Every schoolchild in England will have the chance to visit our inspiring National Parks at each stage of their education under plans announced today by Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss—as new figures reveal only 10% of schoolchildren currently have access to outdoor learning.

The new Plan for National Parks kickstarts a programme of activity to safeguard the future of these iconic landscapes, including by engaging young people throughout their education:

•from primary school, bringing more than 80,000 young people to visit National Parks and putting National Parks in the curriculum;
•at secondary school, doubling the number of youth volunteers in National Parks as part of the National Citizen Service;
•in their first steps to employment, developing a new apprenticeship standard and doubling apprenticeships in National Parks by 2020.

With over half of the population in England living within an hour of a National Park, the plan aims to increase the diversity of visitors from the UK—as well as promoting these world-class cultural attractions to a global audience through the GREAT campaign to drive international tourism. The Environment Secretary aims to build annual visitor numbers to 100 million, bringing around £440 million more to local businesses, adding to the £4 billion already generated by National Parks.

Speaking as she launched the new plan in the South Downs National Park, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:

“National Parks already welcome over 90 million visitors every year and make a major contribution to our vibrant rural economy—but too many children in our country are not aware of these natural wonders. I want to celebrate our inspiring natural environment so more visitors than ever before can enjoy the majestic Lakes, tranquil Northumberland, and the wide open spaces of the South Downs.

“Just as Yellowstone is known worldwide as one of America’s national treasures, our beautiful lakes and dales, moors and fells are a symbol of this country, part of our British identity—they are also huge public assets that should benefit as many people as possible.

“By instilling a love of nature in our young people and building thriving communities in every National Park, our plan will allow these unique spaces to flourish for generations to come.”

The Government protected National Parks’ budgets in the last spending review, committing over £350 million for English National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and forests. The new plan will further secure the future of these iconic protected landscapes, ensuring effective environmental management and growing a strong rural economy.

Along with work already underway to give schools in England one million native British trees to plant in their communities, National Parks will be a key part of a new Government campaign later this year to connect children with nature and the environment.

The plan also aims to harness the power of the natural environment to improve national wellbeing, after research published last month by Natural England showed taking part in nature-based activities can contribute to a reduction in anxiety, stress, and depression. It recommended greater use of ‘green care’ to help people suffering from mental ill health, including taking part in environmental conservation—for example, through innovative schemes in National Parks.

Jim Bailey, Chair of National Parks England said:

“Our National Parks are the jewels in the crown of our beautiful countryside and something to be very proud of. They are living, working landscapes that need careful stewardship, for the benefit and enjoyment by all. I look forward to working with the Government on delivering this exciting Plan for England’s National Parks.”

Margaret Paren, Chair of South Downs National Park, where the Environment Secretary launched the plan this morning, said:

“The South Downs National Park shows the wealth of resources on offer from our national parks—available for free to everyone—for teaching, local food and drink, and visiting and enjoying the great outdoors. We sit right on the doorstep of more than 800 schools across Sussex and Hampshire and are already supporting teachers to use the landscapes and past and current thriving communities of the South Downs National Park to inspire and help 74,000 pupils across the entire curriculum to reconnect with nature.”

The Government recently committed a package of support for the Lake District National Park after it was hit by recent floods, including £2m to repair rights of way and a new £1m campaign to show that the North of England is open for business and entice tourists back to the area. Tourism is the biggest sector in the UK’s rural economy, supporting three million jobs and generating £11bn every year for local communities.

As well as dramatic scenery and stunning views, visitors to the National Parks can enjoy the best of British food, with over a third of England’s diverse range of protected foods produced within National Parks—including Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese and Lakeland Herdwick Lamb. Promoting these foods and encouraging more producers to apply for this coveted status also forms part of the strategy to ensure our National Parks continue to thrive in the future.

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