I’ve had a long-standing relationship with National Parks around the world, having spent most of my summer holidays as a child, and now as an adult, camping and hill-walking in them. Next week is National Parks week and it’s made me think about what they mean to the environment and the people using them.
The oldest National Park in the world is Yellowstone in Wyoming, USA. It was founded in 1872 to protect it from “settlement, occupancy or sale”, which was an incredible foresight as in those days development was a huge focus in conquering the Wild West!
Less than 100 years later the National Parks Act 1949 was passed through the UK parliament as the cornerstone to establishing National Parks in the UK.
The Peak District was then established as the UK’s first National Park in 1951 and by the end of the decade the UK had 10 National Parks. The UK now has 15 National Parks (10 in England, 3 in Wales and 2 in Scotland), with the most recent designation being the South Downs in 2010.
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) suggests that 6% of the Earth’s total land surface is covered by National Parks at 113,000 different sites! So why do we establish National Parks?
Each country protects National Parks for different reasons and using different mechanisms but the ultimate goal in the UK is to:
“Conserve the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of a site, and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the natural parks by the public” as stated in the Environment Act 1995.
Protecting large sites within the legislative framework ensures the perpetual security of these wild spaces from increased human pressures. It makes the UK Government accountable for ensuring that National Parks and other protected sites are maintained in a reasonable condition, and protected in perpetuity.
National Parks also provide a significant contribution to people’s well-being. In 2014 approximately 73 million people visited UK’s national parks, spending £5 billion. This is a significant financial contribution towards conservation and education to ensure that the future of the UK’s wild spaces is secured for future generations.
So, as you ponder on how you will spend your summer holiday, why not head to a National Park and enjoy some of the UK’s most beautiful areas? I will.
Image: Malcolm Oakley