Northumberland National Park


Northumberland National Park
Northumberland National Park is a sexagenarian. Celebrating its 60th this year, the National Park has a huge amount going on. Park Chairman Councillor Glen Sanderson tells us more about the park’s enduring appeal in this modern world
‘People have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years and have left behind some 425 monuments which have been recognised as being of national archaeological importance’

Born in Rothbury, Glen has a special affinity with Northumberland National Park, having lived and farmed in the area all his life. ‘It’s a very varied offer for the visitor,’ he says. ‘From some of the most iconic landscapes to a World Heritage Site in the Roman wall.’

‘Varied,’ is certainly the word. People have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years and have left behind some 425 monuments which have been recognised as being of national archaeological importance. Numerous museums are dotted about the park, along with grand houses and sweeping gardens. The park is also home to some of the region’s most spectacular wildlife, including the red squirrel, the curlew and the hen harrier, and has the cleanest rivers in England.

As current Chairman, Glen naturally has a lot of responsibility. ‘I think the National Park Authority does a hugely important job in protecting the landscape that is extremely precious in Northumberland,’ he says. His decision to get involved with the running of the park was based on his connections to the local area. ‘Because of my roots in Rothbury, becoming a member of the Park Authority was very important, and becoming chairman was a great honour.’

It’s clear that Glen enjoys his role. ‘I am genuinely passionate about making sure that we do the very best we can for the people that live in the park and those that come and visit us,’ he says. One area he would like to see improved for the park’s residents is the local electricity supply. ‘Believe it or not,’ he explains, ‘there are still some places in the more remote areas of the national park that have no mains electricity; they have to rely on generators. I would like to think that in the near future, we can persuade the electricity companies to provide electricity to those areas.’

Despite this rather shocking fact, Glen is still confident that Northumberland National Park has something to offer the tech- savvy generation of 2016, with an attitude very much rooted in the old adage: the best things in life are free. ‘By encouraging young people to enjoy things like walking, making dams and swimming in the rivers,’ he explains, ‘I believe they will then encourage their friends and family to try it. It’s a question of tasting it, seeing it and feeling it, then more and more people will come.’

People certainly did come on 6 April – the park’s official 60th birthday – when a special event was held to commemorate the historic occasion. Walltown on Hadrian’s Wall was awash with party-goers meeting the Rangers, heading out on safari and enjoying a cup of tea in specially-designed cups, inspired by the park’s landscape. They even had a cake in the shape of the park itself.

Their big birthday is not the only thing that the park has been celebrating, however. The Northumberland National Park was awarded Dark Sky status in 2013 and continues to organise many events to capitalise on this accolade – ‘it’s a very special place to go and look at the sky at night without the usual light pollution,’ Glen explains – and it works closely with the Kielder Observatory to give visitors the best possible star-gazing experience.

Despite being one of the largest national parks in the country, Glen points out that Northumberland is one of the least funded. ‘We are one of the smallest in terms of staff and amount of money that we get from the government,’ he says. ‘So I would pay real tribute to the staff that we do have who are experts in their field and are incredibly dedicated to the work that they do. Also, the authority members – they too share that same level of dedication and enthusiasm for the work that the National Park does.’

To supplement their government funding, the park looks elsewhere. Back in 2014, plans for The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre were officially given the go-ahead and received a grant of more than £7 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund in February 2015. This is a huge development which was originally overseen by (then Park Chairman) Councillor John Riddle. For this, and numerous other initiatives both in Northumberland National Park and in National Parks nationwide, John was honoured with an OBE in the New Year Honours list at the start of 2016 – perhaps the perfect start to the Northumberland National Park’s 60th birthday year.

The Sill opens next summer. It will be ‘somewhere more than the normal kind of place you’d visit on a wet day,’ says Glen. ‘It’s a truly international centre where people will be able to understand, enjoy and learn about the fantastic landscape of this part of the world.’ Between 2017 and 2020, an engagement programme will see the delivery of more than 1,000 events and activities at The Sill, including many night-time activities to tie in with the park’s Dark Sky status.

As part of The Sill Arts Programme, the Poems in the Air app project was launched this year, in collaboration with poet and writer Simon Armitage. ‘It was the brainchild of a number of people who work within the National Park,’ Glen explains. ‘Simon came and visited a number of places in the park, took inspiration from them and wrote his poetry while feeling, sensing and looking at the things around him. This then translated into the idea that you can actually listen to his poetry when you’re standing in the position in which he was standing when he wrote it.’

Glen’s passion for the park is clear and his desire for as many people to experience it as possible is infectious. ‘Visitors will get the chance to experience what the countryside is all about,’ he promises. ‘They will see scenery that is second to none and experience tranquility and great beauty for absolutely no cost at all.’

With such exciting projects on the horizon and an area of such natural beauty under his stewardship, Glen is understandably hopeful for the future. ‘We’re very proud to have been going for 60 years,’ he says, ‘and we hope very much that the next 60 years will be of benefit to the community. The landscape won’t change one jot, but we hope to make the countryside easier to access and more pleasurable for a wider range of people.’

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Published in: November 2016

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