Life in post-millennial Britain is full of challenges, both for the time-poor and space-poor, to look after their own health and happiness. Having space to breath gives people a chance to re-connect, think and create. Only a small proportion of residents on the British Isles spend much time enjoying the unspoilt areas, but they are missing out on so much.
Owing to the concept of ‘protected area’, Britain has a large number of substantial geographical locations that are recognized and managed according to conservation principles for the benefit of all who live in and visit these islands. Having clear boundaries, the nature and wildlife within them are protected by law from future destruction.
Thanks to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 2009, there are fifteen areas in the UK that have been designated National Parks in England, Scotland and Wales. These are also protected areas, selected for the beauty of the countryside, the wildlife and the cultural heritage and are areas of countryside that include villages and towns. These Parks are extremely diverse in landscape, from the deep glacial lakes and high fells of the Lake District to the moorland and woodland of Exmoor and dramatic moorland and rock edges of the Peak District.
In addition, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England, Northern Ireland and Wales and National Scenic Areas (NSAs) in Scotland, are also protected areas. ANOBs differ from National Parks in that they don’t have their own planning authorities and services, but are managed instead by local authorities in partnership with community organisations. NSAs are conserved for their scenery, landforms, coastline, sea, lochs, rivers and moorland.
The nature of all these areas make them ideal for getting away from it all and indulging in outdoor recreational activities, especially hiking and camping. The terrain in some areas is great for road or off-road cycling, the Yorkshire Dales especially, since its prominence as a riding destination was raised by Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014. Whether it is sailing, mountaineering, climbing, horse-riding or wild swimming that inspires, there is a stunning backdrop to be found for it.
National Park areas are often reliant on tourism for their economies and so in addition to promoting the landscapes and visitor attractions within them they also offer great hospitality and ‘foodie’ attractions as well. Many designated products are made in these areas and high quality artisan producers of all manner of food and drink products abound. Visitors to the Yorkshire Dales can enjoy the many fine ales and the characterful pubs that serve them, and a visit to Dartmoor National Park would not be complete without a Devon Cream Tea.
The rural communities in National Park areas perpetuate their traditional customs and calendars such as festivals and livestock shows. They showcase the ways of life and rural skills still in use in those communities today.
National Parks are contributing to the solutions of many major issues currently facing Britain and the global community as a whole. Thanks to the many biodiversity projects in these areas, many rare species are now being protected and re-established and this drive is being reinforced by the UN’s ‘New Decade of Biodiversity’ that runs to 2020.
Another threat to the way we live, climate change, is being combatted by a range of projects large and small in the UK’s National Parks, from blueprinting designs for sustainable offices and homes to restoring large areas of carbon rich peat bog.
Several National Parks have ‘dark sky’ projects to promote the appreciation of stars and galaxies that would otherwise not be possible due to the effect of light pollution from streetlights and neon signs. One of only five international Dark Sky reserves is located in the Brecon Beacons National Park, while many others have initiatives, field centres and observatories.
The effort made to preserve the historic sites within National Park areas ensure any that are vulnerable are protected. Skills in traditional building techniques such as thatching and dry stone walling are being passed on and so will be perpetuated for the future benefit and maintenance of historic structures. Archaeologists work in the National Parks to survey and explore both existing and new sites with groups and volunteers and to check if any new remains come to light. Thousands of buildings and monuments can be found across the National Parks, including Neolithic stone circles, Roman forts and medieval castles and abbeys and all of them need to be preserved for future generations.
Please browse our gallery of selected National Parks & Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty above for inspiration and enjoyment, and click on each of the images to find more useful information and links to help you appreciate and hopefully visit each one.