National Parks Week 2018: What do National Parks do for us? And do we need more of them?

The 23 -29 July is National Parks Week 2018, the annual celebration of National Parks in Scotland and across the UK. With active campaigns underway for the creation of more National Parks in Scotland, we take a brief look at the history of our National Parks and what they do for us.

Why were National Parks set up?

Scotland has two National Parks, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs (out of a total of 15 across the UK) which cover around 8% of Scotland’s land area. William Wordsworth is often attributed with coming up with the idea of national parks in the 19th century, having described 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“.

National Parks in Scotland however did not come to fruition until the 21st century, when they were created by the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 with four purposes:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
  • To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.
  • To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public.
  • To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.

Each National Park has its own National Park authority responsible for writing and implementing a partnership plan. Creating these National Parks was not uncontroversial, with some concerns from landowners about the effects on land value, and also from conservation groups in relation to potential impacts of visitors on habitats and species. In 2010, the Cairngorms National Park was extended to include Highland Perthshire including the settlements of Blair Atholl and Pitlochry, after a lengthy campaign by outdoor groups.

What difference have they made?

Whilst it is inherently difficult to identify the specific impacts that National Parks have made, the Scottish Government takes the view that Scotland’s National Parks “are central to rural economic development and recreation, sustainability, and the conservation of their diverse natural habitats”.

Tourism is thought to be vital to National Parks – the Cairngorms National Park Authority claim that tourism accounts for 30% of the local economy (GVA) and 43% of employment.

Each National Park contains nationally and internationally important sites for nature and landscapes, and Scottish Natural Heritage works closely with National Park authorities to promote their conservation. Significant work to enhance the biodiversity of National Parks includes the Great Trossachs Forest project – which aims to create the largest broadleaved woodland in Scotland through creating 4,400 hectares of new or regenerated woodland.

There is also increasing recognition of the value of green spaces and recreation opportunities such as those provided by National Parks for public health, including mental health. A review by Public Health England states that “access to green space is associated with better health outcomes and income-related inequality in health is less pronounced where people have access to green space”.  The potential for health benefits is being increasingly integrated into the Parks’ management. The Cairngorms National Park organises Health Walks and has teamed up with local medical practices to provide patients with own free activity trackers. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority have just consulted on a new National Park Partnership Plan 2018-2023 which sets out amongst a range of priorities, the need to get “more people to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of connecting with nature and the outdoors.”

 Do we need more National Parks?

The Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP) and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) are actively campaigning for the expansion of the National Park network in Scotland as a means of targeting sustainable development in rural areas. There are proposals for two new National Parks in the South of Scotland (the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway), and the possibility of a new Argyll and Islands Marine National Park was proposed by Argyll and Bute Council as part of its 2017 local development plan consultation. If this went forward, it would create the first example of a marine national park in Scotland after previous plans for the Isle of Harris in 2011 did not progress.

The creation of new National Parks was debated in the Scottish Parliament in May 2017. A number of MSPs spoke in favour of more National Parks, and pros and cons of creating new National Parks were discussed as were different governance models for future designations. Advantages discussed included the potential for economic boosts in rural areas, whereas potential negative impacts on house prices for local communities, costs of setting up and administering new Parks, or restrictions on developments such as wind farms were raised.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “I fully recognise the enthusiasm and desire to build on the success of our existing national parks, but I do not believe that we can divert resources from other priority areas for the creation of new national parks at present. National park status is just one of many landscape designations that can help to boost the economic opportunities of an area. I hope that more attention can be paid to some of those other designations.”

Get involved in National Parks Week

Details of events in the Cairngorms for National Parks week can be found here, and include guided walks and a photo competition. The Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park Authority suggest 5 things to do during National Parks week here.

 Alexa Morrison, Senior Researcher, Brexit, Environment and Rural Affairs.