England could get more national parks after Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced he is launching a review into the country’s natural landscapes.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Gove said “the time is right” for a review, nearly 70 years on from the creation of the first national areas.
It will consider whether to expand England’s network of parks as well as areas of outstanding natural beauty.
England has 10 existing national parks including Dartmoor and the New Forest.
It also has 34 AONBs – including the Chilterns, the Cotswolds and the Isle of Wight.
According to Mr Gove, the UK’s population growth, combined with changes in technology and a decline in some habitats, meant it was time to “look afresh at these landscapes”.
He stressed that the goal of the review was not to diminish the protection of natural areas, but to “strengthen it in the face of present-day challenges”.
Former government aide and journalist Julian Glover has been appointed to carry it out.
Mr Gove said: “The creation of national parks almost 70 years ago changed the way we view our precious landscapes – helping us all access and enjoy our natural world.
“We want to make sure they are not only conserved, but enhanced for the next generation.
“Are we properly supporting all those who live in, work in, or want to visit these magnificent places? Should we indeed be extending our areas of designated land?”
He added: “I want Julian explicitly to consider how we can extend and improve the protection we give to other precious landscapes.”
Tony Juniper, the campaigns director for the WWF, welcomed the review, but warned that “we need to do more”.
“Nature will continue to be at risk unless we have a plan for its recovery enshrined in law – through a new Environment Act that’s backed by a strong watchdog with real power to enforce,” he said.
England has 10 national parks – the Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Lake District, the New Forest, Northumberland, the North York Moors, the Peak District, the South Downs and the Yorkshire Dales.
The first national parks to be created were the Peak District, Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor in 1951.
There are two in Scotland – Cairngorms; and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs – and three in Wales: the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia.
Mr Gove said that unlike other nations’ national parks, “ours are working countryside” and lived in by farmers.
Mr Glover, who Mr Gove called a “passionate advocate for the countryside”, said: “Our protected landscapes are England’s finest gems and we owe a huge debt to past generations who had the wisdom to preserve them.
“The system they created has been a strength, but it faces challenges too.
“It is an honour to be asked to find ways to secure them for the future. I can’t wait to get started and learn from everyone who shares an interest in making England’s landscapes beautiful, diverse and successful.”
Margaret Paren, chairwoman of National Parks England said the announcement was “very much welcome” and the organisation intended to “to play a full part”.
She added: “And as we approach the 70th anniversary of the founding legislation we look forward to a future where their beauty is enhanced; they are loved and accessible for everyone; and they continue to support thriving communities in these working landscapes.”
National parks are areas specifically protected because of their countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage and are funded by central government.