Welsh Government has appointed four new expert members to the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority including from Black, disability and LGBTQi+ backgrounds to ensure its plans ‘represent all voices’ and that action to tackle the climate and nature emergencies is taken ‘in togetherness’
In the foreground of south Wales’ highest mountain peak, Pen-y-Fan, Minister for Climate Change Julie James met the new appointees to set out her expectations and hear the vision of the Authority which has set out five missions at its core: climate, nature, water, people and place.
Having recently returned from UN global biodiversity talks, COP15, in Montreal, Canada, the Minister reiterated her appeal for national parks to help achieve the 30 by 30 target, which aims to protect 30% of land and seas by 2030. Wales’ national parks cover 20% of its land mass, while only 10% of the country is currently considered as effectively managed for nature.
Following movements within the LGBTQi+ community, gender equality and Black Lives Matter, a spotlight has been shone on the lack of diversity in the conservation sector and the accessibility of the countryside to those living beyond its borders.
Dr. Yvonne Howard-Bunt, one of the four new appointees, is the first Black female national park authority member to serve in Wales. Her impressive CV in inclusion, conflict resolution, arts and nature landed her the prestigious position. Howard-Bunt said:
“Although we all should take care of our national parks and be able to enjoy them in return, there are many people who don’t see them as an option to visit. It’s through exposure, welcome and education that we can move forward to understand each other and ensure everyone has access to our countryside.”
She continued: “Growing up in Yorkshire, I was made to feel like an outsider because of my skin colour and Afro hair. My classmates wanted to touch my hair all the time and would tell me I was adopted because my mum was white.
“My mother also faced terrible exclusion. People slammed doors in her face and spat at her. When we were out in public I would get her attention by making coughing noises instead of calling out ‘mum’. I would try to protect her by disowning her.
“To escape, I’d go outside and look at the insects and small creatures and write poetry. I could see every living thing was fighting for life and striving for air, and I could see how that applied to people too. Everyone is just trying to get by. Nature is chaotic and beautiful, but connected- it’s a handshake across the world.
“Escaping into our national parks provides us with the short-term fix we need for inner peace, but taking care of them together and improving their condition will improve our health, wellbeing and joy. In a time of many crises that we all face, is there a better achievement we can strive for?”
Minister for Climate Change Julie James said:
“Everybody of every creed, colour, gender and ability has the right to access and help manage our beautiful spaces, and how lucky we are to be so rich in these in Wales. I want to congratulate all new appointees who all have very different and valued lived experiences as they take on their exciting but challenging roles.
“National Parks have a significant role to play in reaching our 30 by 30 target, where we want 30% of our land and seas in Wales to be classed as ‘nature positive’ by 2030. The rapid decline of our natural world, which has put us on a trajectory for one million species to be extinct before 2050, threatens our health and life on planet earth as we now know it’.
“To achieve our ambitious goals, we need a radical and people-focused approach to reverse the decline of biodiversity, where all voices are represented and all radical action is taken in togetherness. Brecon Beacons is spearheading a One Team Wales effort to tackle the interconnected climate and nature emergencies and I look forward to the transformation I know they are capable of making.”
Professor John Hunt, climate change scientist, geologist and disabled stroke survivor, said:
“There is great potential for improving accessibility and inclusivity amongst visitors to the Brecon Beacons, and I am honoured that I get to share my lived experience as a disabled stroke survivor in the LGBTQi+ community to help guide this. As a climate change scientist and geologist, I am looking forward to seeing how we can educate our visitors and enlist the help of the users of the park in our scientific endeavours- handgliders, fisher folk, cavers, hikers, day trippers– all communities can help us understand its changing landscape. Together we can ensure the Park is performing the best it can as we tackle the climate and nature emergencies.”
Craig Stephenson, who was recently awarded an OBE for his work in diversity which led to the Senedd being awarded the title of UK’s most LGBTQi+ inclusive organisation in 2018, said:
“Being appointed as a member of the National Park Authority is a wonderful start to 2023. Never has the work of one Wales’ national institutions been so important. I hope to bring my extensive,board-level experience in public and third sector organisations on public engagement, governance and inclusion to the Authority’s work as we face the challenges and opportunities ahead.”
Dr Liz Bickerton, rural development academic who grew up on a farm in South Wales said:
“The Brecon Beacons is a special place that I have known and loved all my life. I welcome this opportunity to give something back by helping to create a confident, ambitious and forward-thinking organisation that supports its communities whilst protecting its special features for current and future generations.”
Wales became the first part of the UK to declare both a nature emergency in 2021 and a climate emergency in 2019, and has since put these crises front and centre of all decision making across government portfolios, whether health, transport or education.