Green fields highlighted by sunrays through heavy clouds from Curbar Edge

#70People70Years - Michael Dower

Michael Dower - National Park Officer 1985 to 1992

Born in 1933, Michael Dower can rightly claim to have national parks in his blood. His father John Dower wrote the 1945 White Paper "National Parks in England and Wales" which led to the National Parks Act of 1949. His mother Pauline Dower was for 16 years a member of the National Parks Commission, which oversaw creation of the first 10 national parks in England and Wales, including the Peak District National Park.

Michael trained as a chartered surveyor and town planner. After work with London County Council, the Civic Trust and the UN Special Fund in Ireland, he founded in 1967 the Dartington Amenity Research Trust, which undertook research and consultancy for the Countryside Commission, Sports Council and other agencies.

When Michael joined the Peak District National Park in 1985, there were signs around Bakewell saying “Abolish the Peak Park”.  He befriended the people responsible, and the signs came down, but he realised that many farmers were opposed to the Park. He brought together the five government agencies who offered advice and grants to farmers, added the National Park funding to the mix, and enabled farmers to gain income for looking after the landscape. Within two years, half of the Park’s farmers were receiving significant grants. With the Park’s rangers also troubleshooting between farmers and visitors, the mood between farmers and the National Park improved.

"National parks are in my blood."

Michael Dower

Michael took an activist view of the National Park’s role, seeking "win-win-win" solutions to benefit landscape, economy and community. He provoked the setting up of the Peak District Products Association, so that visitors could buy local products as a memento of their visit. The National Park helped farmers gain a secondary income through tourism. It was active in assessing the need for affordable housing and securing sites for this purpose.

Michael relished his good fortune in having a supportive Board, a substantial budget and a strong and diversified staff. He developed close working relationships with the Chatsworth estate, the National Trust, English Nature, English Heritage and other public agencies in pursuit of the purposes set out in the national park management plan. He secured the setting up of the Peak Park Trust, which made new use of derelict historic buildings, such as the business centre at Eccles House Farm in the Hope Valley.

In 1992, Michael moved to become Director-General of the Countryside Commission, the government agency responsible (inter alia) for advice to government about policy and funding for national parks. When he retired from that job, he became Professor of European Rural Development at the University of Gloucestershire. From 2000 to 2016, he was coordinator of the PREPARE Partnership for Rural Europe, and in the latter period also Joint Coordinator of the European Rural Parliament.

Michael lived his later years in Dorset, where he was an active campaigner on climate and related issues. He died in November 2022.

Michael Dower can be heard speaking on the Campaign for National Parks video (2:17 in)...

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