Memorandum from the Council for National Parks

1. The Council for National Parks (CNP) welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Committee's inquiry into UK Defence: Commitments and Resources. CNP is the national charity that works to protect and enhance the National Parks of England and Wales, and areas that merit National Park status, and promote understanding and quiet enjoyment of them for the benefit of all.

2. Military training is an activity which demands various resource commitments. We suggest that the Committee should examine these in the context of the Government's Spending Review 2007, and the commitment[1] to embed sustainable development into spending and investment decisions.

3. It is especially important to consider the resource commitment to military training in National Parks. A significant proportion of military training takes place in National Parks, which has an impact on National Park statutory purposes.[2] In delivering its duty[3] to have regard to National Park purposes, the government is obliged to consider ways to remove or minimise damaging impact on the Parks, which could also result in resource savings.

4. While there have been welcome improvements in the management of the military training estate in National Parks, it remains to be demonstrated whether the public interest is best served by continuing military training at current levels in National Parks.

5. We recognise that an examination of this matter would go beyond the scope of the current inquiry (see paragraph 9 for a recommendation in this respect) but we do suggest that some resource commitments to training in National Parks could and should be examined by the Committee, as there is potential to bring environmental benefits and reduce the resources necessary to ensure that our Armed Forces are trained for a state of readiness.

6. Setting aside the principle of whether some military training activities in National Parks are justifiably located within them, CNP considers that there are opportunities in certain National Parks for a reconfiguration of military training areas that could continue to meet current and future training commitments while saving resources. The most prominent example is in the Dartmoor National Park where live firing on three ranges reduces public access to the area, has an adverse impact on tranquillity and damages the Park's landscape because of infrastructure such as look out huts and moorland tracks.

7. However, it should be noted that live firing also takes place within the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, Northumberland and the Peak District National Parks where similar opportunities could be sought.

8. In the Dartmoor National Park,[4] there is clear evidence of a large disparity between permitted use of land for live firing training and the actual use for this purpose. Between 2002 and 2005, across the three Dartmoor ranges (Okehampton, Willsworthy and Merrivale) an average of 530 days were permitted for live firing each year but only an average of 274 days per year was actually used.

9. This disparity between permitted and actual use of land for live firing in the Dartmoor National Park has changed little since the time of the Sharp Inquiry (1975-76).[5] This suggests that even with the changing requirements and deployment patterns of the Armed Forces over prolonged periods of time, military training commitments can still be met and there is potential to reduce the impact of military infrastructure and training activities on National Parks. There are various ways in which this might be achieved, for example by considering an increase in public access to ranges, a reduction in the number or extent of the ranges and other amelioration measures such as the clearance of unexploded ordnance.

10. If an independent inquiry into military training in National Parks were to be commissioned this would enable a thorough examination of whether the public interest is best served by continuing military training at current levels in National Parks, as well as an assessment of the opportunities to improve the efficiency of use of training areas in National Parks with the potential to identify resource savings on a large scale. We therefore request the Committee's support for such an inquiry.

11. We hope that this submission is helpful to the Committee. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require clarification of any of the above.

7 March 2007

[1] MoD Policy Statement on Safety, Health and Environmental Protection

[2] Section 5 of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, as amended by Section 62 of the 1995 Environment Act

[3] Section 11A of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, as amended by Section 61 of the 1995 Environment Act

[4] Council for National Parks (2007) A Continuing Need? Military Training and the Dartmoor National Park

[5] Dartmoor - A Report by Lady Sharp CBE to the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Defence, HMSO 1977