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English National Parks

Twelve National Parks have been designated in England and Wales, since the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. This includes the Broads which was set up by a special Act of Parliament in 1988, and the New Forest, designated in March 2005. The Parks cover about 10% of the total land area of England and Wales (around 5% of England and 20% of Wales). Of these Parks, nine are in England.

There are two National Parks in Scotland: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, and the Cairngorms.

In September 1999 the Government indicated that it would like the South Downs to be designated a National Park. The Countryside Agency (now Natural England) agreed to proceed with the process of designation on 13 April 2000.

This site deals only with England. This is not in any way partisan, as further sites dedicated to Wales and Scotland are planned. It’s just that, for such a small island, Great Britain packs such a lot in that it was thought better to do it this way.

The National Parks were designated in order to protect beautiful areas for the benefit of the nation, yet now, as fifty years ago, they are under threat. Indeed, new and subtler problems have been added to those of long-standing concern.

National Parks are also places where we can find answers to some of the challenges of modern life: problems such as traffic congestion, agricultural malaise and the rapid consumption of natural resources. The Government wants National Parks to be models for sustainable development, a role which they are very well placed to deliver. The complexity of managing the Parks is as challenging as ever and the stakes are even higher now than when the Parks were first designated.

What are National Parks?

National Parks are large areas of land in England and Wales that are protected by law for the benefit of the nation. They cover 10% of the land area of England and Wales, (the three Welsh National Parks covering 20% of the land area in Wales). Today, amongst other things, they are a nationally important recreational resource attracting approximately 100 million visitors a year. These special areas are an important part of the nation's heritage, available to everyone to enjoy and safeguarded for future generations.

Where are the National Parks and when were they designated?

There are 9 Parks in England and 3 in Wales, 10 of them were established during the 1950s:

The Peak District (1951), Lake District (1951), Snowdonia (1951), Dartmoor (1951), Pembrokeshire Coast (1952), North York Moors (1952), Yorkshire Dales (1954), Exmoor (1954), Northumberland (1956), Brecon Beacons (1957) and the New Forest (2005)

The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads was designated in 1988 by a special Act of Parliament.

Where did National Parks come from?

People have lived in the areas now designated as National Parks for more than 5,000 years. In the early 19th century the romantic poets such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth wrote about the inspirational beauty of the "untamed" countryside. Until then relatively wild, remote areas had been seen as uncivilised and dangerous. Wordsworth famously claimed the Lake District as "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and an interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy".

In the early 20th Century the growing appreciation of the great outdoors, the benefits of physical exercise, and the feeling of freedom and of spiritual renewal gained from open air recreation, led to demands for more access to the countryside. As towns and cities expanded and more land was enclosed by landowners for agricultural or sporting reasons, the conflict between the landowners and public interest groups grew.

Northumberland    North Yorks Moors     Yorkshire Dales     Lake District     Peak District

Norfolk Broads    Exmoor     Dartmoor     New Forest     South Downs

A 1931 inquiry into National Parks by a Government committee, chaired by Lord Addison, recommended the creation of a "National Park Authority" to select areas for designation as National Parks. However, no action was taken and public discontent grew.

In the cities, especially around the Peak District, where opportunities to walk on the moors were very limited, people began to defy the landowners and gamekeepers and trespass on the moors. In 1932 a "mass trespass" took place on Kinder Scout. As a result of this five men were imprisoned and the conflict between landowners and those seeking greater public access intensified.

In 1935, a conference of voluntary organisations discussed how to take these issues forward and set up a voluntary sector "Standing Committee" as a forum for recreation, conservation and amenity groups to put pressure on the Government. The Standing Committee on National Parks (SCNP) first met on 26 May 1936. It produced a number of manifestos and pamphlets over the next few years, all arguing the case for National Parks and urging the Government to act. As part of the Labour party's planned post-war reconstruction a white paper on National Parks was published in 1945.

In the same year Sir Norman Birkett published a pamphlet "National Parks and the Countryside". In it he wrote "After the experiences of the past 6 years, it is altogether praiseworthy that there should be a great stirring in men's minds, a vast quickening of man's social conscience. And even if it were thought that this is put too high, it is at least inevitable that after so much suffering so nobly borne it should be felt that some compensation might be found for so large a calamity, that something nobler should emerge for those who had endured so much, that there should be in the somewhat wistful phrase - a better world."

The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act

In 1949 the Government passed an Act of Parliament to establish National Parks with all party support. It was described by Lewis Silkin, the Minister of Town and Country Planning of the time, as "the most exciting Act of the post-war Parliament". The nation was to have its Parks, and their purposes were to preserve and enhance natural beauty and to provide recreational opportunities for the public.

The first two Parks, the Lake District and the Peak District, were set up in 1951. Other designations followed although the Broads only received National Park status in 1988. Of the original 12 proposed as National Parks only one remains undesignated: the South Downs.

Source: CNP

In the 1930s groups of leisure activity enthusiasts and nature conservationists, including the Ramblers' Association, the Youth Hostels Association (YHA), the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) and the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW), rallied together to lobby the Government for measures to protect, and allow access to, the countryside, for the benefit of everyone.