JUST over £7m in funding has been given to national parks across Wales to help improve access to the countryside.

Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn announced the £7.2m funding and described National Parks and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) as ‘hugely important’ in helping tackle climate change.

A further £1.76m has been awarded to Local Authorities to improve Wales’s network of footpaths and bridleways, making them easier to use and more accessible to all.

This is in response to people rediscovering local footpaths and trails as part of their daily exercise during the recent Covid lockdown.

£337,000 has also been awarded to eleven projects to improve recreational access to water and £309,000 to community orchards and allotments to support community growing projects.

£4.7m has been awarded to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) to be invested in green infrastructure such as electric vehicles, retrofitting existing buildings with energy efficiency measures, and restoring peatland and woodlands.

£100,000 has also been awarded to Pembrokeshire Coast NPA to allow them to lead on the National Landscape Partnership which will foster a closer working relationship across all Designated Landscapes in Wales. This will help ensure National Parks and AONBs are able to develop more joined-up approaches to the challenges and opportunities they have in common.

The Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn said: “Our National Parks and AONBs cover a quarter of Wales and are hugely important in helping tackle the loss of biodiversity and climate change.

“While our Designated Landscapes are very special to the people of Wales and attract millions visitors each year, access to local green spaces proved just as important during lockdown and this funding demonstrates that we greatly value our local footpaths and other rights of way.

“Following easing of the lockdown, many of our most popular countryside sites have faced significant pressures from large numbers of visitors. While most have visited responsibly, there have been high-profile cases of illegal parking, littering and unregulated camping which have caused damage to our fragile landscapes. This funding has therefore included projects that mitigate the negative environmental effects of tourism such as erosion, littering and pollution.

“As lockdown has eased, the need to invest in a safe, high quality visitor experience for an increasing number of visitors has been highlighted. This, along with the need to make a contribution to tackling climate change, is a major challenge for our Designated Landscapes.

“This funding will support our National Parks and other bodies to address these challenges and to ensure everyone can continue to enjoy our countryside for years to come.”