New Forest National Park

Nurturing and inspiring hope through National Park Cities

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of UK national parks, it’s natural to look back over the role of ‘Britain’s breathing spaces’. Yet, more importantly, we’re also looking forward – to consider the future of nature’s role in all our lives. 

I’ve been CEO of the New Forest National Park Authority for 14 years, where I joined from my role as London Regional Director for Natural England and now more than ever I see a growth in understanding of the importance of nature connection to combat the triple crises of climate, nature and health both in rural and urban communities.   

As such, I’m proud to be part of another growing movement: National Park Cities, that brings the ethos of National Parks into urban spaces. It has been an amazing experience to be part of the founding team, developing the National Park City journey, establishing the National Park City Foundation, and realising London National Park City as the first in the world. It has been a joy to help lead a body of work for the International Charter shaped by colleagues from more than 50 countries in 2018 and since to support the establishment of National Park City campaigns across the world and to see Adelaide become the world’s second National Park City.

I often get questioned about the use of the words National Park and City together. Rather than a disruptive proposition, I believe it’s an important vision to see principal human habitats as key landscapes in their own right, where we can work with this landscape to ‘protect, enjoy and prosper’ as we do in our 15 national parks across England, Scotland and Wales and beyond. 

Demand for nature and its benefits are increasing. Seeing cities through a national park lens can help energise collective efforts to make our urban spaces – where 80% of people live in the UK – greener, healthier and wilder with all the benefits this brings.

London led the way to become the first National Park City in 2019 and continues to inspire and engage with this ‘demand for nature’ where people live and work, something that is so important for the future.

London National Park City was closely followed by Adelaide.  The capital South Australian city began its campaign as London was launched and I had the honour (and challenge in lockdown conditions) of chairing the peer review panel that saw Adelaide become the world’s second National Park City in 2022.

My recent resulting visit to the 2023 Joint International Congress hosted by World Urban Parks and Parks and Leisure Australia, supported by Green Adelaide was focused on Sustainable Places, Spaces, People and Habitats. The Congress enabled me to meet the people that made Adelaide NPC possible, and connect to the landscape they are working in together towards a greener, healthier, wilder and cooler city. 

This experience was at the same time inspiring, eye opening and reassuring; it enabled me to meet in person for the first time with fellow travellers of the NPC journey – every one skilled, insightful and determined to make National Park Cities count as a major opportunity to change the way we understand and shape our city landscapes. It cemented the fact that we really are growing a family of families of cities that embrace the values of national parks. Through my sessions and chairing the final plenary of the congress with colleagues from Adelaide, wider Australia and another emerging NPC Chattanooga, it became clearly apparent that the National Park City resonates with so many from all corners of the globe. 

London, Chattanooga and Adelaide
Scott Martin, Alison Barnes, Brenton Grear, and Sheryn Pitman

Despite several thousand miles separating us geographically, we are aligned in our vision that everyone can contribute and benefit from National Park Cities every day; project by project, relationship by relationship. My visit to Adelaide made me realise that what we are doing matters massively; enabling communities and their activities to be recognised and embraced into a bigger mission. It was obvious from conversations with delegates that the National Park City idea has the potential to be an important beacon for hope and agency for so many, just as the original National Parks movement was early last century. Through National Park Cities we can nurture and inspire hope in each other to meet the biggest challenges of our time. We can all feel part of a team for our cities and part of a global family, committed and ready to shape our futures from the grassroots up. 

Many more cities around the world are on the journey including Glasgow, Breda, Rotterdam, Southampton and Chattanooga – lighting up, and joining up those green beacons of hope and possibility. I can’t fail to be inspired by that.

In the New Forest National Park I’m delighted to be working with our neighbouring city, Southampton, showing that nature doesn’t stop at borders, and enabling businesses, communities and people to have their own agency for change. We can all work together to design and make our spaces what we need for the future, and I have witnessed firsthand a passionate groundswell of groups, volunteers and ambassadors already doing this.

The National Parks timeline has many inspirational moments, starting with the great visionary John Muir who founded the National Park system. When we look back in another 75 years, I’d like to think that the creation of National Park Cities will be another key inspiring, defining moment in one of the greatest movements in the history of our most precious landscapes.

Photo Credit: Nick Lucas

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