Fourteen areas are designated as national parks in the United Kingdom; in addition, The Broads (seen in light green, in the East) now have 'equivalent status'

National parks of the United Kingdom (Welsh: parciau cenedlaethol; Scottish Gaelic: pàircean nàiseanta) are areas of relatively undeveloped and scenic landscape across the country. Despite their name, they are quite different from national parks in many other countries, which are usually owned and managed by governments as protected community resources, and which do not usually include permanent human communities. In the United Kingdom, an area designated as a national park may include substantial settlements and human land uses that are often integral parts of the landscape. Land within national parks remains largely in private ownership. These parks are therefore not "national parks" according to the internationally accepted standard of the IUCN[1] but they are areas of outstanding landscape where planning controls are a little more restrictive than elsewhere.

Within the United Kingdom there are fourteen national parks of which nine are in England, three in Wales, two in Scotland, and none in Northern Ireland. There is one further area in England with "equivalent status".

An estimated 110 million people visit the national parks of England and Wales each year. Recreation and tourism bring visitors and funds into the parks, to sustain their conservation efforts, and support the local population through jobs and businesses. However, these visitors also bring problems, such as erosion and traffic congestion, and conflicts over the use of the parks' resources. Access to cultivated land in England and Wales is restricted to public rights of way and permissive paths. (Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 there is a right of access for walkers to most but not all uncultivated areas in England and Wales.)


National parks are a devolved matter, so each of the countries of the United Kingdom has its own policies and arrangements for them. The national parks of Scotland and those of England and Wales are governed by separate laws: the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 in Scotland and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 for England and Wales.

The Environment Act 1995 defines the role of national parks in England and Wales as being:

The Broads differs from the twelve national parks in England & Wales in having a third purpose that carries equal weight, that of:

The Scottish national parks have two further statutory purposes:

National park authorities

Main article: National park authority

Following the Environment Act 1995, each English and Welsh national park has been managed by its own national park authority, a special-purpose local authority, since April 1997.[2] Previously, all but the Peak District and the Lake District were governed by county councils. The Peak District and the Lake District, the first two national parks to be designated, were under the control of planning boards that were independent of county councils. Similar national park authorities have also been established for the Scottish parks under separate legislation.

Slightly over half the members of each national park authority are appointees from the principal local authorities covered by the park; the remainder are appointed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (in England) or the Welsh Ministers (in Wales), some to represent local parish or community councils, others to represent the national interest.[3] The Broads Authority also has members appointed by Natural England, Great Yarmouth Port Authority and the Environment Agency. The national park authorities and the Broads Authority are covered by regulations similar to those that apply to local councils.

The national park authority for each park addresses the stated aim in partnership with other organisations, such as the National Trust. In cases where there may be conflict between the two purposes of designation, the first (to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park) must take precedence under the Sandford Principle. This principle was given statutory force by section 62 of the Environment Act 1995, although there are no explicit provisions as to how wildlife is to be preserved. The national park authorities also have a duty to foster the economic and social wellbeing of communities in pursuit of these purposes.[4]

Funding for national parks is complex, but the full cost of each park authority is funded from central government funds. In the past this was partly paid for by local authorities and refunded to them from the government to varying degrees. In 2003/2004 the park authorities received around £35.5 million of central government funding.

Other organisations

The UK's national parks are members of National Parks UK, which works to promote them, and to facilitate training and development for staff of all the parks.[5]

Natural England is the statutory body responsible for designating new national parks in England, subject to approval by the Secretary of State; Natural Resources Wales designates new national parks in Wales, subject to approval by the Welsh Ministers. All fifteen United Kingdom national parks are represented by the Association of National Park Authorities, which exists to provide the park authorities with a single voice when dealing with government and its agencies. The Campaign for National Parks (formerly Council for National Parks) is a charity that works to protect and enhance the national parks of England and Wales.

Legal designation

National parks were first designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and in England and Wales any new national park is designated under this Act, and must be confirmed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The 1949 Act came about after a prolonged campaign for public access to the countryside in the United Kingdom with its roots in the Industrial Revolution. The first 'freedom to roam' bill was introduced to Parliament in 1884 by James Bryce but it was not until 1931 that a government inquiry recommended the creation of a 'National Park Authority' to select areas for designation as national parks. Despite the recommendation and continued lobbying and demonstrations of public discontent, such as the 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass in the Peak District, nothing further was done until a 1945 white paper on national parks was produced as part of the Labour Party's planned post-war reconstruction, leading in 1949 to the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.[6]

In England and Wales, as in Scotland, designation as a national park means that the area has been identified as being of importance to the national heritage and as such is worthy of special protection and attention. Unlike the model adopted in many other countries, such as the US and Germany, this does not mean the area is owned by the state. National parks in the United Kingdom may include substantial settlements and human land uses which are often integral parts of the landscape, and within a national park there are many landowners including public bodies and private individuals.[7]

Origins and growth

Part of the Brecon Beacons National Park (Bannau Brycheiniog), looking from the highest point of Pen y Fan (886 m; 2,907 ft) to Cribyn (795 m; 2,608 ft).
The head of Wasdale – this view appears on the logo of the Lake District National Park Authority

Archaeological evidence from prehistoric Britain shows that the areas now designated as national parks have been occupied by humans since the Stone Age, at least 5,000 years ago and in some cases much earlier.

Before the 19th century relatively wild, remote areas were often seen simply as uncivilised and dangerous. In 1725 Daniel Defoe described the High Peak as "the most desolate, wild and abandoned country in all England".[8] However, by the early 19th century, romantic poets such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth wrote about the inspirational beauty of the "untamed" countryside.[3] Wordsworth described the English Lake District as a "sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy" in 1810. This early vision, based in the Picturesque movement, took over a century, and much controversy, to take legal form in the UK with the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

The idea for a form of national parks was first proposed in the United States in the 1860s, where national parks were established to protect wilderness areas such as Yosemite. This model has been used in many other countries since, but not in the United Kingdom.

After thousands of years of human integration into the landscape, Britain lacks any substantial areas of wilderness. Furthermore, those areas of natural beauty so cherished by the romantic poets were often only maintained and managed in their existing state by human activity, usually agriculture.[9]

Government support is established

By the early 1930s increasing public interest in the countryside, coupled with the growing and newly mobile urban population, was generating increasing friction between those seeking access to the countryside and landowners. Alongside of direct action trespasses, such as the mass trespass of Kinder Scout, several voluntary bodies took up the cause of public access in the political arena.

In 1931 Christopher Addison (later Lord Addison) chaired a government committee that proposed a 'National Park Authority' to choose areas for designation as national parks.[2] A system of national reserves and nature sanctuaries was proposed:

(i) to safeguard areas of exceptional natural interest against (a) disorderly development and (b) spoliation; (ii) to improve the means of access for pedestrians to areas of natural beauty; and (iii) to promote measures for the protection of flora and fauna.

However, no further action was taken after the intervention of the 1931 General Election.

The voluntary Standing Committee on National Parks first met on 26 May 1936 to put the case to the government for national parks in the UK. After World War II, the Labour Party proposed the establishment of national parks as part of the post-war reconstruction of the UK. A report by John Dower, secretary of the Standing Committee on National Parks,[10] to the Minister of Town and Country Planning in 1945 was followed in 1947 by a Government committee, this time chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse, which prepared legislation for national parks, and proposed twelve national parks. Sir Arthur had this to say on the criteria for designating suitable areas:

The essential requirements of a National Park are that it should have great natural beauty, a high value for open-air recreation and substantial continuous extent. Further, the distribution of selected areas should as far as practicable be such that at least one of them is quickly accessible from each of the main centres of population in England and Wales. Lastly there is merit in variety and with the wide diversity of landscape which is available in England and Wales, it would be wrong to confine the selection of National Parks to the more rugged areas of mountain and moorland, and to exclude other districts which, though of less outstanding grandeur and wildness, have their own distinctive beauty and a high recreational value.

National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949

Hadrian's Wall crosses Northumberland National Park

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 was passed with all party support. The first ten national parks were designated as such in the 1950s under the Act in mostly poor-quality agricultural upland. Much of the land was still owned by individual landowners, often private estates, but there was also property owned by public bodies such as the Crown, or charities which allow and encourage access such as the National Trust. Accessibility from the cities was also considered important.

The Peak District, site of the Kinder Scout trespass, was designated the first national park in April 1951 under the Clement Attlee led Labour administration. This was followed in the same year by the designations of three more national parks; the Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor. By the end of the decade the national park family had increased to ten with the Pembrokeshire Coast, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and Brecon Beacons national parks all being designated.[6]

Other areas were also considered: for example, parts of the coast of Cornwall were considered as a possible national park in the 1950s but were thought to be too disparate to form a single coherent national park and were eventually designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) instead. The north Pennines were also considered for designation as a national park in the 1970s but the proposal was thought to be administratively too difficult because the area was administered by five different county councils.

Later additions

The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads was designated through its own Act of Parliament in 1988, gaining status equivalent to that of a national park. The Broads in East Anglia are not in the strictest sense a national park, being run by a separately constituted Broads Authority set up by a special Act of Parliament in 1988[2] and with a structure in which conservation is subordinate to navigational concerns (see Sandford Principle below), but it is generally regarded as being "equivalent to" a national park.[11]

Separate legislation was passed in Scotland, namely the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, and from this two Scottish national parks, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, were created.

The New Forest, which includes the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and old-growth forest in the heavily populated south east of England, was designated as a national park on 1 March 2005.[12] On 31 March 2009 it was announced that the South Downs would be designated a national park; the South Downs National Park came into effect on 31 March 2010.[13] Of the English and Welsh national parks that were originally proposed, two remain undesignated: the Cambrian Mountains and Cornish Coast.

National parks


Of the twelve national parks in England and Wales, four are in the North of England, two in the Southwest, one in the North Midlands, two (the most recently designated) in the South and three in Wales. They cover 10.7 per cent of England and 19.9 per cent of Wales.[14] They touch only sixteen English counties and there is no national park in the southern Midlands.

The Cairngorms National Park, at 4,528 km2 (1,748 sq mi), is the largest of the national parks. Outside the Scottish Highlands the largest is the Lake District National Park, which, at 2,292 square kilometres (885 sq mi), is the largest National Park in England and the second largest in the United Kingdom.

Snowdonia National Park, at 2,142 square kilometres (827 sq mi), is the largest national park in Wales and the fourth largest in the United Kingdom.

The smallest national park in England and Wales, and in the United Kingdom, is The Broads, at 303 square kilometres (117 sq mi).

The total area of the national parks in England and Wales is about 16,267 square kilometres (6,281 sq mi), for an average of 1,251 square kilometres but a median of 1,344 square kilometres.[14] In the United Kingdom the total increases to 22,660 square kilometres (average 1511 km2).[14] The most-visited national park is the Lake District, with 15.8 million visitors in 2009, although by visitor days the South Downs at 39 million compares to 23.1 million for the Lake District.[14]

List of national parks

Name Wider area Photo Country /
Date formed[15] Area
Peak District The Peak  England
Derbyshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire
53°21′N 1°50′W / 53.350°N 1.833°W / 53.350; -1.833
17 April 1951 1,438 square kilometres (555.2 sq mi)
Lake District The Lakes  England
54°30′N 3°10′W / 54.500°N 3.167°W / 54.500; -3.167
9 May 1951 2,292 square kilometres (884.9 sq mi)
(Welsh: Eryri)
Snowdonia  Wales
Gwynedd, Conwy
52°54′N 3°51′W / 52.900°N 3.850°W / 52.900; -3.850
18 October 1951 2,142 square kilometres (827.0 sq mi)
Dartmoor Devon  England
50°34′N 4°0′W / 50.567°N 4.000°W / 50.567; -4.000
30 October 1951 956 square kilometres (369.1 sq mi)
Pembrokeshire Coast
(Welsh: Arfordir Penfro)
Pembrokeshire  Wales
51°50′N 5°05′W / 51.833°N 5.083°W / 51.833; -5.083
29 February 1952 620 square kilometres (239.4 sq mi)
North York Moors Cleveland  England
North Yorkshire
54°23′N 0°45′W / 54.383°N 0.750°W / 54.383; -0.750
29 November 1952 1,436 square kilometres (554.4 sq mi)
Yorkshire Dales The Dales  England
North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire
54°16′N 2°05′W / 54.267°N 2.083°W / 54.267; -2.083
16 November 1954 2,179 square kilometres (841.3 sq mi)
Exmoor Bristol Channel  England
Somerset, Devon
51°06′N 3°36′W / 51.100°N 3.600°W / 51.100; -3.600
19 October 1954 693 square kilometres (267.6 sq mi)
Northumberland Border Moors and Forests  England
55°19′N 2°13′W / 55.317°N 2.217°W / 55.317; -2.217
6 April 1956 1,049 square kilometres (405.0 sq mi)
Brecon Beacons
(Welsh: Bannau Brycheiniog)
Brecon Beacons  Wales
Blaenau Gwent, Carmarthenshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Powys, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Caerphilly
51°53′N 3°26′W / 51.883°N 3.433°W / 51.883; -3.433
17 April 1957 1,351 square kilometres (521.6 sq mi)
The Broads East Anglia  England
Norfolk, Suffolk
52°43′27″N 1°38′27″E / 52.72417°N 1.64083°E / 52.72417; 1.64083
1 April 1989 303 square kilometres (117.0 sq mi)
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Highland Boundary Fault  Scotland
West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute, Perth and Kinross, Stirling
56°15′N 4°37′W / 56.250°N 4.617°W / 56.250; -4.617
24 April 2002 1,865 square kilometres (720.1 sq mi)
Cairngorms The Cairngorms  Scotland
Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Perth and Kinross
57°5′N 3°40′W / 57.083°N 3.667°W / 57.083; -3.667
6 January 2003 4,528 square kilometres (1,748.3 sq mi)
New Forest New Forest  England
Hampshire, Wiltshire
50°52′N 1°34′W / 50.867°N 1.567°W / 50.867; -1.567
1 March 2005 580 square kilometres (223.9 sq mi)
South Downs Southern England Chalk Formation  England
East Sussex, Hampshire, West Sussex
50°54′40″N 0°22′01″W / 50.911°N 0.367°W / 50.911; -0.367
12 November 2009
2010 (operational)[16]
1,641 square kilometres (633.6 sq mi)

National parks in England

Twelve areas are designated as national parks in England and Wales; the Broads now have 'equivalent status'.

National parks in Wales

Main article: National parks of Wales

National parks in Scotland

Main article: National parks of Scotland

National parks in Northern Ireland

There are currently no national parks in Northern Ireland though there have been controversial moves to establish one in the Mourne Mountains. If established, it would stretch from Carlingford Lough to Newcastle and Slieve Croob.[45]

Development and land use planning in national parks

National park authorities are the strategic and local planning authorities for their areas, so that the local district or unitary councils do not exercise planning control in an area covered by a national park. Consequently, they have to perform all the duties of a local planning authority.

They are responsible for maintaining the local development framework — the spatial planning guide for their area. They also grant planning consent for development, within the constraints of the Framework. This gives them very strong direct control over residential and industrial development, and the design of buildings and other structures; as well as strategic matters such as mineral extraction.

The national park authorities' planning powers vary only slightly from other authorities, but the policies and their interpretation are stricter than elsewhere. This is supported and encouraged by the government who regard:

"National Park designation as conferring the highest status of protection as far as landscape and scenic beauty are concerned." The Countryside — Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development (1997)

Contribution to the local economy

Tourism is an important part of the economy of the regions which contain national parks. Through attractions, shops and accommodation, visitors provide an income and a livelihood to local employers and farmers. This income provides jobs for the park. For example, within the Peak District National Park the estimate in 2004 for visitor spending is £185 million, which supports over 3,400 jobs, representing 27% of total employment in the national park.[46]

Conflicts in national parks

The national park authorities have two roles: to conserve and enhance the park, and to promote its use by visitors. These two objectives cause frequent conflicts between the needs of different groups of people. It is estimated that the national parks of England and Wales receive 110 million visitors each year. Most of the time it is possible to achieve both the original two purposes by good management. Occasionally a situation arises where access for the public is in direct conflict with conservation. Following the ethos of the Sandford Principle, the Environment Act 1995 sets down how a priority may be established between conservation and recreational use. Similar provision has been made for Scottish national parks.

Although recreation and tourism bring many benefits to an area, they can also bring a number of problems. The national funding offered to national park authorities is partly in recognition of the extra difficulties created in dealing with these conflicts.

Congestion of villages and beauty spots
Some of the most popular "honeypot" areas attract large numbers of visitors, resulting in overcrowded car parks, blocked roads, and overstretched local facilities, particularly on Sundays in the summer and on bank holidays. Examples include the areas near Keswick in the Lake District, Castleton and Bakewell in the Peak District, and Betws-y-Coed in Snowdonia.
Hill-walking and use of other public rights-of-way is an extremely popular use of all the national parks. Heavy use of the most popular paths leads to considerable erosion, but strengthening of paths can be unsightly. Particularly heavy wear is caused by sponsored walks, walks promoted by national books and magazines, by horse riding on unsurfaced bridleways, mountain biking and use of off-road vehicles on green lanes. Examples include Dovedale in the Peak District. Over-grazing, for example, by sheep on hill and moorland areas, can also reduce vegetation, leading to increased erosion.
Damage and disturbance to wildlife
Wildlife may be disturbed by the level of use within some of the areas of the parks that are open to the public. Moorland and chalk downland is easily damaged by regular use, and takes many years to recover. Moorland birds in particular nest and roost on the ground and are therefore especially sensitive. Dog walking, orienteering, mountain biking and hang gliding are typical activities which are likely to cause disturbance to nesting birds.
Litter of all kinds is both unsightly and can cause pollution and harm to livestock and wild animals. Broken glass is a danger to people and, by focusing the rays of the sun, a possible cause of fire, particularly in areas of moorland such as Exmoor, parts of the Peak District and the North York Moors.
Damage to farmland
Trampling of grass meadows reduces the amount of winter feed for farm animals. Walkers who stray from footpaths may climb over fences or dry stone walls rather than looking out for the stiles that often mark the course of footpaths across farmland. Sheep can be injured or even killed by dogs not under proper control, especially at lambing time.
Local community displacement
Gift shops and cafés which cater for the needs of tourists are often more profitable than shops selling everyday goods for local people (such as butchers or bakers). In some villages where tourist shops are in the majority and there are few shops catering for the local people, the local community may feel pushed out by the tourists. Houses are often very expensive in tourist villages as there is demand for them as second homes or holiday homes by holiday cottage firms or well-off people who live elsewhere, or who move to a local home from which they commute to work, making them unaffordable for local people. This is a particular problem in areas within easy commuting distance of large cities, such as the Peak District, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the New Forest and South Downs.
Conflict between recreational users
Some forms of use of national parks interfere with other uses. For example, use of high-speed boats causes noise pollution, and conflicts with other uses such as boat trips, yachting, canoeing, and swimming. A bylaw imposing a 10 knot speed limit came into force on Windermere on 29 March 2005.[47][48] The new speed limit for Windermere effectively prohibited speedboats and water skiing in the Lake District.[49] Of the 16 larger lakes in the Lake District, only Windermere, Coniston Water, Derwent Water and Ullswater have a public right of navigation; speed limits were imposed on the three lakes other than Windermere in the 1970s and 1980s.

Other designated landscapes

See also: Conservation in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has a number of other designated landscape areas besides its national parks. Most similar to the parks are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which differ in part because of their more limited opportunities for extensive outdoor recreation.[50] Dartmoor, the Lake District, North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales all abut AONBs and in addition the coasts of Exmoor and the North York Moors coincide with heritage coasts.[51] All the Parks contain in varying numbers Sites of Special Scientific Interest and national nature reserves. A part of the Brecon Beacons National Park is also designated as one of the UNESCO Global Geoparks. Of the various World Heritage Sites in England and Wales, one – the Lake District – is wholly coincident with a national park whilst a part of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage Site falls within the Brecon Beacons National Park and parts of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd and of the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales fall within Snowdonia National Park.[52]

See also


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