South Downs National Park Authority says it has had to make “substantial” staff cuts, merge ranger teams and close a depot as government funding flatlines.
Over the past decade, funding has fallen and grants are expected to stay the same until 2025 despite rising wage bills and costs.
Government funding for national parks has been frozen since last year, and data from National Parks England suggests the country’s ten park authorities will have to make cuts of £16 million over the next three years.
South Downs National Park Authority chief executive Trevor Beattie said: “The financial situation for all national parks is incredibly difficult and the South Downs National Park is no exception. Our funding has fallen by 40 per cent in real terms over the past decade.
“This year the authority has had to make £1.1m of savings, including substantial staff cuts, closure of a depot, merging ranger teams, less funding for projects and other efficiency savings.
“The South Downs National Park has received a flat cash settlement from the government of £10.486m every year since 2019-20.
“This amount will remain the same until 2024-25 – the same cash funding over a period of six years at a time of rapidly rising costs for all services.
“Inflation continues to erode this sum. This means we continue to have to make cuts in delivery on the ground, as well as seeking alternative funding.
“And this is without any further cuts.
“South Downs National Park is the third biggest in England. It has the largest population and is among the top 20 planning authorities in the UK by both geography and volume of applications.
“Expectations on us continue to rise as our budget reduces in real terms.
“The authority has balanced the books until 2024-25 through cuts, efficiency savings and fundraising. After then we will be facing a deficit of at least £849,000 over the subsequent two years, unless funding increases.
“National parks are the ‘green lungs’ of the nation. They provide a vital public service to help people access the countryside and protect and enhance our cherished landscapes.
“We are also the linchpin of the UK’s ambitious nature recovery and climate change targets.
“We need the resources to match our ambitions for nature recovery, access for all and the national response to climate change.”
National Parks England adds that the parks won’t be able to continue doing what they do unless they get more money.
Its lead chief executive David Butterworth said: “National parks are being asked to help fight the climate and nature emergencies.
“They are being asked to accommodate 80-odd million visitors a year. But they can’t achieve all these objectives if the funding is falling.”
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “We understand the very challenging financial circumstances currently facing all sectors and the pressures this is putting on our national park authorities in particular.
“We remain committed to supporting our national park authorities. We are working with them to identify additional sources of funding, particularly through private investment.”
National parks were established under legislation passed by the post-war Labour government.
They were aimed at protecting the nation’s most valued landscapes and providing a war-weary population with opportunities for outdoor recreation.