Should we be selling off our national parks?

After news that Stickle Tarn and six other slices of land in the Lake District are to be sold to private owners, we investigate the auctioning off of land to fund our national parks.

Wast Water in the Lake District National Park

If you’ve walked the classic trail up the Langdale Pikes from Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel in the Lake District, then you’ll have paused by Stickle Tarn. It’s just one of many iconic spots across the Lake District, and for now, it is in the hands of the national park authority.

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But plans to sell it and six other slices of land within the national park have sparked huge protests, as well as raising the wider issue of the impact of austerity cuts to the national park movement.

The sites, which also include Lady Wood, Blue Hill and Red Bank Wood, Yewbarrow Wood and Blea Brows have been advertised for sale by local land agents in Kendal. The guide price for Stickle Tarn is £20,000-£30,000; Blea Brows alongside Coniston Water is listed at £70,000-£90,000.

The Lake District National Park Authority says that the sites are no longer required and are suitable for sale by formal tender. It argues that it has put measures in place “to ensure the responsible disposal” of the properties and that the income will be reinvested in improving and maintaining other areas in the national park.

The response, particularly on social media, has been emphatic. A 38 Degrees petition to ‘save our national parks’ – which also highlights similar planned sales in the Yorkshire Dales national park – has gained 152,000 signatures, while change.org petition has received 6,6000 signatures calling for the sales to be sold off.

The national park authority says it is satisfied that safeguards are in place. All but one site, Yewbarrow Wood, has public access. “They have various protections that will not change with a change of ownership,” says spokeswoman Sarah Calderbank. “We’re not selling to the highest bidder, it’s about making sure who the best owner is through a clear vetting process.”

The Yorkshire Dales also plan to dispose of some land holdings. Yet in some respects, the sales may be the least of the problems facing national parks, argues Tony McDougal, campaigns manager for the Campaign for National Parks. “You could argue that if a group such as the John Muir Trust, or the Wildlife Trusts were to buy the land, they may be better placed to look after it than the national park themselves,” he says. “It’s important to recognise that the sell-off is just part of the much wider impacts of cuts to park budgets.”

Since 2009, national parks have seen their budgets cut by between 30 per cent and 40 per cent. According to McDougal these translate into “job cuts in the hundreds”, visitor centre closures, cuts to maintenance of rights of way and green lanes, cuts to grant for farmers to maintain drystone walls, reductions in biodiversity grants and funding for apprenticeships, volunteer engagement and ranger work.

“We would like to see a moratorium on the cuts and plans for sustainable funding so that parks ca be safe for future generations to enjoy,” he says.

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The Ramblers also believe the planned sales are not the major issue. “The sales are not necessarily that dreadful, provided the parks are able to ensure that whoever buys the land looks after it in the same way,” says Janet Davis, senior policy officer at the Ramblers. “What is more worrying is why they are doing this – it’s in the context of the huge cuts that are taking chunks out of their budgets.”