Park Lives: Jess Davison, youth ambassador for the Northumberland National Park

Christopher Wilson-Elmes Profile Image

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

We all love the UK’s national parks, finding calm and comfort, or excitement and adventure in the open spaces they provide. But we can be guilty of taking them for granted, and ignoring the threat posed by development, neglect and lack of access. Our new charity partner, Campaign for National Parks, is an organisation dedicated to protecting those fragile green spaces, ensuring that generations to come can form a lifelong bond with nature in them. To help them spread their message as far as possible, we’ll be talking to people connected with national parks about the problems they face, the changes they’d like to see and why the love what they do. Jess Davison is an ecologist and youth ambassador for Northumberland National Park. Driven by a passion for nature and a lifelong connection to the area, she fights to raise awareness of issues faced not only by NNP, but natural heritage all across England and Wales. We asked her about her role, her connection to NNP and her hope for the future.

What’s your earliest connection to one of the UK’s national parks?

I’ve had a connection with Northumberland National Park (NNP) from a very young age. I have pictures of my sister and me as young as one or two at Simonside, above Rothbury, with our parents. Once I was old enough, dad and I would visit Simonside every Saturday, no matter the weather, venturing further into the park’s remoter areas as time went on. This is the place where my passion for being outdoors began to blossom. 

Do you have a favourite spot in Northumberland national park?

It’s tough to have a singular favourite spot in NNP, as the landscape is so varied and unique. I would say that the Cheviots in the north of the park are where I find myself most often. There are four main valleys in this area, the Coquet, Breamish, Harthope & College and if I had to pick, I’d say my favourite spot is the Henhole, at the top of College Valley. It feels extremely remote and has some stunning waterfalls and crags. The whole of the Coquet Valley comes a very close second though. 

What exactly does your role as an ambassador involve? Is there anything you think might surprise people?

The role is completely voluntary and quite varied. I’ve produced videos to raise awareness of campaigns such as “The Big Give”, encouraging people to support the CNP. I visited the Houses of Parliament in July 2022, for the Park Protector Awards as a member of the judging panel. More recently, I was invited to the CNP societies conference co-hosted by Friends of the Lake District, alongside our other two ambassadors and a group of young bursary holders. 

I suppose something which might surprise people is that CNP enabled the other young ambassadors and myself to take part in those conference panels. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but these days I don’t see many organisations actually involving young people in these spaces. Our experiences and opinions are just as valuable as those of older people and more experienced. After all, we are discussing issues that will impact our future. 

Why and how did you become a youth ambassador?

It totally came out of the blue. Back in 2021, I was nominated as volunteer of the year for the CNP Park Protector Awards, by a staff member from Northumberland National Park. This was when I came in contact with CNP, who were really keen on me becoming their first young ambassador. Of course, I said yes. I have always taken opportunities that are outside of my comfort zone, (as they say up north, shy bairns get nowt!) because this is the best way to develop personally and professionally. 

What’s the biggest issue in the Northumberland National Park right now?

The lack of funding from DEFRA. The Government’s grant to NNP has been frozen since 2019 and this will be the case till 2025. This is putting pressure on the park even to  conduct its core functions. There was some one-off funding in 2023 (£4.4 million) from DEFRA to ten NP authorities, which came as a welcome boost in a stagnant funding Period. Our national parks should be at the centre of tackling the biodiversity and climate crisis, so the lack of long-term government funding to NNP prevents the authority from being as ambitious as they need to be, to achieve the long-term vision set out in their new Management Plan. What astounds me is that despite all our National Parks all having the same purpose enshrined in law; 

  1. To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of an area.
  2. To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public. 

There is a general lack of funding from the government to deliver these, and a more concerning factor is that there is a disproportionate amount of government funding to some of our parks (with NNP receiving an inadequate amount compared to other national parks). This should not be the case, as each national park should have enough funds to carry out its legislative purposes and have the means to go above and beyond. 

What difference do you hope to make as a young ambassador, and what’s the one change you’d like to see in Northumberland NP?

As a young ambassador, I want to inspire other young people to step outside their comfort zone when it comes to taking opportunities that may arise, no matter their passion. I think it’s easier said than done to make the initial step, but so many exciting things arise from doing so. I also endeavour to promote environmental awareness and work on improving the world that we all share, as cliche as that may sound. The one thing I would like to see change in NNP, is increased funding from DEFRA, so that those who work within the Authority can be as ambitious as they desire to be in tackling the current climate and biodiversity crisis. 

What can other young people do to support this cause?

What springs to mind is a quote by David Attenborough saying ‘if children grow up not knowing about nature and appreciating it, they won’t understand it, and if they don’t understand it, they won’t protect it…’. I couldn’t agree more with this. A way to achieve this would be educating young people about nature and how intrinsic thriving ecosystems are to our livelihoods, allowing them to communicate these messages to people and in turn educate their friends and family. From this, more people will understand why it is vital to protect our environment, whether that be our national parks, National Landscapes or even simply our neighbourhood parks. 

Lastly, I would say it is great to get involved with voluntary activities with a national park or Wildlife Trust etc. to build relationships with likeminded people and make a positive impact wherever you can with whatever time you have. It all counts! 

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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