Like all rural areas, National Parks are currently facing unprecedented changes and challenges, ranging from fundamental shifts in farm support payments and land use, declining biodiversity and lack of infrastructure, to severe storms as climate change affects weather patterns, which have tested the resilience of our rural areas.
Changes are being made to phase out direct support payments to farmers by 2027 and replacing them with a new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme based on the principle of offering “public money for public goods” – such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, thriving wildlife, mitigation and adaptation to climate change. This transition could be a significant driver of landscape change in Northumberland National Park.
We also recognise the many challenges facing rural communities including an aging population, loss of services, transport and connectivity (including power, mobile coverage and broadband), a lack of jobs and difficult access to further education and training. There is a very real threat of our communities getting left further behind compared to urban areas, when 10% have no access to mains power, and many more have slow or unreliable mobile and broadband networks. Supporting our communities is at the heart of this Plan.
As we emerge from the pandemic, increasing numbers of visitors are coming to explore our beautiful landscapes and heritage, with all the health and wellbeing benefits spending time in nature can provide. However, this is not without its challenges, and highlights further the scale of investment needed in transport, digital and physical infrastructure which provide visitors with a warm welcome, the right facilities and services to enjoy their time within and beyond the National Park boundaries. This plan sets out to make the National Park more accessible and welcoming to everyone, and to ensure that future generations will appreciate and cherish it for a long time to come.
At the same time, we need to protect and enhance the tranquillity, dark skies and natural beauty that visitors tell us are amongst their main reasons for coming.
The Covid pandemic has greatly accelerated how we use digital technologies to live and work in completely new ways. How we access our culture and our many unique heritage sites has also changed and will continue to evolve. This could present exciting opportunities to create and grow businesses and develop our tourism offer and how we provide access to the Park.
To meet the challenge of climate change, our ambition is to reach net zero as a National Park Authority by 2030, and for the National Park as an area by 2040. Our long term aim is for the National Park to become a carbon sink, absorbing more carbon than we emit, and thereby becoming an important asset for the wider region and nation.
We will aim to do this by giving nature the space to recover, protecting peatlands, halting the decline in biodiversity, allowing watercourses to support nature corridors and alleviate floods, whilst actively playing our part to create more wooded areas. Given the lack of public transport and capacity within energy and power networks, combined with energy-inefficient buildings, this is a massive challenge, which will require visitors, communities, farmers, landowners, businesses, universities, local authorities, Government and many others to play their part in finding solutions.
If our communities are to not only survive but thrive, ways must also be found to improve and create opportunities to strengthen our infrastructure. The provision of high-speed digital connectivity, the introduction of carbon neutral ways to travel, heat and power our homes, finding balance in how we use land to grow food or timber whilst also making space for nature will all create the right environment for businesses to set up and grow. We must also find ways to provide employment for our young people, conserve and celebrate our heritage, and showcase our landscape and culture to visitors.
These are the broad challenges that the National Park currently faces and that we would like to start and tackle, working together to achieve these desired goals. We have seen from our work in drafting this Plan that local partnerships are strong, delivering high quality projects, and that there are many opportunities for all by sharing good practice. Our partners have highlighted the role that the National Park as an Authority plays in advocacy and pulling partners together to achieve shared goals, and this will be essential to how we address the future challenges and opportunities set out in this Management Plan.
 2011 Resident survey; 2018 Visitor survey
 UK Biodiversity Indicators 2021 revised (publishing.service.gov.uk)