National park designation offers the highest level of natural protection to many valuable landscapes worldwide. These spaces have been established as not only a way of protecting the landscape but also as an attraction for tourism and recreation (Butler & Boyd, 2000; Hall & Frost, 2009). However, this protection and use of the same area creates a problematic and conflicting relationship resulting in disputes occurring between those living and visiting the parks (Nepal & Weber, 1995). Currently there are 15 national parks in the UK; only Northern Ireland as a region has failed to establish national parks. Part of that failure has been an inability to overcome differences between stakeholders involved. In order to overcome this and move toward national park establishment in Northern Ireland, this research looked at best practice elsewhere across the UK national park landscape toward establishing partnership and avoiding conflict between stakeholders.
This paper is part of a bigger study that examines the feasibility of national park establishment in Northern Ireland. The purpose of this paper is to present the first stage of the overall research which was to examine best practice techniques used in stakeholder engagement and conflict resolution from three of the newest established UK national parks (South Downs, England; Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Scotland). Using a mixed methods approach involving interviews with park management and a detailed content analysis of management plans, an evaluation was made on both the approaches taken and mechanisms adopted by the managers of these parks to build consensus and avoid conflict, and what lessons Northern Ireland policy makers can learn. Results from interviews conducted with park managers show a number of best practice approaches for consensus-building which aid conflict resolution during pre and post designation of a national park. In particular, working partnerships were found to be particularly important to conflict resolution. Content analysis of the three national parks management plans from a perspective of different dimensions of partnership was then undertaken. Results showed that of the 16 dimensions identified in the literature, many recorded a low level of mentions. In fact, there was no consistency of those that received the most mentions with all three parks having a different top three. Overall, the park plans are designed to address both management issues as well as address citizens who live inside their boundaries. The analysis of the park plans would suggest that partnership as a tool is underemphasised.
The next stage of the research is to focus on Northern Ireland and identify what areas are suitable for national parks and see if developing a partnership approach can overcome the problems of park establishment. The research provides an opportunity to apply conflict resolution thinking toward stakeholder consensus forming within the unique context of a national park environment. The applied dimension of this research is ensuring any area that has national park potential in Northern Ireland is established based on its ecological integrity as well as the potential economic recreational and tourism benefits it offers its residents.
- National parks
- best practice