National Parks

What is a National Park?

Some areas of particularly significant and unspoiled natural heritage have been designated as National Parks to preserve their character and ecosystems for public enjoyment.

National Parks in England are designated by Natural England, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

Land use and economic development within National Parks is the responsibility of the National Park Authorities which are independent bodies funded by central government. Each National Park is administered by its own NPA.

They are required to give far greater weight than under normal planning procedures to conservation of the natural beauty of the countryside, its wildlife and cultural heritage. Major developments are only permitted in 'exceptional' circumstances, according to Planning Policy Guidance 7. In the event of the NPAs' conservation and recreation goals coming into conflict, the 'Sandford Principle' rules that the former takes precedence.

Each National Park Authority has a number of paid staff and a number of unpaid appointed members, selected by the Secretary of State and local and parish councils; these members provide leadership, scrutiny and direction for the NPA. 

All 15 National Park Authorities work together as the UK Association of National Park Authorities (UK  ANPA), to manage joint training projects, public relations activities and special events, raising the profile of the Parks and promoting them as beacons for sustainable development.

Country associations for the English and Welsh National Parks represent the NPAs to English and Welsh governments.

National Parks are not publicly owned land; for example the National Trust owns 25 per cent of the Lake District and 12 per cent of the Peak District National Parks.


In 1936, in response to calls for greater countryside access. representatives from the Rambler’s Association, the Youth Hostels’ Association, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales set up the Standing Committee on National Parks to argue the case for National Parks and urge the Government to act.

The Committee later became known as the Campaign for National Parks (CNP), currently the only national charity dedicated to campaigning to protect and promote all of the National Parks of England and Wales.

The CNP led the fight to secure the 1949 Act of Parliament that led to the creation of National Parks. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949  was subsequently amended by the Environment Act 1995.

The UK has currently (2012) 15 National Parks; 10 are in England, 3 in Wales and 2 in Scotland

The Peak District, the Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor were the first areas to be designated as National Parks in 1951.

The Pembrokeshire Coast and the North Yorkshire Moors were designated as National Parks in 1952, followed by the Yorkshire Dales and Exmoor in 1954, Northumberland in 1956, the Brecon Beacons in 1957 and the Norfolk Broads in 1989.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs became the first Scottish National Park in 2002, followed by the Cairngorms in 2003.

On March 1st 2005 the New Forest became the first National Park in the south-east. The process of designating the South Downs began in 1999 and was completed on 31st March 2010 making the South Downs the 10th designated National Park in England.

The Coalition government gave a commitment to "…review the governance arrangements of National Parks in order to increase local accountability" and a public consultation held in 2011 produced suggestions for a wide range of improvements to the way in which National Park authorities operate.

Subsequently, a further consultation was held between March and May 2012 inviting views on the proposed amendment of primary legislation, through use of a Public Bodies Act Order, to implement five specific changes.

A report on progress on implementing the Governance Review of National Park Authorities is expected in 2013.


The controversies common to all National Parks are generally disputes about initial designation, disputes about boundaries and questions of economic development within National Parks.

One contentious proposal for economic development in a National Park was the plan for a Dibden Bay port. Associated British Ports wanted to construct an 800 acre facility on the western bank of Southampton Water, which some regard as part of the New Forest. The environmental impact of the port and its associated transport infrastructure led to a long and ongoing planning inquiry, with strong views on both sides.

Finally in May 2004, Transport Minister Tony McNulty announced that he had decided to refuse permission for the port development stating that "one important factor in the making of this decision was the environmental impact of the proposals on internationally protected sites."

More recently, proposals to site new nuclear power stations in Cumbria raised particular concern. Three sites were nominated; Sellafield, next to the current power station, Braystones, 3km from the Lake District, and Kirksanton, 300m from the Lake District.  Following vigorous campaigning by the CNP and others, the Braystones and Kirksanton nominations were removed.

Campaigners are also closely monitoring the debate on the future of the public forest estate in England, one third of which lies within National Parks, and, in light of the Government's commitment to decentralise planning decisions, are watching out for any proposed changes to the planning protection currently enjoyed by National Parks.

In addition, campaigners are currently waging a battle against the proposed development in the North York Moors National Park of the UK's first potash mine for 40 years. They believe that areas designated as Special Protected Areas, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and a Heritage Coast could be adversely affected.

York Potash Ltd (owned by Sirius Minerals plc) is reported to be hoping to obtain planning approval by the end of 2012, to start building a minehead and mining operations in 2013 and start extracting potash by 2017.


The UK’s 15 National Parks are part of a global family of over 113,000 protected areas, covering 149 million square kilometres or 6% of the Earth’s surface.

We are linked to Europe through the EUROPARC Federation – a network of European protected areas with 360 member organisations in 37 countries.

Source: National Parks - 2012


"We will review the governance arrangements of National Parks in order to increase local accountability."

The Coalition: Our programme for government.

"It’s often assumed that National Parks are completely protected. This is not the case. National Parks face serious threats. Road building, military training, mining, large-scale energy projects...if left unchecked they can wreak destruction.

"We question the need for developments that destroy vistas, wildlife and experiences that people have enjoyed for generations."

CNP - 2012

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