National Parks were designated in order to protect beautiful areas for the nation.

Early 19th century

Poets inspired by countryside

The romantic poets such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth writes about the inspirational beauty of the 'untamed' countryside. Wordsworth famously claims the Lake District as "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy".

Late 19th century

First freedom to roam bill fails

James Bryce MP starts a campaign for public access to the countryside by introducing the first freedom to roam bill to parliament in 1884. The bill fails but the campaign, which was to last for more than 100 years, had begun.

Early 20th century

Public demands access to the countryside

There is a 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. It is a response to widespread industrialisation, the expansion of towns and cities and the ongoing enclosure of land by landowners for farming or sporting reasons. Conflicts emerge between landowners and public interest groups as the latter demand greater access to the countryside.


Mass trespass on Kinder Scout increases pressure for national parks designations

A 1931 government inquiry recommends the creation of a 'national park authority' to select areas for designation as national parks. However, no action is taken and public discontent grows, leading to the 1932 mass trespasses on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Five men are imprisoned.

Groups of leisure activity enthusiasts and nature conservationists, including the Rambler's Association, the Youth Hostels' Association (YHA), the Council for the Preservation for Rural England (CPRE) and the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) rally together to lobby the government for measures to protect, and allow access to the countryside, for the benefit of the nation. In 1936, they form a voluntary sector Standing Committee on National Parks (SCNP) which argues the case for national parks and urges the government to act.

The Council for the Protection for Rural England (CPRE) made the film below, which was shown in cinemas during the 1930s.

Film from the 1930s from the Council for Protection for Rural England.


Landmark Act of Parliament establishes national parks principle

This pressure culminates in the 1945 White Paper on National Parks, produced as part of the Labour Party's planned post-war reconstruction. The government sets up a committee under Sir Arthur Hobhouse to prepare for national park legislation, whilst the SCNP and Ramblers' Association keep up public pressure for national parks.

1949 is a landmark year as the government passes an Act of Parliament to establish national parks to preserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public. Lewis Silkin, Minister for Town and Country Planning, describes it as "... the most exciting Act of the post-war Parliament."


A decade of new national parks for the nation

The first 10 national parks are designated starting with the Peak District in 1951. By the end of the decade the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, Pembrokeshire Coast, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and Brecon Beacons National Parks have been established.


Creation of Campaign for national parks

The SCNP became the Council for National Parks (CNP), now called the Campaign for National Parks, a charity which continues to campaign for the protection and enhancement of National Parks.


Broads Authority gains equivalent national park status

A special Act of Parliament gives the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads equivalent national park status.


Environment Act

This 1995 Act updates national park purposes and gives national park authorities the duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities. National park authorities become independent bodies within local government.

2000 - 2005

New additions to the family

The new millennium brings two Scottish National Parks, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, created by the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000.

In 2005, the New Forest finally joins the National Park 'family'. Of the original 12 proposed English and Welsh National Parks, only one remained: the South Downs.


South Downs

The South Downs was established on 31 March 2010, and became fully functioning, including becoming the planning authority for the national park, on 1 April 2011.

Order of National Parks designation, confirmation dates:

  • Peak District
    • Designation - 28 December 1950 
    • Confirmation - 17 April 1951
    • We celebrate the Peak District's anniversary on 17 April
  • Lake District
    • Designation - 9 May 1951
    • Confirmation - 13 August 1951
    • We celebrate the Lake District's anniversary on 13 August
  • Snowdonia
    • Confirmation - 18 October 1951
    • We celebrate Snowdonia's anniversary on 18 October
  • Dartmoor
    • Confirmation - 30 October 1951
    • We celebrate Dartmoor's anniversary on 30 October
  • Pembrokeshire Coast
    • Confirmation - 29 February 1952
    • We celebrate Pembrokeshire Coast's anniversary on 29 February
  • North York Moors
    • Designation - 12 February 1952
    • Confirmation - 28 November 1952
    • We celebrate the North York Moors' anniversary on 28 November
  • Yorkshire Dales
    • Confirmation - 16 November 1954
    • We celebrate the Yorkshire Dales' anniversary on 16 November
  • Exmoor
    • Designation - 27 January 1954
    • Confirmation - 19 October 1954
    • We celebrate Exmoor's anniversary on 19 October
  • Northumberland
    • Confirmation - 6 April 1956
    • We celebrate Northumberland's anniversary on 6 April
  • Brecon Beacons
    • Confirmation - 17 April 1957
    • We celebrate the Brecon Beacons' anniversary on 17 April
  • The Broads
    • Designation - 15 March 1988
    • Confirmation - 1 April 1989
    • We celebrate the Broad's anniversary on 1 April
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
    • Confirmation - 19 July 2002
    • We celebrate Loch Lomond and the Trossachs' anniversary on 19 July
  • Cairngorms
    • Designation - 25 March 2003 
    • Confirmation - 1 September 2003
    • We celebrate the Cairngorms' anniversary on 1 September
  • The New Forest
    • Designation - 1 March 2005
    • Confirmation - 1 April 2006
    • We celebrate the New Forest's anniversary on 1 March
  • The South Downs
    • Designation - 12 November 2009
    • Confirmation - 31 March 2010
    • We celebrate the South Downs' anniversary on 31 March