A CAMPAIGN charity is calling for better access to the UK’s national parks after its research revealed 93 per cent of visitors travelled by car.

The Campaign for National Parks is calling for more to be done to enable wider access to the protected landscapes in its report, National Parks for all; making car-free travel easier.

It makes the case for improving sustainable travel options to open up the parks to new visitors and reduce the ongoing environmental damage.

Within the last four years, North Yorkshire has lost just under 20 per cent of its bus service and the county council has had to cut back its subsidies for less profitable bus routes as it makes £170m worth of savings between 2011 and 2020.

Ruth Bradshaw, Campaign for National Parks’ policy and research manager, and author of the report, said: “We know that currently 93 per cent of visitors to National Parks travel by car and in some places high volumes of traffic can have a negative impact on the landscapes and wildlife, the very things that attract people to the parks in the first place. But unfortunately, the severe cuts to rural bus services in recent years have made it increasingly difficult to reach many parts of the parks without a car.”

CNP said the journeys can also be impractical, citing a journey from Leeds to the National Park Visitor Centre at Hawes, in the Yorkshire Dales, could take around four or five hours by bus, although there is a train service to the area and the Little White Bus service operating in the area.

The report also highlights that bus and rail services often do not run frequently enough, if at all, on Sundays and bank holidays.

The report recognises the need for more funding to support public transport but focuses on making a number of other recommendations about how the situation can be improved. These include:

• National Park Authorities should take a strategic lead on improving sustainable access to their National Park.

• National Park Authorities and other relevant organisations should provide high-quality, consistent and up-to-date information on sustainable travel options.

• A ‘smarter travel National Park’ pilot should be set up to explore the potential for technological solutions such as integrated ticketing, e-bikes and app-based services as well as measures to reduce the levels of car use.

One of North Yorkshire’s two national parks, the North York Moors, operated its own bus service, Moorsbus for many years, until its own budget cuts made the service unviable.

A reduced version of the service, is now run by volunteers who came forward and formed the Moorsbus Community Interest Company.

Assistant director of park services Michael Graham, said bus services to and within the North York Moors were “very important” for visitors and local communities.

He said they were well-served with bus services on three sides of the national park, but not in services to more remote areas of the moors.

“We feel committed to opening up access to the national park and particularly for those who don’t have access to cars,” he said.

“As an authority we’re very unlikely to go back to running a transport service ourselves - we found it wasn’t cost effective. In our new budget era that’s not something we can afford to do. But we do believe in greater access to the national park and we’re committed to increasing that. We’re happy to work with government and local authorities whose involvement can make a local difference.”

He said they were putting the money they had for transport into other projects to open up access.

“What we have done is target schools, for example, to encourage them into the park. The money for a bus can make a difference between a school coming here and not," he said.

“A school can pay between £400 and £600 a day for a bus, it’s quite expensive, so we put £20,000 towards transport for getting school children into the park and involved in education activities here.

"That’s proven really effective.”

A Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority spokesperson said they had been aware for some time of the difficulties in providing public bus services for residents and visitors without subsidies, adding: "However, we are fortunate that small groups of volunteers have been prepared to take on a huge amount of work to give the National Park the public and community transport service we currently have. We are pleased to see their work acknowledged in the report.

“We don’t believe it is our place to take on the strategic transport role in the National Park; the statutory authorities with responsibility for bus services are the county councils.  

"However, through our website we help visitors find out about sustainable travel options so they can explore the area by foot, bike, bus or train. 

“CNP have audited all National Parks’ websites to see how easy it is to find travel information.  They fed back their findings to us and this has been very useful in helping us improve the information we provide.

“We would welcome initiatives that use modern technologies to improve the experience of residents and visitors using public transport, whether this is around integrated ticketing or smarter travel choices and more responsive demand-based services.”