Curlew in West Witton

National Parks Health Check Report

Our flagship Health Check Report sets out the first assessment of and recommendations for nature recovery in National Parks in England and Wales

Nature is in crisis across the UK.

We’ve carried out a health check of habitats and species in the 13 National Parks of England and Wales. The results are in for National Parks: nature needs a lifeline.

National Parks remain as important to the nation today as they were when they were first conceived 75 years ago. While it is clear that nature in National Parks faces many challenges, just as it does across the UK, these landscapes contain many of the last fragments of priority habitat and the last refuges for many species on the brink of extinction. 

Our Health Check report sets out the first full assessment of how well the National Parks of England and Wales are supporting nature’s recovery. It provides evidence of the current situation and identifies the changes needed to policy, legislation and practice in order to secure the step-change in progress that is so urgently needed.  

The nature and climate crisis is the biggest threat we have ever faced: globally, nationally and locally. National Parks have the potential to make a significant contribution, especially as wildlife rich landscapes are an essential part of the purposes for which these areas were designated. 

Take Action for nature in National Parks

Curlew in West Witton

Curlew © Deborah Clarke

The results are in:

Only 6% of the total land area of National Parks is currently managed effectively for nature

Watch the full film

Health Check Report

You can download the full report here. Welsh version coming soon.

Nature in National Parks

  • 70-80%

    Between 70-80% of peatlands in the UK are damaged

  • 235

    Years for some Parks to meet national tree coverage targets

  • Zero

    no water body in an English Park is in good overall health

We’ve analysed the health of peatland, woodland, freshwater, protected sites and species to understand the current state of nature in National Parks.

Peatland Health

National Parks contain a significant proportion of England and Wales’ peat. Peatlands support important wildlife habitats and species, and play a vital role in carbon storage.

National Parks contain 38% of the total carbon-storing peatland in England and Wales, but between 70% to 80% of that is likely to be in poor condition and therefore urgent action is needed to address this.

Peatland needs a lifeline

South West Peatland Partnership

South West Peatland Partnership

Incredible initiatives like the SWPP are already working hard to restore peatlands across Cornwall, Dartmoor and Exmoor

Watch the full film

Woodland health

Both the Westminster and Welsh Governments have set ambitious targets for woodland expansion.

Our analysis identified that there was virtually no change in woodland coverage across all the National Parks in the five years to 2020, with a total expansion of just 8 square miles across all the National Parks. At this rate it could take up to 235 years for some National Parks to meet national tree coverage targets.

Woodlands need a lifeline

Woodland comparison stats


Snaizeholme © James Reader

Snaizeholme woodland creation

In the Yorkshire Dales the Woodland Trust is creating one of the largest new native woodlands in England on 600 hectares of former farmland in Snaizeholme.

Freshwater health

The waterways of the National Parks are under threat from pollution and historic physical modifications such as straightening or deepening a river for land drainage.

The proportion of National Park rivers meeting good ecological status or higher dropped from 47% in 2013 to 39% in 2022, and lakes declined from 18% to 15% over the same period. In Wales, 51% rivers and 21% of lakes in National Parks achieved good overall status or higher in 2021.

Just five of the 880 water bodies in National Parks meet the highest status. However, even in the most pristine rivers and lakes in England’s National Parks, traces of toxic chemicals are found, resulting in not a single water body in an English National Park being in good overall health.

Freshwater needs a lifeline

Number of sewage releases into rivers in the borders of National Parks

Number of sewage releases from storm overflows within the boundaries of National Parks in England and Wales (2022)

Save Windermere sign at Hawkshead Pumping Station

Save Windermere sign at Hawkshead Pumping Station

Save Windermere

Campaigner Matt Staniek set up Save Windemere to fight for the complete removal of all sewage, arguing that as England’s largest and most iconic lake, the regulator should uphold the highest standards.

Protected Areas health

Parts of National Parks have been identified as being of national or international importance for biodiversity and are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) or other Protected Areas.

SSSIs in National Parks are on average in worse condition than those elsewhere. The reasons for poor condition which featured most frequently in research included mismanaged livestock grazing; pressure from deer browsing; the spread of invasive species; water pollution and human impacts.

Concerted action is needed to improve the condition of Protected Areas in National Parks.

Protected areas need a lifeline

Species health

The number of different types of species recorded varies significantly between the Parks. Priority list species which are declining nationally were sighted in all 13 National Parks with other endangered species are found in just a small number of Parks.

The South Downs has by far the highest number of records, more than double the number that exist in any of the other Parks. The Broads has by far the highest density of records with over 3000 records per km2.

It’s clear that National Parks are currently among the last refuges for many species on the brink of being lost from the UK and we need to ensure they become the places from which these species recover and are able to spread more widely.

Species need a lifeline

Bird Crime

Raptor (bird of prey) persecution is a particular problem in several of the National Parks. In the last five years, 56 out of 62 incidents reported in the National Parks took place in just three of them — the Peak District, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales.

In 2022, at least 70% of all confirmed raptor crimes across England and Wales were associated with gamebird shooting. Sadly, the chances of being caught and convicted for this type of offence are very low.

Birds of prey need a lifeline

Reforms for healthy nature in National Parks

Reform No. 1. Make it clear: National Parks are for nature

Governments in England and Wales must be unambiguous in their expectations and set out reforms to ensure that National Parks are deemed as nature designations as well as landscape designations.

Reform No. 2 A New Deal for National Parks

We want to see significantly increased levels of public investment in National Parks including a doubling of the core funding for National Park Authorities, higher levels of agri-environment support and much higher levels of investment from other public bodies.

Reform No. 3. Enforce the law and create new powers to halt harm and drive recovery

The ‘new deal’ for National Parks must provide the incentive framework to drive change, underpinned by new powers and enforcement to deliver the scale of change needed for nature.

Reform No. 4. A new ‘People’s Charter’ to ensure National Parks thrive into the future

When National Parks were created 75 years ago, it was under a ‘People’s Charter’ that set out a vision for every citizen to be able to walk completely immersed in nature. This vision should be the basis for a renewed social contract.

Take action

Having grown up in the New Forest and enjoyed so many amazing experiences in our National Parks I know how important these unique landscapes are for wildlife, habitats and the people who cherish them. Working together we can help create National Parks that are nature-rich and climate-resilient, and in doing so offer a brighter future for the planet and all those who call it home. And that’s why Campaign for National Parks’ suggested reforms in this report are so important. There are some clear steps which Government can take to help National Parks thrive, but we must act now.

Megan McCubbin (Zoologist, Wildlife TV Presenter, Conservationist, Photographer and Author)

Let's get National Park nature back to full health

Tell your representative to back nature recovery in National Parks

Send a letter today