The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall were yesterday joined by hundreds of picnickers in Exmoor National Park for a special celebration marking 70 years since the ground-breaking 1949 Act of Parliament that established UK National Parks.
The ‘National Parks Big Picnic’ saw more than 500 people gather to enjoy a picnic and a cream tea in the beautiful surroundings of Simonsbath’s riverside meadows at the heart of Exmoor’s former Royal Forest.
Their Royal Highnesses were greeted by leaders from across the UK National Park family. They also met groups such as the Exmoor Society and Exmoor Hill Farming Network, children from Exford First School, local producers and craftspeople, and were presented with a hamper of local Exmoor produce to enjoy at home.
All attendees received a souvenir programme with a Forward by the Prince of Wales, stating: “However much our lives, and those of our children, may change in the future, the basic human need for peace, beauty and spiritual refreshment from engaging closely with the natural world will, I believe, remain every bit as important as it was seventy years ago.”
The centrepiece was the unveiling of a stunning cake inspired by the diverse landscapes of the UK’s 15 National Parks – from rugged mountains and vast open moorland, to soft rolling hills, meandering wetlands and dramatic coastline.
Special guests at the celebration included Niall Hobhouse, whose grandfather Sir Arthur Hobhouse pioneered the 1947 report that paved the way for the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, and the creation of the UK’s National Parks.
The Act, described at the time as a “recreational gift to Britain’s returning Second World War service men and women”, set out to recognise, conserve and enhance access to landscapes deemed to be “of national importance and quality”.
70 years on the UK has 15 National Parks, attracting over 130 million visitor days a year, worth almost £6bn to the UK tourism economy and much more in terms of crucial ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, flood prevention, clean air and water.
Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, who hosted the event, said: “It’s with immense pride that we welcome Their Royal Highnesses to Exmoor today. Many say they love Exmoor for its incredible variety – made up of wild open moorland, spectacular coastline, deep wooded valleys, fast flowing streams and magnificent starry dark skies. But what really makes Exmoor is its people and the immense sense of responsibility we all feel towards this beautiful place. It goes right to the core of why National Parks were created, and I think today we all go away with a sense of the shared passion still felt for that cause.”
Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Minister for National Parks, said: “Seventy years on from the ground-breaking legislation that paved the way for their creation, our National Parks remain some of the nation’s most cherished places.
“We owe a great debt to past generations who had the wisdom to preserve these precious landscapes – and this momentous anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on how we can ensure that our National Parks are conserved and enhanced for generations to come.”
Margaret Paren OBE, Chair of National Parks England, said: “There is a huge amount that has been achieved and for which to be proud from our first 70 years. The reasons why we have National Parks resonates every bit as much today as then. We collectively care for these extraordinary landscapes, among the best in the world, and we inspire generations. And so as we look to the future, National Parks have a pivotal role to play in responding to the climate emergency, supporting nature recovery, and providing physical health and mental well-being for all.”
Carl Lis OBE, Chair of National Parks UK, said: “I am incredibly grateful to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall for choosing to celebrate 70 years of UK National Parks with us here today. They are fantastic supporters of UK National Parks, which continue to attract hundreds of millions of visitors every year and make such a significant contribution to the UK tourism economy”.
The event was sponsored by Tarmac with further support from The Exmoor Society, Somerset County Council, Devon County Council, Exmoor Hill Farming Network and the family of UK National Parks.