Gordale Scar in the Yorkshire Dales

National Park FAQs

National Parks are incredible spaces for nature, culture and communities but what exactly is a National Park? From how they’re run to what makes them so special, we’re here to answer all your questions.

What is a National Park?

Starting with a big one, National Parks are defined as substantial tracts of land, sometimes remote, with wide open spaces large enough to provide the public with opportunities for outdoor recreation. National Parks are designated because of their landscape quality, wildlife and their values as a recreational resource.

Why were National Parks created in the UK?

The National Parks were created as part of the post-World War II re-establishment process. Spurred on by the increasing desire for everyone to have access to the countryside, National Parks were created to bring long-term protection to areas of beautiful countryside that were highly valued for physical and spiritual refreshment.

What are the purposes of National Parks?

National Parks have two purposes:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
  • To promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Parks

In cases where conflict exists between the two purposes and reconciliation proves impossible, the first purpose should take precedence – this is known as the Sandford Principle.

The Broads was designated under a special Act of Parliament and is a member of the National Park family. The Broads has its own third purpose – to protect the interests of navigation.

Why is it important to protect National Parks?

National Parks are important and special areas covering 10% of the land area in England and Wales. They protect vital landscapes and wildlife habitats and contain significant culturally important sites. National Parks are also home to communities where people live and work.

They also provide a focus for recreation and tourism for 90 million visitors to National Parks and surrounding areas each year, spending more than £4bn. The physical and mental health benefits of being connected to nature are well documented, no wonder 90% of people say that National Parks are important to them.

Over 23% of land in National Parks in England is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and over 333,000 hectares is recognised and protected as being of international conservation importance.

The Parks play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change and are essential carbon stores. Peat soils in National Parks in England hold 119 megatons of carbon, that’s the equivalent to England’s entire CO2 emissions for one year.

When were the National Parks created?

The first National Parks were created in 1951, the latest addition to the National Park family was the South Downs in 2010.

1951: Lake District, Dartmoor, Peak District, Eryri (Snowdonia)

1952: North York Moors, Pembrokeshire Coast

1954: Exmoor, Yorkshire Dales

1955: Northumberland

1957: Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons)

1989: The Broads (designated under its Act of Parliament)

2005: New Forest

2010: South Downs

How are National Parks managed?

National Park Authorities (NPAs) are the bodies charged with the achieving the two purposes of National Parks. They are members of the local government family but are also independent, special purpose authorities established to act in the best interests of the National Parks and to encourage others to do the same. The NPAs and the Broads Authority are funded by Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government.

National Park Authorities and National Park Societies

Each National Park has its own National Park Authority funded by the government.

Every National Park (with the exception of Northumberland) has a dedicated society which are charitable organisations. They differ in size, some are run only by volunteers, others have full time members of staff. Their aim is to advance the enhancement, protection and conservation of the National Park for the benefit of everyone. They work closely with the National Park Authority to achieve their aims.

We work closely with all the National Park Authorities and Societies, if you’re a member of a society and would like to hear more about the work going on across the Parks, sign up to our Stand Up E-Bulletin.

Sign up to Stand Up

Who owns the land in National Parks?

Although some land within the Parks is managed by the National Park Authority, National Park status does not automatically signify national ownership of the land as in other countries such as the USA. Within a National Park the majority of land is owned by farmers and other private landowners including conservation organisations such as the National Trust.