing the support package, Defra said it was important to safeguard “the vital role that our national parks play in protecting our precious wildlife and landscapes and the importance they have for tourism, the regional economy, and public access.”
Environment minister Thérèse Coffey added: “Our national parks are the jewel in our cherished landscapes. They support thriving communities, economies, wildlife and are important places for public health and wellbeing.
“This additional £4.4m of funding will support the important work that national park authorities do across our countryside, and allow local people and visitors to enjoy these much loved spaces.”
However, as reported last month, PDNPA is currently undertaking a major review of its operations and contemplating the closure of visitor centres and reducing its workforce.
Although the Defra grant may alleviate some immediate concerns, but the longer-term picture remains uncertain.
Mr Mulligan said: “Whilst a significant sum, it still represents less than ten per-cent of our annual Defra grant which continues to diminish in real-terms year-on-year due to an operating environment with continued inflationary and other pressures.
“As a result, the funding will simply underpin some of the activities we have already undertaken in 2022 and so far in 2023 and, in turn, will support our programme of future investment as the authority seeks to become a more affordable, financially resilient organisation.”
He added: “Provided as a one-off grant, the funding will not be able to support some of the necessary ongoing savings the authority will still need to make in the months and years ahead.”
The news was also welcomed by Andrew McCloy, chair of both PDNPA and National Parks England, but he sounded a similar warning over the budget pressures being faced by all authorities.
He said: “National parks account for almost ten per cent of England’s land area and have ambitious plans to deliver on Government targets for nature, climate and public access.
“We have been calling for the powers and resources needed to achieve this ambition. It’s vital that today’s announcement for this one-off funding is backed up by a commitment to support our national parks in the long term.”
At the same time as the grant announcement, Defra confirmed it would be extending the Farming in Protected Landscapes scheme by a further year, until March 2025, opening up more opportunities for farmers and land managers in the Peak District to apply for investment in projects focused on climate resilience, biodiversity enhancement, conservation or public engagement.