As the owner of a tourism based conservation business Wings of Wales, part of my job is guiding visitors on experience days with our birds of prey. Over Easter I had a very nice couple from America visit, one of them was originally from the state of Vermont USA and the other was from California, two vastly different locations in America and also vastly different in environment. As we climbed the hill next to the farm, the Moel Penderyn with Florence our White Tailed Eagle, we talked about the landscape on display in general. Part of the landscape was important during the industrial revolution with the coal fields, the other part is a national park known as the Brecon Beacons. We were discussing the fact that the valleys where I live is “allegedly” spoken of as a poor area of the EU, yet the environment in this area is probably much richer in habitat than the national park which borders the valleys. I was asked why my thoughts on this were so strong, I raised the point of generations of farming and poor landscape management in general by authorities who looked after the land on behalf of the Welsh people. The next question by my guests nearly knocked me off my feet ‘You have farms in a national park?’ I realised instantly that most of the world other than the UK look at national parks as a way of showcasing their countries beauty, and farms do not appear in any of their national parks as they should be a natural haven for environment and wildlife.
Having been lucky enough to visit many national parks in parts of the world I was amazed it had taken me 20 years to relies the hypocrisy of what the UK calls national parks, places we call a national park that are little more than farm estates all knitted together making one big agricultural park. Their shock and even slight laughter behind their statement “You have farms in a national park?” was a little embarrassing to be honest.
I have always questioned the motives behind things such as the Surrey Hills, AONB. The Kent Downs, AONB. The Wolds, AONB even the Lake District National Park, an area of outstanding national beauty. To me these are all just words, designated to make us feel better about the location we are in at that time, how we interpret the words National and Beauty make a huge difference. These are areas that are made and look the way they do through humans history of evolving these areas into how we want them to look and also behave for us. They could be much more with crucial re introductions of key species and good management, all of which will take over 100 years to get back to what I think is a healthy looking landscape. The history of these areas is without doubt exceptional, Blenheim Palace in the Cotswolds, Castle Drago in Devon, Burnham Market in Norfolk, but this is all man made surrounded by the agricultural and manicured landscapes. The Lake district is the prime example of this with Rhododendron everywhere which looks nice when it flowers but what about the native fauna it literally chokes out of extinction.
All this moaning above has come from me learning something quiet obvious from the guests who came out to be educated by me, the UK is well behind on the way we look after our landscape and wildlife. It frustrates me when I listen to the views of some of the bigger organisations that preach they do so much work, I think they should be doing more to be honest. Again lets be truly honest with ourselves, what do we think the rest of the world really believes of us when they visit our national parks to find out they are covered with farms and lack luster environments of plantations filled with Grey Squirrels.
I know I moan, but am I right? Please tell me if I am not alone in my thoughts. All I want is to be honest and create a better environment for the future generations, but again when visitors show how shocked they are by the fact of what we interpret as a national park it is really quiet embarrassing.
Just a reflection of thought over my Easter Holidays.
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Wings Of Wales was established in 2015 by conservation photographer and bird of prey handler Lewis Phillips.
Bird of prey flying team, based in the stunning region of the Brecon Beacons.