Future Landscapes Wales - a Conservation Concern Opinion

© Patagonia

In March this year, conservationists criticised a draft report on the future of Welsh National Parks, written by Future Landcapes Wales, a working group set up by Welsh Government in 2015. Environmentalists are concerned that the report makes no mention of the "Sandford Principle", which outlines that the main statutory purpose of national parks is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area. Outdoor retailer Patagonia are backing the campaign to inform government representatives of the importance of our parks. Tom Laws of Save Our Rivers explains the situation and what you can do to help.

At the end of March we asked you to write to your Assembly Members (AMs). The Welsh Government had tabled a debate on an as yet unpublished draft report called Future Landscapes Wales (FLW). This report rewrote the priorities our National Parks were to operate under and removed a vital environmental safeguard called the Sandford Principle. AMs were being asked to debate these new priorities before they had even seen the report and in response, you contacted them to share your concerns. Complaints from opposition AMs followed and the debate was cancelled.

Save Our Rivers  © Patagonia
Save Our Rivers
© Patagonia

The Welsh Government appeared to backtrack saying “It is important to remember this is a draft version of the report” and “These discussions are ongoing as a final report is prepared for publication before the summer recess." – BBC News March 2017 However, the full report has now been released and it is unchanged from the draft. It is vague and jargon heavy, but one thing is clear: the Sandford Principle - the final safeguard for environment over development - is being stripped from our most important wild spaces.

The Report

The Welsh Government commissioned a review of designated landscapes and this was published in July 2015 by Prof Terry Marsden. Many including ourselves felt that the National Park and AONB designations work well for Wales and there was no real evidence that change was needed. However, the report was considered and well written. Read the Marsden Report.

The main message of the report can be seen in Recommendation 6 and 7:

Recommendation 6
There should be three interlocking statutory purposes for both the National Parks and AONBs.
These are:

  • “To conserve and enhance the distinctive landscape and seascape qualities of the area” (the Conservation Purpose). NB: this is to includes the biodiversity and environmental aspects of the area
  • “To promote physical and mental well-being through the enjoyment and understanding of the landscape of the area.” (the Human Well-being Purpose)
  • “To promote sustainable forms of economic and community development based on the management of natural resources and the cultural heritage of the area.” (the Sustainable Resource Management Purpose)

Save Our Rivers...and the rest of Wales' National Parks
© Save Our Rivers

Recommendation 7
The Sandford Principle, confirming the primacy of the conservation purpose, will be applied across all the designated landscapes.

A working group under Lord Dafydd Ellis-Thomas was formed to take this report further and its full report has now been published: Read the Future Landscapes Wales report here. It is confusing, badly written, jargon heavy, and vague in what it includes. However what is missing is obvious from the appendix; whilst agreeing on the three interlocking statutory purposes listed in the Marsden report, all reference to the Sandford Principle has been removed. This could have catastrophic consequences, since the environmental safeguard that has underpinned the protection of our National Parks since its inception in the 1970s has been dropped.

There is also no reference to the Silkin Test that ensures major developments are controlled in these areas. Applications for developments that would be felt to have positive economic effects but also damage the environment may now have nothing to stop them. Perhaps most importantly, this change would lead to our National Parks losing their Cat V protected area status under IUCN rules. They would no longer be National Parks at all. (see International Union for Conservation of Nature categorisation).

Key conservation groups given a place on the FLW working group, including the RSPB, Welsh Wildlife Trusts and the Alliance for National Parks Cymru have all refused to support the report in its current form. Other members of the working group, such as RWE's (yes, them from the Conwy Hydro Scheme) Welsh Development Manager obviously have fewer concerns.

Even our furry friends want our landscape to be protected.  © Save Our Rivers
Even our furry friends want our landscape to be protected.
© Save Our Rivers

What can you do?

It is vital that our Assembly Members know how important our National Parks are to Wales and how strongly you feel about them. Our AMs must vote to oppose any new legislation based on this report that doesn’t hold the key environmental protections of Sandford and Silkin at its heart.
Please follow us here, on Facebook and Instagram. We will be showing how much our National Parks contribute in their current protected status and asking you to get involved.

If you live in Wales…

If you live in Wales, write to your AMs and tell them that the environmental protection afforded by the Sandford Principle must be the cornerstone of any new legislation affecting National Parks and copy in the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs and her opposition Shadow Ministers. Find my Assembly Members.

If you live outside Wales – you can still help!

If you live outside Wales, please write to the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs and her opposition Shadow Ministers.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs:

Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Sustainable Communities, Energy and Rural Affairs:

Conservative Spokesperson for Environment & Sustainability:

Wales: outdoor recreation for all seasons  © Save Our Rivers
Wales: outdoor recreation for all seasons
© Save Our Rivers


The report has been tabled for debate on the 6th June, less than a month after publication and hidden under the shadow of a Westminster election. The Welsh Government is trying to push through the biggest change to the management of our environment in a generation and do so without the knowledge of the public. Assembly Ministers have not had the time or the information to properly consult with their constituents on this crucial matter.

Remember, you only have until June 6th to act.

Read the latest blog post on this issue from Save Our Rivers.

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30 May, 2017
Surprised this hasn't attracted any attention. Comments from friends & colleagues in Natural Resources Wales (includes what was previously the Countryside Council for Wales) suggest that the Welsh government are trying to dilute measures to protect nature (biodiversity if you prefer) as much as they can & this seems to follow that pattern.
30 May, 2017
It was mentioned at the South Wales Area Meeting on Friday evening, I get the feeling it probably fell under the radar due to the MoNC at the previous round of area meetings. Elfyn Jones said he'd try and get something written up and put on the BMC website about it today when he was at Friday's area meeting. Edit: Found it here:
30 May, 2017
bump - this is chuffin' big and needs lots of attention.
31 May, 2017
another 'bump' for the day time brigade
31 May, 2017
I think part of the lack of engagement with this topic is the lack of a single high profile threat to oppose, a "big bad" which will smack climbers, walkers etc in the face. It's being pushed by the paddlers because they don't have the CROW rights terrestrial folk enjoy, and this can only make the right to rivers less likely. So let's find some tangible issues for climbers and drag them front and centre, rather than this rather academic Sandford Principle. Will this lead to increased obstacles to access, or more closed or restricted places? Will it lead to a degraded mountain environment? Will it lead to charges in more places, or an increase in commercialisation? The answers to these questions are probably yes, yes and yes, but it would probably help to have some real examples
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